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Healthy Me, Healthy Us: Your Relationships Are Only as Strong as You Are
by Leslie Parrott
Learn More | Meet Leslie Parrott | Meet Les Parrott
God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.
I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. . . .
I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. . . .
Pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
Ephesians 3:14–19; 4:1–3
We had just stepped onto the platform in the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon, where nearly ten thousand people had assembled for a mega marriage seminar. That night each of the six speakers was to give a brief overview of what we would be speaking on over the next couple of days. Just before the rest of us went to the podium, our friend Gary Smalley captivated the crowd by holding up a crisp fifty-dollar bill and asking the massive audience, “Who would like this fifty-dollar bill?” Hands started going up everywhere. He said, “I am going to give this fifty dollars to one of you, but first let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple up the bill. Then he asked, “Who still wants it?” The same hands went up in the air.
“Well,” he replied, “what if I do this?” He dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, all crumpled and dirty. “Now who still wants it?” Again, hands went into the air. “You have all learned a valuable lesson,” Gary said. “No matter what I do to the money, you still want it because it doesn’t decrease in value. It is still worth fifty dollars.”
Gary’s simple illustration underscores a profound point. Many times in our lives we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make or the circumstances that come our way. We may feel worthless, insignificant in our own and in others’ eyes. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, we never lose our value if we choose to accept our significance.
Perhaps you’ve already internalized the message that crowd in Portland heard, and you already have a profound sense of significance. Maybe you already know at the center of your being, deep down in your soul, that your value is established for all time. Your lovability, and thus your significance, is rooted deep in God’s unending love for you. You don’t have to work harder, look better, or win prizes of any kind. You know and live the most crucial message ever articulated: that you have inestimable worth because you are a creation of the Creator.
Chances are, however, that even if you have experienced this significance at some time, you don’t feel significant all the time. Research reveals that while many of us have heard this ancient truth about our worth, most of us, most of the time, don’t incorporate it into our everyday lives. It doesn’t really make a difference. We hear the message. We agree with it. And that’s that. But instead of being confident of our significance—feeling it resonate deep within our bones every day—we fall back into the habit of trying to earn it. Even if we agree1 that our Creator loves us, we still end up feeling better about ourselves only when we are winning the attention and approval of others.
We seem to be on a cosmic quest to establish our value—to prove it, earn it, deserve it—so we can somehow experience the ultimate feeling of inner well-being. And once we find what we’re looking for, we relax—but only momentarily. Eventually the people we are pleasing—whether a parent, a spouse, a friend, an advisory board, or an audience—quit sending us love messages. Ultimately, we find2 ourselves back on our endless quest.
Finding the love of your life, for example, is an incredible experience, but it will not ultimately quench your thirst for significance. Neither will having children, as miraculous as that experience is. And neither will becoming famous, writing a bestseller, or building a successful company. Still, we run helter-skelter, always restless, desperate to find that next person, thing, or event that will satisfy our search. No wonder so many of us can identify with King Solomon’s words: “Everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 2:11 NIV).
In our clinical work, we are astounded and saddened that the majority of individuals we work with never experience their own deep sense of significance. It doesn’t seem to matter how much they believe a set of doctrines, subscribe to a particular faith, or even share their truth with others. The fact is, they feel good about themselves when they do important things, win important promotions or prizes, please the crucial people, and thus earn the right to see themselves in a positive light. As soon as they quit doing, winning, pleasing, and earning, they feel awful about themselves.
You may, at times, feel positive about yourself. But if that feeling of significance comes and goes, and then you’re back on the treadmill of doing, you haven’t yet grasped your true worth. And you’re not alone. The most common addiction of all, we’ve found, is the endless internal compulsion to satisfy your frantic quest to feel good about yourself by simply making yourself worthy of positive self-assessments. In other words, you’ve fallen for the “you have to do something in order to be someone” trap. You feel you must lose weight, climb the corporate ladder, birth a child, make a certain amount of money, or become a leader to gain significance.
