When my kids were tiny, they loved Thomas the Train and all his friends. I loved watching them click the magnets together to make long, colorful lines of trains, and all the train noises they made as they moved them along the wooden tracks. I could still tell you all of their names. Hiro and Percy were my personal favorites. Those toy trains are still treasured — we keep a bin full of them to hopefully pass on to our kids’ littles someday.
In the television series and books, there’s a label that Sir Topham Hatt, the train conductor, consistently gives to these beloved trains as a measure of their value. He calls Thomas, and those he approves of, “really useful” engines.
I remember reading that description in one of the books and thinking about how good it feels to be useful, while simultaneously feeling like something didn’t sit well about striving for that affirmation. The trains beam when they hear Sir Topham Hatt say they are really useful.
I can picture myself beaming over a similar affirmation. I’m sure I’ve chased after affirmations like that before. No matter how old we are, most of us want to feel the weight of our true value. We want to be assured that we matter. It can be so easy to lose our way and forget that our value and worth isn’t something that can slip away, nor something that we have to prove.
Eventually, I remember having to stop in the middle of reading one of those familiar stories aloud, and tell my son that being useful isn’t our purpose; our measure of usefulness doesn’t increase or decrease our value as image bearers who are loved by God. I wanted to make sure he knew that God is not like Sir Topham Hatt, and honestly, I need the reminder too. I find this message of praising usefulness consistently wrapped around everything in our culture like a security blanket.
It sneaks up on us in our friendships when we find ourselves seeking to be the one who’s most needed. It follows us into motherhood like a phantom of the perfect mom who would never have kids who behave that way or struggle this way. It shows up in our communities and our ministry efforts when we sign up or raise our hand while secretly hoping others will notice how often we give of ourselves in the name of love, instead of from an overflow of being loved.
We all have Sir Topham Hatts in our lives (sometimes it’s us). The characters may change over time, and so might the settings. What’s elevated as most useful and good can change too, and I think that makes it even harder to see the lie woven alongside of half-truths. I easily forget that my worth is unchangeable and my value is inherent. My usefulness or lack of doesn’t impact my value as an image bearer.
Everything about Jesus tells us that our worth isn’t dependent on what we do or don’t do, how much we help or fail to, and what we achieve or not. Even in Jesus’ own life, God the Father says He is loved and pleased with Jesus before He begins preaching, telling stories, leading, and healing the sick. “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17).
Being delighted in and loved is the spiritual womb that Jesus’ ministry is birthed from. It’s the intimate place He goes back to again and again throughout His ministry and it’s the place He offers us to begin from and return to as well.
The trains we keep in our bin are full of memories. Watching my kids build and play, make funny train noises and voices, and enjoy themselves was delightful because their joy and mere presence have immeasurable worth. There’s nothing useful about it.
Sister, your joy and mere presence have immeasurable worth too.
You are perfectly loved.
You have inherent value.
You have nothing to prove.
You do not have to be useful; only loved.
Ruth Mills says
Amen! Hard lesson to learn but oh so wonderfully true in our Great Living God!
Thank you, Ruth. May we know it with greater depth, bit by bit.
Michele Morin says
This encouragement becomes ever more precious to me as I feel the effects of the aging process!
Mary M Castrovilla says
I feel that way too, Michele. I also feel that knowing it more and more heals the child in me too.
Wow. This really spoke to me. I retired before I was really ready. I try to fill the days volunteering, subbing at a school, connecting with friends but so often question my worth. So thank you for the reminder.
Madeline, I’m so glad. All wonderful things. May this season be one of growing in depth of God’s love for you.
Tanya Villani says
We are His Instruments of Peace wherever we go; that sweet fragrance of Christ. Oh how I long to bring joy to Abba Daddy & spread that joy in my everyday life. My heart was challenged.
I am a writer too but often procrastinate. I am a perfectionist in recovery, please pray for me.
Thank you for sharing. We are all growing in love, amen?
Tanya Villani says
Yes! Amen and amen.
Amada (pronounced: a.m.a.TH.a) says
WOW! The Lord knew I needed that! Please would you keep praying for my mama (Linda) and me?
