The Worth of Our Souls

Nov 19, 2021

As a student of Social Work, and a fan of Brené Brown’s wisdom on vulnerability, I can relate to the sentiment that quantifiable (measurable) work is the foundation of research, to-do lists, and our general sense of accomplishment. Let’s admit that at the end of the day we like clarity to know we are close to completing the tasks before us.

This measurable principle is at the heart of our very real and complicated struggle to disassociate our work with our worth. There is a real tension that exists between what my favorite professor would have called ‘quantitative and qualitative’ work. 

I’ve learned that qualitative work includes all that can be observed without standard assigned numerical values: language, relationships, artistic expression, faith, mental health, etc. Both qualitative and quantitative information are important and good. Qualitative, however, is (understandably) far more edifying in terms of calculating our personal wins and losses.

As it turns out, most of the foundational things in life that we value (relationships, integrity, and self-care to name a few), cannot be calculated. Brené goes as far as to say, ‘if it cannot be measured, it doesn’t exist.’

But what of our days spent toiling behind-the-scenes, tinkering on that passion project, caring for littles, being present to those we care about, creating habits that help us or others to thrive are all of these for naught? It can certainly feel that way, but in our heart of hearts, we know this to be untrue.

Speaking into the Void

Many of us have first-hand experience of the chasm that exists between the place for peer evaluations and self-awareness; seeking affirmation that the extraordinary effort being called from us, counts for something.

Certainly, at any point in life when we have found ourselves in transition: engagement/divorce, pregnancy, work/maternity leave, sending kids to school for the first time/empty nesting, grief, habits of self-care, new job/retirement, moving, recovery, and so on, all can highlight our shifting call. Similarly, anyone who has been in it for the long haul as a caregiver, support staff, or starving artist waiting for a big break, can attest to the same monotonous slog that might lead us to equate the work of our hands with the worth of our souls. 

This is simply not the case, and realistically speaking, it can be difficult to get to this heart space.

Liturgical landmarks

I firmly believe that it is no coincidence that the holiest times of the Liturgical year are precisely these times of great transition and re-evaluation. The seasons of Lent and Advent each invite us to step out of our routines and into a new practice of slowing down, taking ourselves out of the driver's seat for a season, while attuning our hearts to the One who spoke us into being.

 For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. Ephesians 2:10

No matter our daily vocation, whether as ringleader or best supporting role, we are invited not once, but twice a year to step out from behind that identity and come to know ourselves more intimately as beloved children of God.

 It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another. John 15:16-17

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. Jeremiah 1:5

 Saintly Reminders 

Who better to remind us of the beauty and goodness of those who are called to quiet roles of steadfastness and fidelity than St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church? In this year of St. Joseph, it is worth noting that he does not speak one word in the entire story of the nativity, or ever. He is chosen to be the adoptive father of God incarnate, and despite his initial hesitation, forges on as the head of the Holy Family, forming, teaching, loving the Savior of the world as Jesus’ earthly father and Mary’s spouse.  

Mary herself, though we get to hear more from her, is chosen to be the new Ark of the Covenant. Not because of her larger-than-life personality or impressive vitae, but in her obscurity and faithfulness, God saw fit to orchestrate the Incarnation, with her cooperation. The Advent season we are about to enter is paved by those who understood well the significance of work that would never be calculable

‘I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way – very short and very straight little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not have trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. […] Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow. On the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.’     St. Thérèse of Lisieux

St. Thérèse is another prime example of how the ‘little way’ is used in big ways. Thérèse died at the age of 24 and has since been counted among one of the four women doctors of the Church (alongside Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Hildegard of Bingen). So small was her sphere of influence during her lifetime, that her community wondered what they could say about her at her funeral. Imagine!

Culturally it can feel like an insult to be encouraged to become still less, and yet whether we are called to do large or small things, we depend upon these reminders of what is possible in the ordinary moments of our lives. In the words of Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

In this topsy-turvy life, we may only catch a small glimpse of the long view that the Lord has in mind for the work to which we have been called, and we can walk confidently in that.


Katie Cassady Spoken Women Team and creator at
Photo by Amin Hasani on Unsplash

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