Investing in yourself is worth it

Published 4:32 pm Sunday, February 20, 2022

There’s a passage of Scripture that, as a child, I simply couldn’t understand: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” It’s from the second chapter of the Letter to the Philippians.  When the Apostle Paul wrote the letter, the church in Philippi was young.  There were growing pains as the new religion, Christianity, took shape and people gathered together to worship and learn about Jesus of Nazareth. As a child, I didn’t understand how I was supposed to work out my own salvation.  But now, I appreciate this verse more than I would ever have imagined.  And it’s not because it tells me an easy truth I can put into my Doctrine Pocket and pull out in the middle of an argument. It’s not because it tells me something about the afterlife, or about things esoteric and extraordinary.

I love this verse because its simplicity holds a key to understanding the human experience: life isn’t easy, and the only way we can grow (in salvation, holiness, even just basic decency) is by committing to working on ourselves, refusing the allure of stagnation and inaction. Part of Paul’s admonition to the Philippians was teaching them not to rest in their newfound religious identity, as if all they needed to do was become Christian and everything else is finished! On the one hand, it would be awesome if life worked like that.  On the other hand, it might also be its own kind of hell if we got everything we wanted at all times and had no adversity in life.  I’m not sure I’d like the person I would be if God simply catered to my every wish and whim!

Whether you are a Christian or not, the wisdom here is universal.  By the way, if you aren’t a Christian, I don’t really blame you.  The Church doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to being an attractive institution to be a part of.  Perhaps you are a part of another religious tradition, like Buddhism, or you are as secular as they come. There is a universality behind Paul’s words that works regardless of the context. The idea that we are perpetual works-in-progress shouldn’t come as a shock to us, as we all are already in touch with the worst parts of ourselves.  It’s the doing that is hard, the actual work on ourselves that helps us flower and grow. But it’s worth it in the long run.  However you choose to grow and change, let it be by something that builds you up, reminds you of your worth and dignity, and shows you the infinite frontier of possibilities right before your eyes.  And never forget that investing in yourself is worth it, because you deserve love! So, love yourself by being willing to grow. Let’s hope there isn’t too much fear and trembling along the way.

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.