I could choose to define myself using one or some of my many roles or titles. I’m a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, grandson, Priesthood holder, student, employee, runner, addict, musician, etc. But which one truly defines me? Which one defines who I really am… which one defines my self-worth? I have come to believe that although I am all of these things, I am—first and foremost—a son of God. The order of this definition—that is, my being a son of God before I am (or became) anything else—has become a most treasured truth to me in my recovery from addiction.
One of the worst lies the devil persuaded me to believe is that my worth is determined by my behavior. I’m not referring to self-esteem, although depending on its definition I suppose they could be similar. I find it helpful to consider self-esteem and self-perception as similar things, as the lens through which one views him- or herself. While the lens I was using to view myself did not provide an accurate representation of who I am, my real trouble has been how I determine my value as a person.
Here’s a definition of value: the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance or preciousness of something. Throughout my life—both before and during my addiction—I’ve struggled to feel important. I largely allowed my social standing amongst peers to influence how I view myself. As a child I was socially awkward, which led to some ridicule from my school classmates. As I grew out of adolescence and developed social skills, I constantly retained a fear of rejection. Social acceptance validated my worth. Eventually my poor choices led me to depression and addiction, both of which challenged my incorrect method of self-perception. I reached a point where I felt that I had no source of self-worth or value. I thought, “Sure, it’s nice that people like me and that I have friends; but if they could see who I really am… my darker side, my pornography addiction… then they wouldn’t like me. They would reject and despise me.”
For years I allowed my fear of rejection to prevent me from opening up to anyone. And despite my self-loathing, I got pretty good at putting on a happy face. I was leading two lives. Thus my addiction’s roots grew stronger and deeper, and I learned to hate myself.
I even used scriptures and quotes from Church leaders to convince myself that I wasn’t worth anything. Of course, I know now that I was using them outside of their intended context, and that the devil was behind it. For example: “What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue” (Preach My Gospel, p.115-126). Yes, that is a true statement. In my despair, however, the adversary convinced me that this was about my value as a person instead of a measurement for a desirable attribute. Sadly, I believed his lies. Here’s how I read it: “What I choose to think and do when I’m alone and no one else is watching is a strong measure of my worth.” I knew what I was doing when no one else was watching, and I hated myself for it. “So,” I thought. “I must not be worth very much at all… I’m disgusting. I’m nobody.” I allowed this instance, among many others, to warp how I measured my self-worth.
What a horrible state of being—where the enemy of my soul gained enough power over me to twist the truth against me, to lead me to believe that I was worth nothing to myself or to anyone else, including God!
Thankfully, this warped self-perception and measure of self-worth has been slowly corrected throughout my recovery from addiction. It was a lie that developed into a pattern of thinking. It affected everything in my life, and I held on to it for years. Only within the past year have I finally come to learn and believe that my worth is NOT determined by my behavior. This has required numerous wonderful experiences and moments of illumination from Heavenly Father. One in particular comes to mind.
I was studying Clean Hands, Pure Heart by Phillip A. Harrison (a fellow addict in recovery). I had been struggling to understand how God could and why He would (or even should) still love me despite all my faults and horrible choices. Then I read this:
“God doesn’t love us because we are good. God loves us because he is good” (source).
When I read this, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to my soul in a very personal way that God does love me and that my poor choices (or even my good ones) haven’t affected that. What relief and solace! God’s love for me doesn’t depend on my behavior. God loves me because that’s who He is. I’ve believed that I’m one of His spiritual sons for as long as I can remember. But why does, how can, and why should He love me after all the horrible things I’ve done? He loves me because that’s who He is, and because I am His child.
When I think back to all the times I’ve sinned or come up short, I think of how He responded to me every time I prayed to Him to ask for forgiveness and help. Not once did He ever say, “No, you’re on your own.” He’s never turned me away or told me to come back later once I’d fixed my problems. I knew that His love doesn’t excuse me from obeying His laws, but oh how much more I want to obey Him knowing that He still loves me when I falter. In fact, He wants to help me when I falter! Isn’t that one of the purposes of Jesus Christ’s Atonement: to run to my aid when I need divine assistance the most? He doesn’t yell at me or get impatient with my weaknesses or tell me I’m not worth the effort. Instead He encourages, loves, and helps me change. And when I submit to Him and His will, He actually changes me. I’m so grateful to Him for teaching this to me so gently and patiently.
I still feel tempted occasionally to think that my behavior affects how God views me, what He thinks of me, and that He loves me. But now I have beautiful spiritual experiences to combat the whispered lies that come from the enemy of my soul. My self-perception, or lens through which I view myself, has been corrected; and I now choose to define my self-worth with the knowledge that I am a son of God, and He knows I have an infinite worth. To help myself remember this truth, this is how I introduce myself at addiction recovery meetings (I picked it up from a fellow addict in recovery): “Hi, I’m Mike. I’m a son of God and an addict in recovery.” First and foremost, before anything else, I am a son of God.
God loves me; I know He does. And nothing I do can ever change that. Based on this truth, and on the principle that God is always the same, I can testify—and do testify—that He loves all of His children the same way.
I think the Apostle Paul said it beautifully:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).