Digging In: A Discussion on Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is one of those tricky phrases we hear a lot in our culture. We're told it's a mark of a healthy person. Articles on self-esteem shout at us as we stand in line at the grocery store, looking at all the women's magazine covers.
What does it mean to have good self-esteem as a Christian woman? Does it even belong in a Christian's vocabulary? What does it mean to suffer from lack of self-esteem? How do we keep from settling on the world's definition of self-esteem, instead of God's? Some Christians even go so far as to say self-esteem is not of God – in effect, evil? What do you think? Let's dig in!
First, we need to clarify our language so we're all on the same page. Dictionary.com defines self-esteem as "a feeling of pride in yourself" and "the quality of being worthy of esteem or respect." Essentially, it is holding yourself – your body, mind, soul, spirit, everything you are – in high appreciation or regard. It is to think highly of yourself, to love who you are, and to be happy in who you are in all of these areas. It is putting yourself where you would elevate an object of importance and high worth: on a pedestal.
At first glance, it doesn't seem like there is anything wrong with taking pride in who we are. Our culture tells us that we need to have a high view of ourselves. Yet the Bible clearly asserts the opposite. All are sinful, there is none righteous (Romans 3:23). We are born into this world sinful, jealous, greedy, quick to anger, etc. Most of you will agree that there is abundant evidence to support this claim. Just think of when you carelessly gossip at work, when you don't help out where you need to, or when you hastily speak words of hate instead of love.
A lot of women suffer from poor self-esteem in one major area: physical appearance. So many of us are obsessed about our weight, and for unhealthy reasons. We are convinced that to accept ourselves as truly beautiful, we need to look like Elizabeth Hurley or Kate Moss. We tell ourselves that guys, even Christian ones, are shallow and visually-stimulated, so we resign ourselves to trying to pull off the supermodel look, some even going to extreme measures to make ourselves and others happy with our looks.
Others suffer poor self-esteem from comparing ourselves to others.
"She lives in such a posh townhouse, and I'm still renting someone's basement!"
"She gets to be a wife and mom – I'm single and pushing papers!"
"She has such a gift for encouraging others – why can't I be like her?"
"She is so smart and says all the right things – I could never live up to her!"
And the list goes on and on.
For some, self-esteem can be unbalanced. While there are certain parts of us we don't value/esteem as highly, there are other areas in which we take an inordinate amount of pride. A lot of us indulge in an overactive sense of self-esteem, or a very airbrushed self-image.
Take a long look at yourself in the mirror of your heart and check yourself out. Where are you basing your sense of self-worth? This is something we women should get in the habit of doing every day, because every day we are barraged with an onslaught of worldly messages: e.g., physical appearance is the most important quality, brains will get you power and wealth, etc. It is terrifyingly easy to get sidetracked from God's truth and lured into worldly thinking. Test your heart with these questions:
Where am I basing my sense of self-worth?
- my physical features, appearance, sense of style
- my intelligence
- my expertise
- my achievements
- my talents
- my romantic relationships
- my friends and family, social connections
- my various attributes/character qualities: my charm, charisma, friendliness, resoluteness, strength, boldness, mercy, take-charge attitude, etc.
- my great job
- my financial status
- my job/role as a wife, mother, student, employee, boss, etc.?
Reality check: everything we are and everything we have comes from God. We did not do anything to deserve what we have been given. It is God's grace, pure and simple. So how come we still act like we are the ones who made ourselves the way we are?
First of all, we need to humble ourselves and give thanks to God and rejoice in the wonderful things He has blessed us with. But we also need to request the proper perspective on how to view our blessings: they are gifts from Him, to be stewarded wisely (that extends to everything – our relationships, our bodies, our talents, etc.). Also, as wonderful as they may be, they are not solid enough to hold us up forever – our cute young faces will get wrinkles, no matter how popular Botox becomes; our savings accounts will be depleted or we will die before we have a chance to delegate the funds; our own character traits sure can't save us, because apart from God, they are still tainted by sinful nature; our boyfriends and husbands are only human, flawed as we are, and will not satisfy all our needs and wants like we'd hoped; and there will always be someone with a more impressive resume of achievements than our own.
Finally, at the core of our very beings, we should base our self-worth in nothing more and nothing less than Christ, in His magnificent love for us and how He demonstrated that through His death and resurrection. And why? Because "Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:5). This promise from above is also our surefire way of protecting against an extreme attitude either way that results in a self-image that is out of whack: either a self-depreciating loathing, or an overly inflated ego. We can acknowledge that we are incompetent in and of ourselves to save ourselves, and that we're a sinful package, through and through.
But we don't stay there, dwelling on how sinful we are and how unworthy. Move on from there! After experiencing God's grace, and seeing the beauty and wonder of who we truly are in Christ, we will come to love ourselves. This is not a prideful or selfish love, but a love that is thankful to God for uniquely crafting us to demonstrate His truth and love to others. We can only have good and true self-esteem in Christ when we look at our whole selves through His lense of grace. We can love the way we look, all the while knowing and rejoicing that life goes deeper than skin surface. We can delight in our talents and gifts and resources, and even more so knowing that Christ works through those gifts and makes them more powerful than they could ever be on their own.
So does the word self-esteem have a place in the Church? Yes and no. If by self-esteem we mean basing our sense of self-worth in only ourselves, then that is unrighteous self-esteem. It is less than the best. You can do infinitely better. But a sense of genuine self-love and respect that results from seeing the way God sees you – that kind of self-esteem rocks!
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