Image Source: Psychology Today
I’ve blogged on disliking the goal of boosting one’s self-esteem before, but I’d like to add another analogy to the mix. I hope it’s helpful to you, beloveds. When I was growing up, the conversation of battling low self-esteem problems was highly popular. Though the term may not be as front-and-center right now, I think the underlying notion of “self-esteem issues” remains fixed in our current culture: We hear the call to think positively of ourselves, we must build ourselves up, do what’s best for you and only you, etc. And while these aren’t horrible things in themselves, I think this type of thinking and particularly counseling from this type of perspective is misleading and harmful. If these things become the main focus, they ultimately leave us feeling empty (we know that our “self” is tainted by sin and no amount of positive thinking can hide that), it tempts us toward self-centeredness and pride (where does our need/dependence on God come into play?), and though there may be immediate/temporary boosting effects from positive self-talk, it offers no lasting hope (again, we find that we continue to fail and our salvation has to come from a Source outside of ourselves). Good ole’ John Piper in “Don’t Waste Your Life” has an apt analogy:
“For most people to be loved is to be made much of. Almost everything in our Western culture serves this distortion of love. We are taught in a thousand ways that love means increasing someone’s self-esteem. Love is helping someone feel good about themselves. Love is giving someone a mirror and helping him like what he sees.
This is not what the Bible means by the love of God. Love is doing what is best for someone. But making self the object of our highest affections is not best for us. It is, in fact, a lethal distraction. We were made to see and savor God– and savoring him, to be supremely satisfied, and thus spread in all the world the worth of his presence. Not to show people the all-satisfying God is not to love them. To make them feel good about themselves when they were made to feel good about seeing God is like taking someone to the Alps and locking them in a room full of mirrors.”
I love that Alps/Room full of mirrors analogy! It captures the problem well. To clarify, I don’t validate self-hatred. Some could argue that my position leads us to hate and despise ourselves. That is not at all what I’m advocating for here. We are made in God’s image and because of that we are inherently valuable. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2: 10). If we are in Christ, when God sees us, He sees Christ. We are clothed in His robes of righteousness. Keeping with the Ephesians 2 passage, but before we received Christ, we were in sin: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). That’s why, beloveds, I hope to emphasize with others and remind myself that my sin and failure is important to see (not to wallow in it NOR to wish it away), as it drives me to the beauty and amazing saving grace of Jesus Christ. The final result is, as Piper says, to worship and savor and delight in God Himself. To love Him is to truly love ourselves! Awareness, confession and repentance of sin is actually good because it drives us to see our insufficiency and need for Christ. He then begins to take the starring role in our lives.
Romans 5:6-11 connects this transition from sin leading to God honoring worship and rejoicing: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (my italics).
Tim Keller has a great little book about this (see below). I’d definitely recommend it to anyone intrigued by this conversation! We shouldn’t desire great self-esteem nor should we hate ourselves, our aim is self-forgetfulness as we desire God’s glory most of all. We become less and He becomes more in our hearts and lives. God, please help us point people away from themselves and to You, Creator of the Alps (more satisfying than the Alps could ever hope to be) and the most glorious of all.