Were you taught this lie?
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!”
Here’s another lie I heard and believed.
“If you quit at one thing, you’ll be a quitter forever,” a girlfriend’s father said to me after I quit high school. He should have shot me. I would have healed sooner.
Nearly a decade later, I had earned my GED, married the Red-Headed-Wildflower, and was building houses for a living. It was Friday. The Red-Headed-Wildflower’s day off. We were in bed talking about how hard life was financially because heavy snow had once again cancelled my work.
“I want go to school, college.”
“You can do that,” she said, believing in me equal to the measure I didn’t believe in myself.
Soon I quit framing houses. I now have a doctorate and have not quit school or anything else of value since. That woman!
In truth words may be the most powerful force we know.
“In the beginning God said, ‘Let there be light . . . .’” And it was so.
Closer to home, the Red-Headed-Wildflower’s words began healing a gaping word-wound in me. But the power of words is not only in who speaks them or how they are spoken but how we understand or misunderstand them.
There are words we lob around because they appear inert. They are not. Good is just such a disarmed but potentially explosive word.
How Good Are You?
Most of us experience the word good more like a blob of cottage cheese begging for adjectives, needing heavy dashes of salt and pepper to spice it up. You hear it a thousand times a day.
“How are you?” the grocery store clerk asks.
“Good.” Not only is that answer grammatically incorrect, it’s empty.
The best words paint, sculpt, explode. Frazzled, sick, fit, tired, busy.
Believe it or not, good was not always a lazy word. In the beginning good was—well—a good word. Good was such a powerful word God used it eight times to describe creation. Scanning all he had spoken into being God saw it and declared it good.
Jewish scholar Jerome Chanes defines the word good in Genesis as meaning “well formed,” “well wrought,” or “well crafted.” Bursting from God’s mouth, good is not an abstract word describing amorphous feelings, nor a moralistic word pronouncing subjective quality, but an artistic word stating absolute wonder.
God’s good is a declaration of original being!
We Are Works of Art
God’s good describes the creative, mysterious, artistic image of God in us. We are good because God crafted us that way and declared us such. When the snake hinted Eve could be like God by eating the fruit, he was twisting the truth. The likeness of God already emanated from her. “Let us make humans in our image,” the Triune God had pronounced.
You and I suffer the same snake bite. We question the worth spoken into us by our Creator. By doubting our original design from God, we lost touch with God as Creator. We search for validation in ill-written dictionaries, which cry: find your worth in your accomplishments, your bathroom mirror, your bank account, your philosophy, your social media likes.
John Hartley argues, “To become what we want to be, we have to decide what we were.”
Our True Artistic Worth
Our true worth is that we were well-wrought!
Like God, the best artists in any medium infuse their likeness in their work. Mark Twain wrote stories that reflected his Mississippi River rat upbringing. Vincent van Gogh created Starry Night from a heart that saw hopelessness swirling with hope in the same slipstream. All artists create out of themselves.
Unfortunately, the vision that rises in our minds seldom makes it onto the canvas or page. We automatically fixate on the flaw in our art. We taste the overdone spice in our culinary creation or hear the rebellious word in our poem. Worse—if we perceive ourselves as art at all—we see marred art.
Our True Identity
But this is not God’s story. Nor ours. God’s designation of good–well-formed–is our true identity.
That is not to say there are no deformities or difficulties in our lives. In an art imitating life sequence, several people have attacked famous works of art, the Mona Lisa with acid and Michelangelo’s Pietà with a hammer for example. On this side of Eden, our Adversary too slashes and hammers us.
Despite current distortions, you are not a mistake, accident, or afterthought. God planned and shaped you as fine art. You and I are Michelangelo’s David, though now cracked, stooped, and leaning on a cane. C. S. Lewis names this post-Eden sate as God’s image in us not broken but “bent.” This bent condition, however, does not lessen the worth God spoke into us! Experts have repaired the Mona Lisa and its value continues to climb because of who the artist was. Christ is not repairing us but redeeming. Imagine what—in the hands of Christ—our redeemed value is. (In another blog we will discuss the word redemption.)
The tragedy is I recognize this well-crafted God-image in others but struggle to affirm it in myself. You too?
This is what my friend and therapist is working on with me. Read about that here.
“I’m curious where that view of yourself comes from,” he says in his firm, gentle voice.
In part from a misunderstanding of the words God spoke into me, I think. And we dig in.
Suddenly I’m immersed in a poetry class gaping at the complex beauty of each word written in God’s poem about me: I’m not a quitter but rather good, beloved, workmanship. A work of art!
I exit the class renewed. Maybe I am who God says I am!
Words: God’s Super Power
Don’t buy the lie. Human words can hurt or heal. But more. Understanding their Source and Meaning can make all the difference. Because God’s superpower is words. God’s words transform! Listen up!
P.S. Let me know if there is a particular word you’d like to discuss.
5 thoughts on “Finding Your True Worth and Identity in a Word”
I love “good”,… “Good” is very powerful, actually,… imo,… (-:
I didn’t know you were a runner! 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting.
lol,… I had to get some things before the ice storm we’re locked in with today,… enjoyed your article!,… thanks!,…
“Good, better, best” was the motto of my wife’s family and as the saying goes one is never to rest until your “better is best.” And so we breed and infuse our efforts with a perfectionist bent that allows us no rest. God however created and said it was good, create man and woman and said it was very good, and rested.
Resist the tyranny of the urgent, the better is best, and see what good God would have you do this day. I love the way the other Eugene (Peterson that is) puts it in The Message – Matt. 11:38-39 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
No mention of good, better or best…just relationship
Thanks, Rick. That version of the yoke passage has been my foundational verse for the last couple of years. It’s told me to listen to God’s rhythm not the beat of shame and guilt.
Yes, there is a different version of growth and learning that is not based on striving and frustration but rather on the Imago Dei God infused in us. It’s growing into what is already there.