You’re essential.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Jesus Christ (as quoted in Luke 12:6-7 (NIV)[1])

The greatest human hunger, the greatest need, is to matter. This need is so great as to be parent to doubt. Seven billion people wake up every morning, driven by the anxious thought, whether consciously or only subliminally felt: Do I matter? Does my life have meaning?

The institutions where we work and the people who lead them sometimes exploit this fear, by inviting us to define our worth and the meaning of our lives in terms of how they evaluate us. They can withhold or confer recognition, salary, praise, promotions, and through these and other measures invite us to adjust our sense of worth or purpose or value up or down accordingly. They can tell some of us we’re essential… and others that we’re not. The same can even happen at home, with those closest to us – parents, life partners, or children.

You and I do well to reject such outside invitations. We do better instead to note that Christianity, Judaism, and just about every other spiritual understanding speak to the incredible and irreplaceable worth of every individual. No human being or human authority can take our worth – our essentialness – from us.

These thoughts are universal, they’re at the core of our being; they’re something each of us needs to call to mind each and every day. But they are especially poignant this morning for U.S. federal employees, many of whom have been told officially they’re non-essential.

What a divisive, unhelpful notion[2].

Meteorologists and writers of science fiction share the understanding that each of us matters, in a special way. Science-fiction tales of time travel hinge on the magnification of the smallest interference in the past into huge changes in the world’s future. And since Ed Lorenz, meteorologists have understood that the minutest details in atmospheric conditions – the flapping of the butterfly’s wings – rapidly grow into major changes in the weather.

You and I are essential.

There’s good and bad news associated with our personal significance.

The good news? John Boehner or Harry Reid may think you and I, whether civil servant or member of the American public, are mere cyphers; the folks in the executive branch may have been forced to make arbitrary distinctions between “essential” and “non-essential,” but each of us matters.

The bad news? This essentiality carries responsibility, not just a right. This responsibility has two dimensions. First, each of us matters, all the time. There’s no hitting the PAUSE button. There’s no circumstance and no time of day that qualifies as down time, where we have no need to be responding to the better angels of our nature, when we can freely allow ourselves to be less than our best. [That doesn’t mean we can’t rest, or shouldn’t be relaxed, or build times of reflection and meditation into our lives. In fact, just the opposite is so. In our over-stressed, anxiety-driven world, virtually everyone hungers to encounter others who model peace, and trust; integrity, and a kind of inner quiet… and to be affirmed in that themselves.]

Second, if you and I are essential, then so is everyone else. The extended-family member who’s an irritant. That not-so-favorite work colleague. The politician across the aisle whose “obstinacy” we regard as singlehandedly accountable for the government shutdown. The surly clerk in the store.  The person whose brand of religious faith, or lack of it, we don’t understand or appreciate. Even the arch-enemy. We can’t dodge responsibility to get along with everyone, making peace our aim. We may not like what they say or do. But we need them, whether we think we do or not. In the same way, we can’t turn a blind eye to those who are malnourished or ill, in need or in desperate circumstances, even if they’re half a world away.

They’re essential.

Why the “bad” news is really good news also. As we come to appreciate the essentialness of others, and we begin to understand that we matter 24/7 to the larger scheme of things – not just occasionally, or sometimes, or to a few people, we grow into the fullness of who we’re intended to be.

You and I are essential. Whatever our circumstances are today, let’s think and act like it.

[1] Taken from a passage that in the NIV is subtitled “warnings and encouragements;” you might be interested in the fuller passage. In reading this, recall that in Jesus’ time, the power structure, both the Romans and the Pharisees, were doing a pretty good job of telling common men and women they didn’t matter much… rather like today.

[2] And it should be noticed, not one that federal managers are happy to make; they’re being forced to make such a distinction; they feel as victimized by this as those who work for them.

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