Time is money, the saying goes, and so is everything else. In our modern age, our lives—relationships, work, church, and schedules—are filtered through the sieve of the marketplace. It is the marketplace where we live, move, and have our being. We measure the worth of time by what’s accomplished, church by what the programs can do for us, and friendships by how much they’ll increase our cultural and social capital.
We weigh people, places, and things on a scale of gains and losses. And we don’t always know we’re doing it.
When I left my job as a literature instructor to move to another city for my husband’s ministry internship, I supposed I’d reenter the marketplace eventually. Yet, more moves and babies in quick succession meant that reentry was untenable for our family life at the moment. And it’s stayed that way. Those early years were angry years. I didn’t know quite who I was apart from the paid work I had done, the degree I had earned, the debt I had accrued and needed to pay off. How could I be anyone if the marketplace didn’t see me as valuable?
My husband has always said he’s thankful for my Ph.D., even when I opine otherwise because I’m not using it. My idea behind “use” is: If my graduate degree doesn’t result in compensation, then the formative time and experiences associated with the degree seem wasted. I need to proclaim a better way—to find a new way of thinking and speaking about worth.
Here’s the thing: If we “value” others only for what they bring to the table in terms of the marketplace, and remain focused on earning and saving and spending, we tend to ignore the marginalized, poor, vulnerable, elderly, and young (the very people Jesus stopped to touch, heal, and invite in). If we see work as “valuable” only for social standing and financial gain, we are no different than the tax collectors of Jesus’ day. If we choose a church only for how its programs (which are often presented as products) make us look or feel, we are the whitewashed tombs that look nice on the outside but house dead bodies.
Shouldn’t we see people as worthy of our energy and attention—of our very hearts—because they are made in the image of God, and not because of what they do? And shouldn’t we esteem work—paid and unpaid—because it is part of our worship of God?
If we “value” others only for what they bring to the table, we tend to ignore the marginalized, poor, vulnerable, elderly, and young.
A way forward might be to start with the words we use. Instead of spending and saving time and resources, a vocabulary of hospitality might help. We make room in our schedules (like our homes) to participate in community. We plan and make preparations. We invite. We host. We serve and we feast. Instead of personal utility—what someone can do for you—as the final arbiter of worth, ask yourself: Who am I welcoming in? Who do I stop and notice (is it the same people Jesus noticed)? Who do I eat with? And, in what ways am I moving towards loving self-sacrifice for my neighbor?
We need a vocabulary of worth instead of a vocabulary of value. The word value seems linked to monetary language, as “the price attached to the worth of a thing,” while worth (though it, too, has financial connotations) conveys something of an intrinsic sense. One can be worthy apart from gains or losses or even merit. Aside from one’s socio-economic status, earning potential, or class, human beings have worth as creatures made in the imago Dei.
How do we live this out? We need to see others not as deposits into our social bank accounts but as creatures, beautiful and broken, who need a home. Hospitality, then, is a natural place to start. Ultimately, when we’ve been sheltered and gathered under the wings of God (Luke 13:34), we go out of our way to do the same for others.
Aside from one’s socio-economic status, earning potential, or class, human beings have worth as creatures made in the imago Dei.
We make room in our schedules, our bank accounts, and our values for what we love. When we open our homes, spend our money on a meal for someone else, let others into our chaotic emotions, we choose to show that the gospel matters in real life. Choosing worth over value might be temporally inconvenient, yet in God’s economy nothing is wasted. Like noticing the words we choose, we also practice freeing ourselves and others from an endless escalator where we must be constantly moving upwards to find meaning and value. When we can let go of striving for these things, we reap and offer a spaciousness of soul where weary travelers can find a home.
Practically, where do we start? A small beginning would be to create and schedule “margin”—a word that in the 14th century meant “edge” or “border,” then morphed to include the white space alongside printed text, and now has a financial connotation. Still, we need white space, breathing room—margin—to begin to see rightly. Start here: Put a 30-minute slot with no agenda onto your calendar. Expect to be surprised. Begin to notice beauty, and look into faces other than your own. And when you go to sleep at night under the watchful eye of an infinite God who neither slumbers nor sleeps, rest in the embrace of a Father who sees your worth through the prism of His Son: perfect, beloved, whole, and not contingent on your productivity. That’s the rest and home we can offer.
Photo-illustration by Metaleap Creative