Somewhere along the way, though, that message changes.
Maybe it's when we enter college or the workforce and realize we are only one of millions, all who have the same skills that we have, a speck of sand on a speck of sand. The message we then embrace is one reverberating the individual's lack of importance, lack of uniqueness.
I readily remember being told that English instructors were a dime a dozen, easily replaced. Anyone could do my job as well as I could, so I shouldn't think too highly of my degrees, knowledge, or abilities. My best was nothing compared to what others had to offer.
When I was laid off from my first teaching job mere weeks before Christmas, I bought into that lie without even realizing it.
For the six years I taught full time before having children, I always felt like a fraud. Somehow, I just knew one day, everyone would wake up and realize I didn't know as much as they thought I knew, that I wasn't as a great a teacher as they had heard. I readily accepted that what I had to offer was of little value and was always surprised when others felt differently.
When I began working part time while staying home with my brood of three, those feelings of unimportance only increased. I was now relegated to the status of adjunct, and as anyone in the academic world knows, adjuncts are literally a dime a dozen, the workhorses who are looked down upon by full-time professors serious about their craft. Adjuncts are disposable, easily replaceable, especially in fields like composition and literature.
No matter that as an adjunct, I taught nine sections a semester split out among three different colleges, almost double the teaching load I was required to teach when I was a full-time employee. My contracts each semester made it clear... I was not promised classes the following term; I was an "at-will" employee; any section with my name on it could be cancelled even after the semester began or given to another full-time instructor.
I was expendable. Unimportant.
The problem was, I listened to the siren song of the world for so long that I somehow forgot God's Word, which teaches I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that the abilities God gave me are important, do have value.
***This past January, I was hit with an unexpected job loss for the Spring semester, taking nearly a 60% cut in salary due to low enrollment at one of my colleges and a complete sabbatical from another due to a renovation of their entire online program.
I was devastated.
It wasn't just the anticipated impact on my pocketbook, that weekly date night shifted to the living room sofa, that our one-night-eating-out a week routine became no nights eating out, or that trips to town were all but eliminated unless I rode along with someone else.
The bigger problem was how my lack of work confirmed my unimportance. The world was going along just fine without me.
While I told God I would still trust Him to protect and take care of us and while I truly believed that, still, I felt the sting of not being needed or valued.
Literally one day after receiving the news that my workload and salary would be slashed, a woman I had shaken hands with only once before telephoned. She spoke of hearing and loving the narration I had written for the Christmas musical the month before. Then, she said God had told her to call me today. She had been successfully homeschooling her son in all subjects but writing, which she struggled with, herself. Would I be willing to tutor him each week? She would pay.
I was instantly suspicious. Had the pastor told her about our financial situation? No one else knew.
No. He had told her nothing, only given my name and number when she requested it. As I listened, dumbfounded, she confessed her fear I would think she was stupid for not knowing how to write, so she had put off obeying God's leading her to call me until the late afternoon.
I sank to the sun room daybed and started to cry before explaining to her the events of the last few days. In the next minute, she was praying for me over the phone line.
God had chosen to not answer my prayers to increase enrollment in those courses that were cancelled. Instead, he was offering something different--an opportunity to work one on one with a child whose heart's desire was to become a preacher, a non-lucrative job offer I would have likely rejected had I been laden with my typical full teaching load.
I was important to His Kingdom's work. The abilities He has gifted me with are important. I am still fearfully and wonderfully made.
Since then, I have started tutoring a few more children out of my home each week. Each time I sit down with another mother, I am amazed to find she doesn't know a trick or technique that comes naturally to me, that I honestly thought everyone knew how to do.
I had bought so far into the lie of my own unimportance that I didn't see all I had to offer--not just to people but to God as well.
Some might read this and conclude I now have an issue of pride, but that's not it at all. I can rattle off a Santa-Claus-length "Naughty List" of my deficiencies faster than any Indy car can make a loop 'round the track. I still shake my head when anyone is impressed with my small abilities.
In the world's economy, sure, you and I are not terribly important. Yes, we can be replaced by others equally or more skilled than we are.
But God's economy is what's important, and He says each of us has a role to play in His Kingdom. Each of us is important enough for Him to know the number of hairs on our head. Each of us has been endowed with specific gifts and abilities given to us by the Creator of the universe, Himself.
Each of us is special.
Image: One really tired mother whose most important act last Saturday was to lead her children in making an Angry Bird pizza by themselves (the orange beak melted, but it is there).