Most of us grow up in a world where life is dispensable, where our individual contributions go unrecognized, where there is no real sense that life – ours or anyone’s – is significant or meaningful.
At the root of this restlessness and discontent is the deep-deated conviction that “I Don’t Matter.” A belief that if I were to show up someplace or not, or make some kind of contribution or not, it would not fundamentally affect the world or the people that live in it.
Think about that for a minute. If you don’t feel like you make a difference in the world, how excited can you be about the things you do and the choices you make? When you wake up in the morning and you feel like what you do that day doesn’t matter anyway, how committed or passionate can you be?
This means you are absolutely necessary. You are indispensable to G-d’s vision of the world, chosen to fulfill a mission in this world that you and only you can accomplish Like musical notes in the grand Divine composition, each of us has our unique music to play.
If you think this is a simple message, let me share with you a letter that I received from a woman who read my book Toward a Meaningful Life:
“I am a 47-year-old executive—very successful and accomplished; admired and respected. Yet beneath this fine veneer lies a woman in shreds. You see, my soul was murdered as a young child when my parents abused me physically, emotionally, sexually. Every day of my life is essentially a struggle against suicide. I feel no self value, actually no self at all. I am a sum of my parts, and my value is based on how others value me. I have tried many therapies but essentially have remained the same. Intimacy doesn’t work in my life, relationships are either unhealthy or nonexistent.
“In order to compensate for this deep void and lack, what I have done, as do people in this situation, I have become superambitious and hyperproductive in order to create some semblance of outer control in place of no inner control. It helps distract me somewhat and helps get me through the day, but it doesn’t really change anything. Inside I am a wreck, and every day, sometimes every moment, is another struggle.
“I had long given up hope and resigned myself to this life of misery. But then a miracle happened. Someone gave me the book Toward a Meaningful Life as a gift. I am Jewish but non-observant, and I was glancing through the book with a measure of skepticism until a line jumped out at me and struck me like a thunderbolt, like a silver bullet between the eyes:
“The line said: ‘BIRTH IS G-D SAYING THAT YOU MATTER.’ I read it again. ‘BIRTH IS G-D SAYING YOU MATTER.’ I read it over and over at least 500 times. And I will continue to read it every day of my entire life.
“I suddenly realized, after 47 years, that no matter what my parents told me, no matter how they said I was an accident and a source of misery in their lives, that no matter how society tells us that we are just a statistic in someone’s balance sheet, that our value is measured in buying power, productivity, looks, youth, contacts, and money—none of matters because I matter to the One who matters most. To G-d, who created me and said, ‘I want you on this Earth. I need you.
“The mere fact that I was born, that I exist, regardless of my mood, my performance level, my looks that day. The mere fact that I am here is a vote of confidence from G-d that I am indispensable, absolutely necessary, irreplaceable. No one can replace me. I matter. I truly matter.
“Do you know how that made me feel? That I have permission to matter. I am commanded to matter.
“So though I still have many years to heal, now, for the first time in my life, I have hope. And I know what I need to do. I need to create bypass surgery to bypass the infected arteries that my parents gave me when they touched me, criticized me, hit me, for the first time, and reconnect to that first, pure, innocent moment of birth, when G-d said YOU MATTER, you are indispensable.
“So thank you for giving me back my life.”
This letter left me in tears for some time. It is a letter that changed my life. I grew up in a relatively healthy home and was nurtured and made to feel valuable. But hearing the heart-wrenching story from a woman who did not have that luxury, I was challenged to ask myself: “Do I matter because my parents valued me and because of my achievements, or do I matter in a more permanent, cosmic way?”
I began to pose this question to audiences across the country – and I ask you, dear reader, the same: Do you think that you really matter? The knee-jerk response is usually : Of course I matter – I feel that I am important. My family, friends and work colleagues value me. But let me rephrase the question: Would it make a difference if you were never born? Remember, before you were born, it would not be a catastrophe if you did not appear; no one would miss you because no one was expecting you.
Of course, we can justify our existence once we are born. But does our existence have any merit beyond our justifications? The only absolute reason why you truly matter is because you were chosen by G-d to come to this world. The words “Birth is G-d saying you matter” are not my own. They are taken from the Torah,which states the single most important truth you will ever hear:
Yes, you matter, not because you think you are important, or because others tell you that you are, or because of your buying power, monetary value, looks, performance or productivity level. But because G-d put you here. You are an indispensable musical note. Irreplaceable. Period. The world would be different if you were not here or if you do not fulfill your calling. You have been allotted a certain section of this globe, with certain talents; people you will meet; experiences you will have; places you will go; objects you will obtain – all are allocated to you in order for you to transform them, to leave them differently from how you found them. And this change lives forever. Eternally.
I believe that this simple, clear message is preventive medicine for much of the tragedy and suffering that plague our world today-the shootings, the hatred, the suicides, the wars. We need to reach to every person, to every child, every parent, every educator, every leader, with the message: You matter. Your life and what you do with it matters. You are indispensable to G-d and to this world.