When I was in junior high, my friend Dana and I would always laugh about a song by Billy Joel called "The Entertainer." Our favorite line was "I learned to dance with a hand in my pants." It never failed to send us into fits of giggles. Because we listened to it more than a few times, I picked up some of the other lyrics too. It was about a performer who had to keep producing in order to stay on top of the charts and be successful in his career. Part of the song went like this:
Ah, you've seen me in the papers,
I've been in the magazines.
But if I go cold,
I won't get sold.
I'll get put in the back
In the discount rack,
Like another can of beans.
I thought of the "can of beans" song this week as I recovered from the grueling experience of getting my H1N1 shot. I was very sick from the experience of waiting for 4 hours, and the shot probably didn't help me recover any faster. I was just a blob in bed for several days. Muscle aches, overwhelming, extraordinary fatigue, dizziness, and "brain fog" kept me from doing all I wanted to do. This posed a problem for my part-time job. I typically spend a few hours each day on the computer doing work for my company. This past week, I couldn't accomplish anything substantial. It was extremely frustrating, and because of my lack of production, I wasn't feeling very good about myself. As I worried about falling behind and losing my job, I thought, "I'm going to be put on the discount rack!"
This isn't just a work-related issue. In relationships, I desire to earn people's approval as well. I often find myself feeling like "damaged goods" when I can't be at an important event or meet a perceived expectation because of my illness. I feel like I disappoint people in my life when I have to repeatedly cancel plans. Occasionally I have even wondered, "why are they still friends with me?" Looking at the situation objectively, I realize this is ridiculous. I know that I don't judge my friends based on what they can or can't do for me. But still, the emotional toll of chronic illness is not always logical. It's very easy for chronic illness to make me feel like I'm less valuable than when I was healthy - like a dented can of beans on the "discount rack."
It's a sad fact that the world often does base our worth on our performance, appearance, and abilities. Stars and celebrities are valued for what they can do, how well they sing or act compared to others. All this comparison can seep into our own souls, causing us to look around and place ourselves on a sliding scale of "better than her" but "not as good as her." This constant see-saw of inferiority to sometimes superiority can be agonizing. It's a good thing that God's constant, unconditional love is not about what WE do or who WE are, it's about who HE is and what HE did!
It's a tremendous blessing in life when a person truly loves us without any strings attached. We could yell, scream, or cry. We could smell. We could complain. We could just lie in 1 position without moving, but that person's love for us never wavers or changes.
God's love goes even farther than that. We can sin against him repeatedly, and God loves us no less than the day he gave us life. His love endures forever. He loved us so much that he gave us the life of his only Son, so that he would bear our just punishment, in order that we may be spared.
The message of this world is that we can somehow earn God's love or earn our way into heaven, but that couldn't be further from the truth. After all, how may "good works" are enough? When we do something wrong, how many "points" does that take off our account? To whom will we be compared when we first stand at the pearly gates? Who is the standard? Will it be enough to be "better" than the woman next door? These questions don't have any satisfactory answers. The fact is, there is no need to earn God's love because we already have it. All we have to do is accept it by believing in the One he sent to save us.
If you are struggling with feeling inferior or like less of a person because of illness, because of failures, or for any reason, remember that God's love does not operate on a performance-based system like the world does. We can (and will) screw up royally, but God has no "discount rack." You are valued and deeply loved in his sight. Trust in his son Jesus. He did all the work for you so that you can rest in his grace.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.