Assumptions: Identity and Self-worth

I love audiobooks! For the last few years I’ve had an audible account-subscription which has given me 1 “free” audiobook a month. This year I have enjoyed listening again to the First Law series by Joe Abercrombie and the Cal Newport trilogy of books all about working hard and efficiently. I tend to listen on my walk to work each day (roughly 30 mins each way). This means I usually finish my month’s book before my next credit!

Now because, I don’t put Newport’s advice into action, and I don’t like the idea of walking with no audio-input* – I turn my attention to podcasts when the book finishes! This last month I’ve stumbled into Ali Abdaal’s podcast, with his brother Taimur: Not Overthinking. A weekly show where they discuss topics related to ‘Happiness, Creativity and the Human condition’.

This podcast is an awesome listen, real fun – I find myself laughing and smiling along on my commute. There are so many great things about this, least of all is that these guys aren’t Christian. Which means they’re actually trying to work through answers to their questions, intelligently and seriously, and aren’t satisfied with shallow answers. I often find that Christians assume the “outside world” are content with shallow answers to life’s difficult questions.

This is not true. Here is an example of what I’m trying to get at:

On an episode I recently listened to they talked about dealing with rejection. They explained that one of the reasons rejection hurts so much is because it messes so much with our sense of identity and self-worth.

Now the typical Christian assumption I’ve heard, about where people get their sense of self-worth from is 2-fold: 1) External factors: e.g. how much they earn, type of job, grades at school/university, clothes and status symbols, friends etc. OR 2) Internal factors: e.g. self-confidence, my own dreams, sense of individual potential, what I am able to tell myself about myself etc.

Christians then seem quick to quip the rhetorical question: “well, what if one of these factors fail you?!”…Which leads on to their tirade about how our sense of worth & value, our sense of Identity needs to be received from the unconditional love of God demonstrated in Jesus. This will never fail.

[Insert parable about a scrunched up bank note still having value compared to a scrunched up piece of printing-paper]

Great, I agree.

But, this 2-fold view of how people get their sense of self worth is shallow to say the least. What Taimur and Ali Abdaal reckon is that our sense of identity should be Diversified. By this they mean, that we don’t just lean upon one external factor and/or an internal factor but that we rest it on all the different and diverse things that go into defining us.

Until we appreciate that people who don’t know Jesus have much more sophisticated methods of coping without Jesus than we assume – we will find it very difficult to bridge the gap and offer them something that they actually ‘feel like they need’.

This Diversifying strategy is complex and sophisticated and reveals why people aren’t flocking to Jesus as a source of self-worth the moment they lose their job or fail their course.

So what can be done about this? It’s all well and good easy to complain, but what solutions?

  1. Listen and learn: feast guidelines. I’ve been had the benefit of working with this Birmingham based charity called the Feast! Who are all about having conversations (and food) with people of different beliefs. They put together this guideline for good dialogue. I really like the top-centre one:

Do not tell others what they believe, but let them tell you.

Maybe this way we can have more effective conversations and be less condescending.


*I do think it is important to have time in silence as a spiritual discipline. I try to fight for this in other moments in my day & week!

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