February 19, 2019 • De Pree Journal
Born with cerebral palsy, I am a disabled woman with serious shame about my inability to work and be a productive member of society. This personal shame has often led me to question my value in the eyes of God. Am I only valuable to the kingdom of God because of the work I can do to further its presence on earth? What if I continue to have periods of being bedridden? Am I worthless then? Value-less?
God has been patient with me as I continue to struggle with these questions. Recently, I was made aware of Jesus’s words to the people as he delivered the Sermon on the Mount. He spoke to them, saying, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26 NRSV)
These creatures do not grow their own food, harvest it, or store it away, and yet, God provides for them. Their level of productivity in providing for themselves is zero. And yet God cares for them. God values them and provides for them. They have a purpose in the ecological web of life. They exist as part of God’s beloved creation. Why would it not be the same for me?
I ask myself—and we might do well to ask ourselves—“What determines my value in the eyes of God, if not my productivity?”
Am I only valuable to the kingdom of God because of the work I can do to further its presence on earth? What if I continue to have periods of being bedridden? Am I worthless then? Value-less?
So often, I’m reminded that we love him because he first loved us. Our relationship with God helps us to see our value. We are worthy because God deems us worthy. We are so valued and treasured by God that he became flesh to live among us and conquered death on our behalf.
How then should we live? We should live reflecting on the great love that Christ has shown us through his own life, death, and resurrection. How should we live to reflect and embody that value?
In my tradition of Orthodox Christianity, the Church Mothers and Fathers have quite a bit to say about how we should live our lives and become Christ-like. As a disabled person, I am often in chronic pain. Thus, I empathize deeply with others who suffer from physical or mental maladies. As it turns out, this empathy might be at the core of where I may find a life of deep value, and a life lived in love. Saint Porphyrios, a contemporary Church Father, said, “You must love and suffer—suffer for the one you love. Love makes effort for the loved one.” I’m learning that our true work or source of productivity is found in the inner spiritual work of loving God and loving humans, particularly in their suffering. The inner life should be our focus, rather than the fruits of an outward life. Outward fruits might be awards, pay raises, or verbal accolades. What might the fruits of the inner spiritual life look like?
What is your inner spiritual life? Are you focused on a spiritual life rich with repentance, humility, love, kindness, and grace? Does that sound too intimidating? Finding our value and worth in God is our first step towards living a rich inner life. If we focus on our inner life and in it the work of the Holy Spirit, everything else in the outer life will fall into place according to God’s will. God is love, and thus, we find our value in love itself, not productivity or physical ability. If we learn to love and trust God according to his valuation of us, then we have found our value.
I’m learning that our true work or source of productivity is found in the inner spiritual work of loving God and loving humans, particularly in their suffering. The inner life should be our focus, rather than the fruits of an outward life.
When Jesus gives His Sermon on the Mount, He encourages us not to worry:
“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’” (Matthew 6:27-31, NRSV)
God has been helping me recognize that living a life of and embodying love is the most important spiritual labor, a labor superior to productivity or physical ability. Learning empathy for our sisters and brothers and exemplifying the sacrificial love of Christ will reveal the depth of value we have in the eyes of our Creator. My worth, our worth, is found not in what we gather, drink, eat, or wear. Instead, we find value in our work through our embodied spiritual efforts to love God and love people.
 Athanasios N. Papathanasiou, A Hesychast from the Holy Mountain in the Heart of a City: Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia, (Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, 2014), 31.
Elizabeth Staszak is an MDiv student at Fuller Theological Seminary and holds an MA in religion from Claremont Graduate University. A Minnesota native, Elizabeth loves snow, lakes, fresh air, bike rides, and adventure.