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CLAY 2018: Thunder Bay

How Do You Define Yourself?

Note: this is a recap of Scott Evans’ speech from August 14, 2014 at CLAY 2014. All ideas are his, not mine. 

That was the question that keynote speaker Scott Evans left us with at the end of the first Large Group Gathering. It was typed on a slide, along with the sentence “There is no right answer.”

 

So how do we define ourselves? Through our thoughts, words, actions, and projected images on social media sites, what do we say is “worth it”? Are we consistent in every situation, or do we appear to hold different values in different circumstances so that those around us can consider us “worth it” — worthy of attention, acceptance, and even love.

 

Throughout his talk, titled “Snakes and High Stakes — How Many ‘Likes’ Do You Have?” Scott discussed how people from the Bible attempted to become “worth it” for others, and how we do the same today.

 

Scott said that the question of “are we worth it?” begins in the Garden of Eden. Most of us know the story – Adam and Eve live together in harmony with God and creation, until a serpent tempts them into eating from a tree which they were forbidden to even touch. After doing so, they realize that they are naked and hide, from God and each other. Scott reminded us that in the garden of Eden, “nakedness wasn’t invented as a concept – shame was – the idea that you’re not good enough.” It was then that we discovered that we were vulnerable to the opinions of others, that our true selves were somehow “not good enough” for the world to see.

So we put masks forward, whether we’re wearing our “Sunday best” to church rather than the clothes we wear every other day, or we’re carefully manicuring our social media profiles to create the image of a perfect life. With the advent of likes, virtual friends, and followers, we now have real metrics to gauge whether or not people accept us as “worth it.” Virtual rejection hurts just as much as real-life rejection. Have you ever regretted posting about something that you were passionate about after it failed to get not even one “like” on Facebook? I know I have.

 

Scott used the parable of the Prodigal Son to illustrate how people attempt to control their vulnerabilities. The prodigal son, who takes his father’s money and squanders it in a way that lead him into harmful situations, is in control of his vulnerabilities. As Scott put it,

“The struggle for control is the great unspoken struggle… The ability to control our own destruction so no one else can do it for us”

Eating disorders, self-harm, substance abuse, and other harmful behaviours — we hurt ourselves so that no one else can, masking and controlling our other vulnerabilities.

The other son – the one who stayed at home, working tirelessly in the fields, is trying to mask his vulnerabilities in a different way. He’s the classic overachiever, the perfect son, the perfect worker. He’s trying, as Scott said, to “tick all the boxes” that will make him “worth it” in the eyes of his father and the society that he lives in. When he responds with anger to the news that his younger brother has laid bare his vulnerabilities, asked for help, and been welcomed back with honour, he responds with anger. Scott describes the father’s reaction:

“You already are worth it. You’re trying to earn something that you already have.”

 

 

We can mask our vulnerabilities with accomplishments, moulding ourselves into someone whom society would consider “worth it”. We can lose ourselves in harmful behaviours so that the outside world cannot hurt us nearly as badly as we hurt ourselves. Like the Woman at the Well (which Scott also discussed), we will do anything to hide our broken parts from others. As Scott put it — “Someone’s put their finger on the brokenness of my life — let’s have a theological debate!”

So with that in mind, how do we define ourselves? Do we accept our vulnerabilities or hide them? Do we let others decide what’s “worth it”? Or do we choose for ourselves, remembering that God, who knows our every thought and desire, has already accepted us as “worth it”?

 

– Hannah Shirtliff, CLAY 2014 Communications Coordinator