Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add,
but when there is nothing left to take away.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
What have you done in the last 3 years to increase your value?
Your value in the marketplace, to your family, to yourself?
Maybe you went to school and finished up a degree. Maybe you got a new job, moved to a new city, or dedicated more time to volunteering at church.
For some clarification, here’s the definition of this kind of value:
the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something
Usually, when we talk about making ourselves more valuable, we’re talking about the latter part of this definition: how do we make ourselves more useful?
It’s this idea of usefulness that spurs us towards a journey of more. If I had more education then I would be more useful. If I made more money for my family or gave more time to my church – my usefulness, and therefore my value to these people I love – would increase.
But you can only carry this idea so far before the glaring dark side of this belief raises its ugly head: what about people who are not useful? How do we place value on them?
If my own value is based upon what I earn, do, create, then those who earn/do/create more than I do are more valuable than me; and those who earn/do/create less are less valuable.
Enter the rich young ruler.
In Luke 18, we find the story of a young man who has run up to Jesus to ask him a single question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus’ initial response ignores the question completely: why do you call me good? Or basically, who do you think I am? Without giving the young man a chance to respond, Jesus then goes into the commandments as though he is telling the man, you know what you have to do.
The man replies – yes, I’ve been doing these things.
That should have been the end of the conversation. The young man followed the rules, he held up his end of the bargain, so why was he there asking this question of Jesus?
Because of his value-problem.
When your value is based on usefulness, you will always need more. There will always be someone above you, ahead of you. And in the rare case where you become the pinnacle of your niche, the obsession does not subside. You still have to become more so that you will always stay ahead of those who come after you.
Jesus sees this in the young man and answers him in his own language: here is what you are missing, here is what you lack. The young man lacked precisely because of how much he had – how upside down is that!
Clearly, it would have been much more useful to have a rich man following Jesus instead of another poor one. But that’s exactly what Jesus was trying to get across.
Our worth to God is not based on our usefulness to Him.
A painting by Picasso is valuable. People have paid tens of millions of dollars to hang them in their homes. Yet, a painting isn’t terribly useful. It may add some color to a room, or distinction to a space. Otherwise, it just sits there on the wall, collecting dust and taking up space.
Post-It notes are useful. My office is littered in them. They serve a clear, albeit simple, purpose. Yet, they’re not terribly valuable.
When we base our value on our usefulness, it’s like covering a Picasso in Post-Its. So often in the pursuit of more (earning more, creating more, becoming more) we end up sabotaging the very value we wanted to highlight. We suffocate our masterpiece in small yellow squares and ask the world to affirm us.
But it can’t. Because so often they can’t see through the small yellow squares they’ve covered themselves in.
But Jesus can.
Jesus can see through our usefulness and down to our true value. That’s why we always read about him interacting with “useless” people. What do the sick and poor and outcast have to add to our lives?
Everything. They have everything to add precisely because they have so little. They grant us the opportunity to see the value of a human being in the absence of usefulness.
So what now? I’m not entirely sure. But the next time we think about how we want to become more valuable to God or to our families let’s pull back from automatically thinking “what must I add?” and start to examine “what important thing can I let go of?”
Joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. - John 3:29b-30.