Jo Acharya | June 7, 2023
Six years ago, I left a job I loved because I was exhausted. Cystic fibrosis had reduced my lung function to the point where I had to accept that I could no longer manage all the things I wanted to do. It was a huge loss, and a blow to my identity. Who was I if I couldn’t do the work I was trained for? Who was I if I ended up not being able to work at all?
Since then, I’ve found new ways to be ‘useful’ and ‘productive’. But I’ve also begun to understand more fully that God’s view of these things different vastly from mine. So I immediately resonated with the title of Liz Carter’s new book, Valuable: Why Your Worth Is Not Defined By How Useful You Feel. Drawing on her own experience of illness and longing to be ‘useful’, Liz gently steers us toward a hopeful and thoroughly Biblical reassessment of what it really means to be valuable – and more than that, to be human.
Useful or beloved?
Liz begins by examining a particular way of talking about Christian life that will be familiar to anyone involved in church:
“God can use you.”
“Lord, we pray that you would use us.”
“Anyone can be useful to God.”
Honestly, this language of use is so commonplace in Christian culture that I’d never thought about how unhelpful it might be to a non-believer or a survivor of abuse. The unintentional implication that God is a ‘user’ should be reason enough to find better words to express what we mean.
But Liz goes deeper, showing that it’s not enough to simply adjust our vocabulary. Beneath these throwaway phrases lies a false and spiritually damaging belief that our value is somehow tied to our productivity, our talents, our usefulness.
Through an engaging mix of scripture and real-life stories, Liz pictures for us a more Biblical way of understanding our relationship with God. She explains that rather than objects of use, we are beloved partners in God’s ‘upside down kingdom’. Then gradually, gently, she goes on to demonstrate how powerfully freeing that truth is, and how it changes everything.
For those of us who, like Liz and me, live with chronic health challenges, so much in this book is a healing balm. Liz returns again and again to the Bible to challenge ideas that weakness is a problem to God, or that our pain is primarily a tool for him to use. She reminds us of the ways that God actually honours weakness and pain, and how embracing one another’s innate dignity and worth can bring Christian community closer to the heart of Jesus.
In ‘Valuable’ Liz offers a deep and profound expression of God’s grace for anyone who has ever felt ‘useless’. But I think the message of this book is just as important for those of us who feel ‘useful’. Like Jesus’s friend Martha, many of us find our value in the things we do – work, service, ministry – and struggle with the pressure that comes from the desire to measure up. Here, Liz invites us into a ‘better script’: ‘Let’s re-imagine our love story with God as one in which we love and are loved to the full, rather than a place in which we must perform.’
‘Valuable’ is a well-written and sensitive book, stripping away layers of cultural baggage as Liz seeks to help us shed the unhelpful narrative of use and come to rest in God’s faithful love. Incorporating beautiful prayers, insightful questions and a seven-day reflective guide, she succeeds in giving us not just abstract ideas but a space to reflect and be guided by the Holy Spirit. Valuable is a precious gift.