What would you do with a five dollar bill, if someone just gave it to you — no strings attached?
What if I just ripped it up?
You may react to this wanton act of waste. With good reason. Although it’s only five bucks — with it I could have bought a couple cups of coffee, a bag of milk, or provided change for the parking meter.
Better yet, I could have given it away to someone in need or towards a good cause.
Our reaction may reflect the belief in equating the value of something by the number of dollars associated with it. Our economy runs on the exchange of those dollars for that thing. Inherent value is thus measured.
I don’t think we would ever question that way of running our economy and our daily lives.
A school principal stood in front of a group of students at the start of the school year and, without any introduction, did just that: ripped up a five-dollar bill. The students gasped in horror: “Don’t do that!” “What are you doing?” “Are you crazy!!”
He went on to say that’s what happens when students don’t show up for classes, don’t study for exams, don’t complete their homework, skip practice, or don’t apply themselves in some way to the course of learning — it’s just like ripping up money.
They waste the value inherent in the functioning of their minds, their hearts, their bodies. What is more, they throw away the potential growth of the inherent value of their lives.
There was another reaction by some of the students who witnessed the destruction of the five dollar bill. They laughed, cajoled and cheered on this demonstration of waste. In response, the principal remarked that it’s sometimes easier to accept, even laugh at, someone else’s folly — someone else’s waste of talent and potential. Because it’s not my five-dollar bill that’s being ripped up.
“What if you did that with your money?”
The students settled down. It makes a whole lot of difference when it’s your very own money being destroyed and lost. The principal encouraged students to take individual responsibility for their own decisions. So, that their behavior would reflect not a waste of the beauty, goodness and inherent value of life but a growing, flowering and open expression of the gift of life.
Unlike the value of money — or anything in the world that depends on the exchange of material goods — our lives speak of an inseparable worth, a “peaceful worthwhileness in each person” (p. xii, Rowan Williams, Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another). The value of life cannot be reduced to a dollar amount. The gift of our life that we offer to the world cannot be measured. The value our creator God sees in us cannot be contained or removed by any measure of economy.
We can certainly throw our lives away in wasteful living, unhealthy lifestyles, and destructive relational patterns — as the Parable of the Prodigal Son demonstrates (Luke 15:11-32). But the inherent value of each of our lives can never be ripped out of our hearts. Our God is always ready to welcome us home to ourselves, to the true purpose of our lives, and into the arms of a loving God.