For reasons that are a mystery to me, I enjoy shopping for shoes. Actually, to be more accurate, I enjoy finding bargains in shoe stores. Maybe it’s because I find shoes so outrageously expensive. Whatever the explanation, when I walk into my favorite shoe store (the one where they used to make annoying sale announcements and play high volume oldies but have recently become more sedate), I immediately head to the back of the store to the clearance rack. Now it’s true that I rarely find anything there that interests me. The shoes that have been relegated to this land of lost soles are either stylistically challenged or in obscure sizes that only pygmies or NBA players could possibly use. But in my closet is a pair of casual shoes that satisfied my wife’s fashion sense, feel light and comfortable, look great with jeans, was within my size range, and was marked down to 20 bucks. The memory of that find motivates me to keep going back and browse through the green and purple running shoes and size 22 steel-toed moccasins.
All these footwear failures have one thing in common: the pink sticker. To me it’s a sign of a potential bargain; for the shoe it is an emblem of shame. The pink sticker is evidence that either the appearance, shape, or usefulness, of that shoe has been tried in the marketplace and found wanting. As popular (and therefore overpriced) shoes are held in high esteem and fly off the shelves, these misfits languish in obscurity until donated or discarded.
While reading the 139th Psalm the other day, I was reminded of those pink stickers. The psalmist makes the statement “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” He says this after a lengthy meditation on the truth that God knows all about us. I think the writer is amazed that the One who knows us so well takes credit for making us. In spite of His perfection and our weakness, God values us above all creation. As another Psalm puts it, He “crowns us with glory and honor.”
How sad then that we who can celebrate such affirmations would be so prone to place on others a metaphorical pink sticker that indicates diminished value. It may be because of their size or their color or their style; it might be they are unseen or unnoticed; perhaps they get in the way of our agenda or cannot contribute to our success; they may be “different” in a way that makes us uncomfortable. For those of us in ministry, we can be tempted to seek an inventory reduction of the critical, the undependable, the complaining, or even the less gifted.
This doesn’t sound anything like Jesus. His disdain for the pink sticker is obvious. No one He encountered was relegated to the clearance rack. I think He could value each person because He knew how valued He was by His heavenly Father. “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,” were the words He heard when he humbly offered himself to John’s baptism. I would surmise that one reason we so easily stick a pink sticker on others is the nagging suspicion we deserve one ourselves. Or worse, we have actually slapped one on ourselves, and putting others “in their place” is our attempt at finding self-worth in the deceptive realm of comparison.
I think the alternative is better: allowing the Creator who knows all about us and the Savior who died for us to declare us redeemed, forgiven, restored—and even in our sinfulness, of great value. Let’s remember we’ve been pulled off the clearance rack. We have been placed on display at the front of the store, with a sign announcing not our sale price, but the price by which we have already been purchased—a price which is beyond human calculation. Let’s rip the pink sticker off our self-perceptions so we, like Jesus, are free to value those that the world would overlook or demean.
That’s even better than a bargain at the shoe store.