“Without being conscious of it, I was interpreting my grades as the ultimate measure of my self-worth. My academic culture had groomed me to be an achiever, and without question I believed any sense of positive self-worth was dependent on academic success. I narrowed my identity to my interpretation of my grades.” – Corey Porter
Panic seized me! My heart tightened within my chest. Final exams were looming.
My first-year hopes for success in university had already been tempered by the mediocre grades I had received in midterms. I dreaded that these final exams would only serve to confirm that I would never succeed in university. Anxiety went from bad to worse as I assumed that my poor grades would mean that my future career was in jeopardy.
My anxiety eventually manifested itself in a frightening physical symptom. Intense chest pain! After a battery of tests, doctors assured me that there was nothing wrong with my physical heart. Yet I didn’t feel comforted. Instead, I was frustrated by the lack of diagnosis.
At the time, no one helped me understand the correlation between my anxiety and my chest pain. So I never seriously considered the root causes of my anxiety.
At the core of my beliefs I was holding onto an unspoken assumption. Without being conscious of it, I was interpreting my grades as the ultimate measure of my self-worth. My academic culture had groomed me to be an achiever, and without question I believed any sense of positive self-worth was dependent on academic success. I narrowed my identity to my interpretation of my grades.
If I got a good grade, I felt good about myself. “I’m good”. If I didn’t get a good grade, I berated myself with negative self talk. “I’m no good”. I was caught in a vicious cycle, striving to feel good about myself by achieving good grades, but falling short.
Three false beliefs that were crushing me
1. Grades have no effect on my view of myself.
Like most students, I never questioned what impact my grades were having on my self-identity. My inability to identify the source of my anxiety held me captive to it. My unexamined identity was a shaky identity.
2. Grades are an accurate measurement of my value.
I assumed this belief by observing and emulating classroom dynamics all my life. Both teachers and peers conveyed affirmation and approval for students with good marks but not for those with poor ones. I assumed the belief that students with good marks are more valuable.
By default I attached my self-worth to my grades, but this made me vulnerable to the two facets of pride. I was either inflated when I got a good grade or deflated when I didn’t do as well.
3. I must define myself by my successes.
Without a robust, God-informed self-identity, I bought into the belief that my academic success was paramount to defining who I was. My anxiety about grades revealed that I needed a God-formed identity.
“Now it seems obvious that the three false beliefs I held were only serving to make me miserable. If I could go back, I would tell myself that I needed to unlock and believe the truth of what God says about me.” – Corey Porter
Examine your beliefs, or else!
When I measured my worth by my grades, anxiety had power over me and I habitually devalued myself. My unexamined identity was a shaky and broken identity. Now it seems obvious that the three false beliefs I held were only serving to make me miserable. If I could go back, I would tell myself that I needed to unlock and believe the truth of what God says about me.
As I learn to examine and turn from these false beliefs I can chose to define myself by what God says about me instead. Yet I still notice a stubborn resistance in me that refuses grace and cons me into thinking I can make my own identity through success. My failures are a constant opportunity for me to turn from self-reliance and redefine myself in Christ.
God severely but graciously convicts me of my stubborn resistance to his grace. This most often happens when I am studying his Word and in relentlessly honest relationships with other maturing believers.
Let’s get specific.
What truths did I need then, and still need today, when it comes to evaluating and defining my worth?
Five truths you must grapple with and believe
In Jesus Christ I am:
Ephesians 1:4 tells us, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Chosen. Picked first. Thought of. Selected.
John 1:12 tells us that we have been selected and adopted into God’s family. We have a new identity. We are no longer enemies of God, but rather children of God. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
If you are thinking you need to do something to earn your value, to prove your worth, to hold your spot? Consider Deuteronomy 7:6, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”
4. Eternally loved
Do I need to keep working to prove to God my thankfulness? Do I need to achieve all I am meant to be? What happens when I fail? Romans 8:38-39 is very clear, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:38-39)
5. Totally forgiven
And when failure comes? Do you believe what God thinks of you? Have you received the life offered to you in Jesus? 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains that we are completely forgiven, for the past, for today and for the future. “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
What or who are you asking: Am I okay?
I am encouraged that I can now be more conscious of how to increase my awareness of my self-worth in Christ and therefore battle against my anxiety. God reminds me that I cannot earn my self-worth. His Word reminds me that my self-worth is a gift of grace from Jesus and not contingent on my performance. All the approval, validation and affirmation I desire are only going to be fulfilled in what Jesus has already given me.
“God severely but graciously convicts me of my stubborn resistance to his grace. This most often happens when I am studying his Word and in relentlessly honest relationships with other maturing believers.” – Corey Porter
Understanding the truth of the gospel is the first step when you begin a relationship with Jesus; learning how to unpack and apply the gospel to your life, that’s a lifelong process.
Okay, I think you can see how prone we are to make our identity on something other than Jesus.
What about you? What are you using to measure your worth?
Is it the approval of certain people? Is it your ability to succeed in ______ area? Are you defining yourself by a wound or abuse from your past?
No matter what it is, if you are a child of God, Christ considers you completely perfect and completely acceptable. Maybe it’s time to ask God to help you rethink your identity in Christ and apply the gospel to every area of your life.
Here are some questions that might help you get started. Just replace ‘grades’ with whatever performance or relationship that you are looking to to define your worth.
How have you been equating your grades with your self worth?
What negative self talk surfaces when you get a low grade?
How does being confident in your identity in Jesus safeguard you from equating your grades with your self-worth?
Some additional resources to help:
Adrenaline and Stress by Dr. Archibald Hart
The Search for Significance: Seeing your truth worth through God’s eyes by Robert S McGee