If I Don’t Believe in Works-Based Faith, Why Am I Still Trying to Prove My Worth?

There once was a little girl whose hazel eyes couldn’t hide her carefree spirit. She was shy, but she lived boldly, never worrying her little blonde head with the opinions of others. (Her parents would describe her as having quite the attitude).

However, as the years blurred together, a strange phenomenon began to take place–the girl’s skin began to change.

It happened slowly at first; a compromise here, an adjustment there. But, before long, that little hazel-eyed girl was lost beneath layers upon layers of chameleon colors in an ever-reaching attempt to be who she thought others wanted her to be.

And, after living for so long with the people-pleasing, over-achieving, persistent, anxious, and guilt-ridden colors that could never quite say “no” to anyone, even the girl forgot who she had been.


That little girl? That girl is me.

And she might be you, too.

Always saying “yes”, even when we want to say “no.”

Always prioritizing others and neglecting our own self-care.

Always striving to do more or be better, yet it never feels like enough.

I’ve struggled with this for most of my life, but I’ve only just begun to realize how dangerous it is.

I’ve been learning a lot lately. In my counseling classes, we’ve stressed the importance of self-care to prevent burnout. In fact, one professor compared self-care to a lawn care business:

If your job is to mow lawns, then you would take painstaking care of your most important tool–your lawn mower. As counselors, our most important tool is ourselves–so why are we not taking care of it?

I’ve come to realize that I’m really good at knowing I need to take better care of myself and do things that help me to recharge, but when it comes to implementing my self-care routine, I excuse it for things and people that are “higher priority than myself,” always resulting in me feeling drained and cranky.

I’ve also learned that I place almost all of my self-worth in the hands of others.

Now, don’t think me too vain yet. I don’t sit by my phone waiting for strangers to like my latest selfie. Honestly, I don’t care all that much what strangers think of me.

But the people who matter to me? My fiancé, family, close friends? Without striving for their acceptance and approval, I don’t know who I would be.

I’ve always worked to earn good grades because I wanted to make my parents and teachers proud. I’ve always been responsible and reliable because I don’t like to let people down. I try to be sweet and compassionate because I want people to think highly of me (ouch. that one’s not fun to admit). I strive to be the best at everything I do because I want to be enough.

And you know what I get for all this striving?

Stress, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness when I fail to measure up to the standards that I set for myself. 

That’s right. No one told me I needed to be or do the things I do. No one pressured me to be perfect. In fact, I have vivid memories of my mother trying to convince me of the opposite in an effort to stop my tears after receiving my first B grade *ever* in 6th-grade math.

I’ve always attributed these traits to my personality–“that’s just who we are,” I tell myself, “overachievers who want to do the best they can! It’s good to want to help others and keep them happy. It’s good to apply myself and be dependable. It’s good to be selfless. It’s Christian to put others first.”

But lately, something has been flickering in the back of my mind, shedding light on the layers I’ve created in an effort to mimic who I believe others want me to be.

Last week I met with my therapist. We talked about how I understand that I’m constantly trying to please others and that I place a lot of my worth in how others see me. Then she asked a question that penetrated these layers, causing their chameleon colors to bleed into my heart:

“What does your faith say about all of this? Do you believe you need to do good works to earn your salvation?”

My answer was a resounding no. Salvation comes freely to those who believe, and to receive it any other way would subtract from the beauty of the gift that it is. All four gospel books revolve around the belief that one only needs to believe to be saved.

Furthermore, Romans 10:9 states, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Period. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Believing=salvation.

So, if I truly believe I can’t earn salvation from God, why am I still striving to earn the approval of humans?

I honestly don’t have an answer to this–I haven’t had time to fully process it. But I believe it’s worth thinking about.

Why do I work so hard to prove my worth when the Creator of the Universe calls me worthy?

Why do I work so hard to keep others happy, even at the expense of making myself miserable?

How can I be so sure of my salvation yet so unsure of who I am?

And, if I stop striving to be everything for everyone…will they even like me anymore?

(I highly recommend the below books for more on this topic:)

                                      

I decided to google “Bible Verses about Self-worth.” Here are just a few verses (out of dozens) that stuck out to me [emphasis mine].

Luke 12:6-7ESV
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Psalm 139:13-15ESV
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Titus 3:5ESV
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…

Matthew 16:26ESV
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

1 Corinthians 3:16ESV
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Hebrews 4:9-11ESV
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

The reoccurring theme in these verses is that we are valued by God and God wants us to rest and take care of ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty cool. God wants me to take care of me too?? I think I sometimes get caught up thinking of God as a judge who keeps a tally of how much of myself I give away.

Yes, serving others is very biblical.

Selflessness is biblical.

But resentment is not biblical–and when I neglect my own needs, I find myself resentful in my service to others.

So, here I am, at 22 years old, on a journey to find myself. And it’s hard. And scary. And frustrating.

But it’s also rewarding, and challenging, and worth it.

I don’t know who I’ll find waiting underneath my chameleon layers, but I know that Jesus calls me worthy–

Not because of me, but all because of Him.

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