Who Am I Now, Now that I Can’t Be Who I Need to Be?
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
1 John 3:1
As a psychologist and hospital chaplain, Dr. Ari Shreffler was well aware of the challenges of battling advanced colon cancer. No academic training or clinical experience, however, could prepare her for the impact cancer would have on her personal life. First, she dealt with the radical surgery that left her with a permanent ileostomy. For months, aggressive chemotherapy and radiation rendered her completely exhausted and bedridden. Then a long and difficult recovery robbed her of what little energy she had, leaving her with nothing to give to her husband and sons.
As she reflects back on the losses of her battle with cancer, Dr. Shreffler views the loss of time with her family – especially the irreplaceable time lost with her 13 and 15-year-old sons – as a far greater loss than the physical loss of her colon. Losing one’s colon is indeed a difficult, life-changing event, but being unable to function as a mother was absolutely devastating.
Many people, especially those who are still raising children, have a similar experience. As one mother said, “You simply aren’t available for all of their needs, events, questions, celebrations, and growing pains. You know that those precious moments are gone forever, but there is no way to make up the time that is lost.” The inability to function in these very important areas of life is a crushing blow.
Whenever we lose the ability to function and carry out our daily duties and responsibilities or to participate in the activities that give us a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, our self-worth takes a beating. We live in a world where our worth is often measured by what we do, so our failure to produce or perform – regardless of the reason – is synonymous with failure. And often that failure translates into a crippling feeling of worthlessness.
But God has a completely different point of view. He doesn’t measure our worth in terms of our productivity. Instead, He bases our worth on something that cannot change – our heritage as His offspring. Just as parents love and value their children regardless of the child’s physical emotional, or spiritual state, God’s love and perception of our worth never changes. It doesn’t matter whether we are whole or broken, functioning or floundering. We are still God’s children, make in His glorious image. Our value to God cannot be diminished. This truth is an anchor that holds secure no matter how fiercely the storms of adversity swirl around us.
Dr. Shreffler learned, however, that the truth of worth doesn’t always filter down to our sense of worth. At any given time there may be a vast difference between our God-given worth and our feelings of worth. Part of the reason is because God designed us to work and be productive. In Genesis 2:15, God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it, to take care of it. When we are unable to work, to take care of the things God has given us to do, it is understandable that we feel a sense of loss. What’s difficult for us to remember is that we have experienced a loss of work not of worth. Although we may view our worth in terms of our work, God doesn’t. He always views our worth in terms of our position as His children, and that never changes.
Because of our perspective rather than God’s perspective, it’s quite natural to struggle with our sense of self-worth after we suffer a loss of our ability to work. Dr. Shreffler did. Dave Dravecky did. But what a liberating discovery it is as Dave says, “to learn that our true worth is found in who we are, not in what we do.”
As Dr. Shreffler grew to trust the God who loved and valued her unconditionally, a whole new world opened up for her. She still had overwhelming losses to grieve. She still had a long list of things she could not do, but she discovered that she could always choose to focus on the God who promises to one day redeem all of our losses. By changing her focus, she discovered something else:
“If we allow God to take what we have and use it for His glory, even with all of the losses and all of the pain, He will do amazing things – things we could never imagine! It’s really not about us; it’s about HIm. I’ve needed to learn to come out of myself and allow myself to be a lowly servant of God. If God can use the raven, a quail, and a donkey, God can use a handicapped woman from New York. God can use anyone if we let Him!”