The Gift of Dignity
Fifty years ago in Montgomery, Alabama, an unassuming black woman decided that her dignity was nonnegotiable. Instead of relinquishing her seat to a white man and moving to the back of the bus, she refused and paid the consequences. Today she is among one the most-honored people in American history.
Nothing is more important than one's personal sense of dignity. Maintaining it, however, is often a major challenge. Our self-worth can suffer daily erosion from lack of acceptance, belittlement, discrimination, or disregard.
One of the most painful visits I ever made was to friend’s home after he learned he was laid off. He had served many years as vice president of a major Houston bank, but the poor economy had forced businesses to eliminate many middle managers. Never had my friend imagined the indignity of unemployment. Though he knew the decision was financial, it cut to his core.
This man looked to his lifelong faith in God to discover a new vocation. After considerable prayer and thought, he discerned that his primary call was to work with an agency that helped laid-off people find new work.
Our response to a seeming loss of dignity is precisely where our faith in Christ gives life. When we seriously question our worth, we must remember that we are beloved children of God. Our very creation declares that we are made in His image (Gen. 1:26), which informs us that our dignity is a given, a birthright!
A Christian’s dignity is restored by One “who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). This great passage about an act on our behalf reminds us that we are significant in the eyes of God.
Paul declares that the most dignified thing we can do is “empty” ourselves and serve others with kindness and love. The vocation to serve Christ in our workplaces has no relation to titles or salary but to how we treat others—how we endeavor to lift up, affirm with our words, and listen to those whom we serve or with whom we share work. To “empty” ourselves is to remember that the most humble action can be an imitation of Christ to the world.
As the people of God, we receive the gift of dignity. But by our willingness to support and lift up the people in our lives, we receive the gift of being servants of Christ, who restores the dignity of all.
Image: Rosa Parks lying in honor at the Capitol in October 2005
Questions for discussion:
1. What is the most consistent challenge to your own sense of worth and dignity?
2. What are ways that you could empty yourself and serve others in your workplace?
3. In light of the passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2:1-11, define “servant leadership.”