You are so welcome. And yes, I will pray (got your message too).
Thank you, Tasha! I needed to hear this today!
I’m glad to hear that, Irene.
My oldest loved Thomas when he was young, and I have fond memories of many of the stories. We can probably all still sing the theme song. My youngest son has an intellectual and developmental disability, and that has shifted my thinking on how God values us. Thanks for this post.
Thanks for sharing that glimpse of your precious kiddos, Deborah. Grateful for that.
Jane Avery says
Wow! Thank you for sharing these insights reminding us of our worth that has little to do with our abilities and achievements. Our American culture is so not wired this way!
You are so welcome, Jane. I’m glad you are here.
God bless you for this post. God bless you for stopping the story and speaking to your son.
As I near retirement and now aging to a point I have felt obsolete, I have to remember I am not a part in a machine that is wearing out. I am here for whatever God has planned for me. WHATEVER that is.
My measure of usefulness is not what I do. I am loved as I am.
Oh, Debbie, amen. You are not obsolete. You are an irreplaceable treasure. May you know it with more and more depth. Thank you for sharing. We need you!
Made me teary eyed. Love you!
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
I remember Thomas the tank engine when I was a Registered Childminder for 19 years. Watched it TV had the books. Plus the trains From all the different colours. Thomas Blue James Red good fun and all the others. It taught the kids I looked after names and colours. Plus sound. It also reminds me of how we learn all that God want us to learn. Plus how we learn that God know ours names and loves us the same way you love your kids if you have any know they know the names of their toys like your kids Tasha knew the names of all the Thomas the tank engine trains and toys and love them. That is amazing you don’t have to God to be loved you are loved by him anyway no matter what. I say Amen to that. Loved today’s reading xx
I still love the trains. It’s all a good reminder now. Grateful for you!
Your article gave me a bag of mixed feelings. While it’s so encouraging to read that, I can’t say that’s been my reality and I still fight hard to believe and accept that in my life. Either way, you’ve given me something to sit and reflect on today so I’m grateful for your words!
That makes so much sense. It’s not an easy message to swallow sometimes—especially in environments that say otherwise and seem to reward usefulness. I pray it becomes more and more of a reality for you-maybe even one that you discover is/has been fighting for you, dear friend.
It really is difficult to chang that mindset sometimes.
And we are also a Thomas household.
It definitely is. May it become so anyway. Glad you are here.
Tasha, thank you. THANK. YOU. This: “Being delighted in and loved is the spiritual womb that Jesus’ ministry is birthed from. It’s the intimate place He goes back to again and again throughout His ministry and it’s the place He offers us to begin from and return to as well.” When I was so sick with Lyme that I couldn’t hardly function, this was a hard but comforting truth that God began to show me. Now that I’m doing a little better it’s easy to slide back into the old lies instead of luxuriate in the truth I was starting to understand. Really appreciate your message.
Belinda B says
I really needed to read this today.
Thank you x
Melissa Ens says
Oh dear, what does it say about my heart that I immediately started to think about how playing with trains and tracks IS useful??? I know it’s because I’m a former TK teacher and there are lots of developmentally appropriate things being practiced and learned in those settings BUT THE REAL POINT IS THE DELIGHT. Lord, please help me to remember that You delight in our delight. Amen.
Beth Williams says
Oh how I needed this today. December 2021 I began working in Covid ICU unit as clerical. My co workers kept singing my praises. I kept doing all that I could. September 2022 the other clerical suddenly quit. At that point my job changed drastically. No longer doing clerical work but stocking 28 ICU rooms. I didn’t like it at all. Felt like I had gone backwards from when I started working at hospital in 2019. Add to that I made some mistakes & have trigger finger pain. My self worth went down hill. I felt like no one really needed me anymore. Anyone can do my job. God has been doing a work in & through me. I’ve listened to Steven Furtick & read messages like these. It seems as if Jesus is trying to tell me something. Quit striving to prove yourself. Just be yourself & let your joy shine through. Help others as often as possible. Great message!!