"Educate people to relate, to listen, to help people become themselves." - Jean Vanier
It's morning. Again. You make it to your bathroom mirror still groggy, still deciding how you feel about today. Or, to be more accurate, deciding how you feel about yourself today. You can easily recount errors from the previous day and broken commitments to yourself. It seems logical, natural to measure yourself against that stick; and you always come up short. But you've also become aware that there is another avenue, a stick-less one devoid of comparison to yourself or others. This other avenue, this other way of seeing and defining and engaging with yourself, brings clearly into view one specific and foundational thing: inherent divinity. That you, at all times, carry the spark of the Great Creator, the fingerprint of the Holy One, the image of God, and this is the most important thing about you. The worth and value you intrinsically have because of a God who loves is your dignity and it anchors and informs and transforms - when you let it. So this morning, with every imperfection, every "I don't want to", any internal unripeness, you make the decision that you will prioritize your dignity in thought, word and deed.
Sounds nice right? To stand in the face of all the things you wish were different and let each one fade away like shadows in the light of dignity, this Divinely-given worth and value.
What would your life look like if you really saw yourself as this carrier of God's image first? Before you're a spouse, a parent, an employee, a child, a caregiver, a friend, a political supporter, a spiritual subscriber, a creative, an academic, you are first and foremost an image bearer. The truest thing about you is the intrinsic worth and value you carry simply beause you exist. The breath in your body is the only evidence you need of the value you have. Is that hard for you to believe? Do you have doubts or a list of reasons why this doesn't, maybe even can't apply to you? That reaction is common and, fortunately, erroneous.
We tend to treat ourselves like scorecards. We rack up points based on our hustle and performance. We lose ground when we don't show up on the field of life ready, focused, crushing our goals and achieving our dreams. We internalize the external happenings, rating our worthiness on a scale that doesn't consider the complex reality of our humanity. Each time are lives aren't Instagram-worthy, we believe and live as if we aren't worthy. This is reinforced through a variety of expectations in academics, sports, work, and almost anything else we do in life. Not many of us have consistently heard the words and experienced the actions of others telling us we are loved and valued, no matter what life looks or feels like at the moment.
Yet this is the message of dignity.
You can take inventory of your current state, your reality, your situations, and find receipts for pain, loss, brokenness, and the like. This can all be true, and your value be all the more truer. You can have the weight of life on your shoulders and be anchored in your dignity right in the midst of it. It doesn't mean you are impenetrable. It doesn't mean you don't experience life's struggles in your gut and in your chest. It doesn't mean tears never blur your sight and words never get caught in your throat. It means in the middle of your human experience, you are still able to touch your dignity with assurance. Whereas before your dignity may have been shrouded and unseen, it is now in full light and honored with priority. It is a light that dessimates the validity of the scorecard on your self.
Now, when you realize your own dignity, when you begin to intentionally engage it, when it becomes not just a part of who you are but the core, something else starts to happen. Your eyes change not just for your inward gaze, but also the outward. You see other humans walking around with stories and fears and joys and pain - and dignity. This God-given worth and value isn't just for and in you, it is for and in each person. It's embedded in being human. Everyone from your closest loved one to your greatest enemy has this same core reality; once you begin to see it, you can't turn away and you can't deny it. You realize denying their dignity leaves you without it as well. So if you will honor yours, the only next movement is to honor the dignity in others.
And so begins The Dignity Effect.
The ripple effect of recognizing and prioritizing your own immutable worth and value is the momentum of it leads us right to each other. Actually it's more like we crash into each other. Because at the end of the day, this is how we are connected. Even when we dishonor each other in all the ways we can and often do, the dignity that connects us never goes away. It can be underneath pain and lies and hate of all kinds, but it is there. And when we get all the crap out of the way, and the light of dignity starts to shine through, the energy and life that comes from it brings us right to the heart of one another - to those we love, our neighbors, our communities and even our enemies. It is base, it is core, it is what many of us have ignored for a different story.
Realized dignity is what we need. Look at your own life - the internal and external. You need it. Look at your neighborhood, the schools, the places of worship. We need it. Check out today's top headlines. God, the world needs this! To go back to the basic reality that despite everythin we have allowed to separate us, the most important thing about us all is in us all: God-given, intrinsic worth and value that cannot be taken away. Dignity, the great anchor in every one of us.