Monday, November 1, 2010


I had a conversation with a student today about identity. It's something we talk about a lot. Probably because our twenties are so much about discovering/forming/understanding our identities, so that's what these students are doing.

But in the middle of a sentence, I realized that I was talking about this student's sense of identity when I really meant his sense of worth. As in it's OK for your identity to be defined--at least somewhat--by what you do, but it's not really OK for your sense of worth to be defined by what you do.

But now I'm wondering... what really is the difference between identity and worth? And is the thought that I had valid?


  1. If you figure that out, let me know. I have been struggling with that a lot lately.

  2. Sorry about the length of this--but it's not a trivial question.

    I'm not entirely sure if this is valid, but I think that identity has a lot to do with what makes us unique--what kinds of things we're good at (and not); who we have relationships with; what things we like--how does somebody know it's me and not somebody else?

    Worth has to do with our value--and in its truest form, that has more to do with what makes us all the same--because people, though individual, have value to God for much the same things--being his creation; carrying his image; relating (or not :( ) to him.

    Of course people get their sense of worth from any number of things besides how God values them--from their work; their other relationships, occasionally their money, or power or beauty (or lack thereof). But if we want to have an accurate sense of our worth (and other people's), I think that we need to try and let go of as much as we can of the non-God things we base our worth on. So I'd say your distinction was a good one.

    Which isn't to say that God has no interest in our identity--he seems to delight in making everybody different. And totally ignoring things like who he's put in your life and what you enjoy and what you're good at isn't particularly honoring to him. We should invest in people, and enjoy the good gifts he's given us, and work (as to the Lord!) at our jobs. But letting your sense of worth rest on that stuff instead of on his value for you can be disastrous.

  3. I agree with Rachel. When we ask ourselves, "Who am I?" usually part of the answer is what we do. That changes over life seasons; one of my counseling profs said that processing change is like processing death -- e.g., if I change careers, I have to process that my identity is changing (altho', deep down, it may not be as big a change as it feels like). But every human is precious in *worth*, even when unemployed, unborn, asleep, or in a coma. But, from personal experience, it's hard not to feel a bit worthless when one's unemployed. I don't know how much that's due to how God made us vs. due to our fallen condition & our culture that values worth in terms of productivity.

    Here's an idea: go listen to a song on the first Caedmon's Call album (the self-titled one), the song titled "Stupid Kid," and then think about what that says about worth, grace, love, and blessing the rest of the world (a better term than "productivity").

  4. Good conversation here. Sorry it has taken me almost a month to respond. Such is life these days.

    Rachel, I love what you have to say about God delighting in making us different. And all of these comments--along with another I received via e-mail--get at what what I was thinking when I made the original post. I had been very concerned about the close association of identity with "what you do," especially in the sense of "what you get paid to do." I think that was particularly because of what Vi said: It's hard not to feel a little worthless when you're unemployed.

    But then I started thinking that my identity IS inextricably wrapped up with what I do. But what I do is (or at least should be) more of an effect than a cause. In other words, if I understand who God made me to be, it will naturally flow out in what I do. That's when life feels "as it should be."

    But I think it is also vital--as you have both said--to recognize our infinite worth to our creator, no matter what we are doing or not doing at any given time. Good stuff!

  5. I think back to what our father always told us when pursuing passions: "Bloom where you are planted." Solid advice, I'd say, and also surprisingly on-point for your blog's title. When I reflect on these words, I can't help but think that identity and occupation are probably neither active nor passive in their effect of one another. I am convinced, however, that they are probably interactive insofar as one shapes and changes the other while the same process happens reciprocally. I teach music because of the effect music has had on my life, and because of the joy I find i creating an environment where children are empowered to become musical creators in their own right. Is what I do inextricable linked to who I am? I'd say so. Does it define who I am? No. I'm too complex to be completely definable by something like a career. Have I been changed by what I do. Try hanging out with 7 year olds for 6 hours a day, and tell me if it doesn't change you!

    I think the question of worth gets us into significantly stickier situations. Not to play hermeneutic games, but I believe that the question of worth lies in being human. And--here's where we probably would disagree--I can't help but wonder at religious institutions who teach people that their worth comes from something other than themselves for several reasons (I'll present two arguments, one of which I think is significantly stronger than the other, though, I'll let you decide which is which for yourself):

    1. If I believe that my worth comes from the fact that I am created in the image of something else, doesn't my worth stem from that belief rather than the actual creation since that creation would otherwise be unknown to me were it not for the belief?
    2. If I believe my worth comes from something (or someone) other than myself, doesn't that mean that without that investment of meaning by some foreign being, humans are void of worth? And if that is true (I think that you'd probably agree with that statement), hasn't that had violent consequences for how human beings have treated those who do not share the same religious beliefs? I'm not saying that this argument invalidates the notion of deity-caused human worth, just that the consequences of this line of thought have tended more negative than positive.

    Just some thoughts.

    Love to you!