But a deep sense of personal significance doesn’t depend on externals. And it’s foundational to emotional health. Until you claim this significance at your core, you cannot be emotionally whole. When you try to earn this significance and assume you deserve it because of your “success,” you will only gain an artificial and worthless variety of it. Such a gain really contributes nothing to your overall emotional health. In fact, it may well blind you to the fact that you don’t feel intrinsically good about being you.
Why is it so hard to embrace the fact that profound personal significance is received, not achieved? Why are we so addicted to trying to prove our value? These questions have haunted the human race for centuries. Part of the answer, we believe, is that we are rarely given the tools to receive this truth in the deepest and most central parts of our beings—and this is exactly what we dedicate the next two chapters of this book to doing.
We want you to have the time-tested tools for really embracing your personal significance. Whether you are starting from the ground up or are already well on your way, we want to show you exactly how to receive the greatest love of your life. It is the most important and foundational step to wholeness, and it is key to helping you enjoy the kinds of relationships you long for.
The first chapter of this book explores self-talk. Without profound significance, you will be seduced by a cycle that is sure to leave you breathless. No matter how great the level of success, popularity, or power you achieve, the attention it garners will cause you to believe that whatever love has come your way is the result of what you do—not who you are. And you’ll soon—inevitably—find yourself back where you started. Only this time little voices, “self-talk,” will conspire to keep you feeling anxious. However good you feel3 about yourself when you have achieved that good feeling, you are only a whisper away from feeling bad. When your work is criticized, your sense of value is directly affected. When you’re left alone or abandoned, you’ll see such situations as evidence of your worthlessness. Instead of trying to understand your limitations when you fall short, you’ll blame yourself, ironically, not for what you did, but for who you are.
Feelings of inferiority make little distinction between who you are and what you do. And when you lack a profound sense of significance, you will spend at least half your time feeling inferior. Fundamentally, though, whether you feel momentarily good or bad, anxiety will haunt your life. You will never be far from despair.
But that doesn’t have to be the life you choose. You can have a life of profound significance. It begins with tuning in to the single most important conversation you ever have, your “self-talk.” Your internal dialogue is key to learning exactly how you feel about you. It is an indispensable tool in learning to let love capture your being. What you say to yourself is the most important conversation you have all day. Yet precious few pay attention to it. And only the most well adjusted know how to monitor their inner voice for the sake of accepting their own significance. We dedicate the first chapter in this part to helping you tune in to your self-talk.
The second chapter helps you take a good look at your past—the factors that have shaped you. Why? Because this is the biggest obstacle to anyone wanting to embrace their significance. Pain from the past, for example, can keep some of us so stuck that we stay there forever. That’s why, in chapter 2 of this section, we help you unpack your emotional baggage. You will be amazed by how the step-by-step exercises in this chapter can help you get unstuck and move more quickly than you imagined on your journey of personal growth. So get ready. We are going to help you identify any personal obstacles from your own history, and then get you moving on—beyond whatever may be holding you down from your past.
We’ll say it again. Personal significance is the first time-tested step to health and wholeness. It is the prerequisite to well-being. You can never live to the fullest, never enjoy relationships at their peak, until you experience a permanent and profound sense of significance deep in the core of your being. Only then will you hear a voice that reverberates in every corner of your personality, saying, I’ve known you from the beginning and called you by name. I knitted you together in your mother’s womb and counted every hair on your head. Wherever you go, I go with you, and I’ll never abandon you or hide my face from you. You belong to me, and I belong to you. You are marked by my love, and you are the pride of my life. Nothing will ever separate us (Jer. 1:5).
When we experience this kind of love, when we recognize how profoundly significant we are to God, it opens the door to a full life. Ultimately, our compulsion for completion can only be met in God’s love. When we experience this extravagant love from God all the time, it takes the pressure off our earthly relationships, empowering emotional intelligence and health with everyone we encounter.
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