Succeeding is good… right?
We are taught, from day one, to perform well, to be successful and to not fail. And so, we celebrate good performance, winning the game and getting the good grade. Everything in our culture tells us to be “good” at whatever you do, and keep getting better. Because, if you are good – you will be respected, you will be significant, you will be accepted … maybe even loved.
That all sounds good and reasonable right? Hasn’t that been our practical experience – when we perform well, we get the respect and attention of others. But what if there is a shadow side to this that undermines what is actually healthy for a child. What if it actually distorts their understanding of who they are and what gives them value as a person.
Succeeding is okay…needing to succeed..well…
If a child understands that his or her personal value and worth is rooted in how well they perform, then they will be driven in unhealthy ways to live up to expectations – theirs and others. They will live in constant fear of not measuring up – of being a failure. They will always question their worth and they will never be at peace with who they are, because each achievement only feels good for the moment, but what about tomorrow?
This innate fear of failure will either cause them to withdraw, “I can’t fail if I don’t try”, or it will cause them to desperately strive to achieve – now watch their stress levels.
When my son was 16, the inevitable happened; he got his beginner’s driver’s license. So that very day we decided to go for his first drive. I took him around the calm neighbourhood streets and he performed quite well. I decided we should practice parking in parking stalls so we went to a nearby store. For backing in, I suggested using a stall that had a lamppost so he could gauge where the car was in relationship to the space (yah, yah, I know…). As he was backing up the car lurched a little, right into the post. My bumper was only two weeks old as it had just been replaced after someone had rear-ended me. The crunching sound said it all.
My son felt sick. He just wanted to go home. He wanted to wallow in frustration and shame. However, this was a huge teaching moment for him to understand where his worth came from. First of all, as the adult driver, I was the one responsible for anything that happened with the car – not him. I was the one who told him to experiment with the post present. This was my responsibility.
But I also wanted him to understand that the car did not matter. The car is merely a heap of metal and plastic. Just because our car now had a dent in it did not at all change who he was; it did not affect our family in any way; our lives were still the same. In the big scheme of life, it as was irrelevant. He was still the same, dent or no dent. His value and significance did not diminish in the least. I still loved him the same. What I did respect was that he was willing to take a chance and try learning something new. So we kept driving. (He also now had a better sense now of how not to hit a lamp post.)
Counter your culture
We can counter the cultural perspective of our worth being tied to our performance and build a stronger sense of identity in our children. We can show them they have value apart from how well they live up to expectations. It’s like the old illustration of a $100 bill – no matter how wrinkled, crushed and dirty it is – its value remains the same. Nothing changes or diminishes its worth.
For those who want to understand the deeper biblical basis for these principles, I will include a Spiritual Insight section with each blog.
God tells us in the Bible that we are significant simply because he made us significant. It has nothing to do with our behaviour or performance. As a result, nothing can change our value. He made us as his image to represent and express his loving care over all creation. The reason we are told not to create any “image” of God is because he has already made an image – us. As a result, we have immense value; we are created to be God’s loving, representative rulers on earth.
The reason God tells me to love my neighbour is because my neighbour is God’s image too. He may not know it. He may not act like it. But that doesn’t change the reality of who he is. God will hold him accountable for how well he represented him. My job is simply to treat him with immense value and respect, regardless of how he lives or carries out his role. That doesn’t mean I approve of or accept his behaviour – but it means I treat him with value.
If each of us fully understood the role we were created to live out, there would be no such thing as low self-worth. We would all understand that we were created marvelously by God, for an incredible purpose. Imagine if everyone treated you as God’s royal representative. Low worth only comes into play when we fail to understand who we were created to be.
Psalm 139:14 (ESV)
I praise you, for I am fearfully [awe-evoking] and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
The solution to self worth can never be “try harder”, it has to be rooted in the truth that you have significance simply because you were created that way. Now you simply need to live out your significance – not strive for it.
In this series we will show practical ways you can defeat the performance lie in your children and help them find significance apart form their behaviour. Once they value who they are, their behaviour will begin to reflect that.
All Posts in this Series
Developing Your Child’s Sense of Worth: Defeating the Performance Lie