I sink down in my pew, cringing to the core. “It’s coming,” I think. “There’s no way she’s gonna make it.”
“Oh night divine. Oh night when Christ was born.”
My palms are sweating. My face is turning red. “Why am I embarrassed? I’m not even the one singing!” But this poor woman is about to commit social suicide. I brace myself for the blow.
“Oh night, DIIIIIIVVVIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNE….”
Her shrill voice slides to the high B like a baseball player dirt-diving to home base. She makes it, but barely. The audience breathes a collective sigh of relief.
Oh Holy Night is an iconic Christmas classic. From Josh Groban, to Mariah Carey, to the brave woman singing at church, this powerful piece evokes a strong emotional response. Especially that high note.
But tucked away in the first verse is a short phrase we usually overlook.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
“The soul felt its worth. ” Those five simple words are my favorite Christmas lyrics. Why? Because I think that of all the things Jesus wants to communicate through the story of His birth, the primary message is one of value.
It’s a message that bears repeating, because we’re constantly tricked into thinking our value comes from somewhere else. I have an extensive history of diving into this trap.
When I was a little kid, my sense of value came from being a “good girl” and showing off my talents at church. As a preteen, it came from being skinny. I thought the perfect appearance would solve my need for acceptance. That landed me in the hospital with a serious eating disorder. In high school, I tried to get every possible leadership position I could. “If I paint myself as an active and caring person, people will be sure to love me.” In the summertime, my drug was work. “If I can be the hardest working employee at this summer camp, everyone will realize I’m super valuable!”
we’re constantly tricked into thinking our value comes from somewhere else.
This is no way to live. It makes you tired. It makes you lonely. It makes competitors out of the people who should be your friends. But worst of all, it doesn’t work—not for long at least.
When I had anorexia, my dietitian taught me a word to describe my emotional draw toward feeling skinny. That word was euphoria: “a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.”
That’s exactly how I felt. Because if skinny equals love, of course weight loss will make me euphoric. Never mind the weakness and dizziness and coldness of hunger. What are they compared to love? If work equals love, of course overwork will make me euphoric. Never mind the loneliness and emptiness and burnout. What are they compared to the anticipation of being truly recognized and valued?
But the problem is this. The euphoria is temporary and the fulfillment elusive. It never comes.
I’d like to say I learned my lesson early, but that’s not the case. As soon as I’d give up on one dysfunctional approach to feeling valued, I’d pick up another.
By the time I was in college, I knew the craving for love was a craving for God. So I tried to seek Him with everything I had. But instead of falling into His arms, I fell into another trap. I thought His acceptance would come from my spiritual performance, so I channeled my efforts into obeying Him precisely.
At first there was euphoria. In my fallen state, I get a twisted dopamine rush from feeling superior to other people. It makes sense. If righteousness equals love, of course legalism will make me euphoric. Never mind the condemnation and oppression and bondage of it. “Eventually I’m gonna figure this thing out and be moral enough for love. And in the meantime, the junk food I’m not eating, the Bible studies I’m giving, and the devotional time I’m clocking in for will help to soothe my troubled conscience.”
But the euphoria became more and more difficult to reach. I thought that righteousness equaled acceptance. But what led to righteousness? Obedience. And what equaled obedience? In my militant mindset it was this: to get up early, to read my Bible for an hour, to pray, to run for 45 minutes every day with a heart rate of at least 160 beats per minute, to do things quickly so as to not waste a minute of time, to constantly witness to friends and strangers, to never think a negative thought, to never overeat or eat anything unhealthy, and, in the midst of the pressure, to maintain a positive attitude about all my responsibilities. They were, after all, a gift from God.
Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to crash and burn. It was ugly and it was painful, but that’s a story for another time. I’d much rather start writing about Jesus. Because when Jesus enters a story, the plot starts to change. The dark things start getting brighter and the cold things start getting warmer. Jesus is just like that.
Like Adam and Eve sewing fig leaves together, I’m constantly tempted to forget about Jesus and find value in my performance.
He came to me in my darkness and He told me that He loved me. Not because of my performance, but in spite of it. He told me that my value wasn’t based on what I could do for Him, but on what He’s done for me. He taught me (and keeps teaching me) that the righteousness and acceptance I crave abundantly exist in Him.
The story isn’t over. Like Adam and Eve sewing fig leaves together, I’m constantly tempted to forget about Jesus and find value in my performance. It shows up in more subtle ways now. Things get messy again. But Jesus keeps coming back for divine damage control. He picks me up, bandages and kisses my wounds, and reminds me that I’m valuable to Him.
And so are you. Because you are the only you that will ever exist. The unique stamp of your soul is valued by Jesus in a way that you can never fully comprehend. It’s the kind of value that motivated Him to leave the intimacy of heaven for a lonely life. It’s the kind of value that took Him to the cross, where the joy set before Him was you.
If you’re like me, your brain is used to thinking in twisted ways. The truths of the gospel seem upside down. So my challenge to you is this. In the busyness of the holiday season and the coming year, set aside some time each day. Your task? To think about how God values you. To pray that He’ll help you understand. It’s not a hard prayer for Him to answer, because Jesus wants your soul to feel its worth. After all, you’re the only you He lived for, the only you He died for, and the only you He wants.