Another Anti Self-Esteem Post

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.

Not to Deny Self, but to Be Like Christ

There once was a time when I thought self-denial was noble and I marveled at the monastic life. However, looking back, I see a lot of selfishness in my motives. I wanted to deny self, not for God or others, but for my own sake; to make myself better. Below, Warfield calls us to pattern our lives after Jesus and his self-sacrifice, as “we are no longer are own, but we are bought with the price of his precious blood”:

“…Our self-abnegation is thus not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. And thus it is not to mere self-denial that Christ calls us, but specifically to self-sacrifice: not to unselfing ourselves, but to unselfishing ourselves. Self-denial for its own sake is in its very nature ascetic, monkish. It concentrates our whole attention on self—self-knowledge, self-control—and can therefore eventuate in nothing other than the very apotheosis of selfishness…. Self-denial, then, drives to the cloister; narrows and contracts the soul; murders within us all innocent desires, dries up all the springs of sympathy, and nurses and coddles our self-importance until we grow so great in our own esteem as to be careless of the trials and sufferings, the joys and aspirations, the strivings and failures and successes of our fellow-men. Self-denial, thus understood, will make us cold, hard, unsympathetic,—proud, arrogant, self-esteeming—fanatical, overbearing, cruel. It may make monks and Stoics,—it cannot make Christians.

He [Christ] was led by His love for others into the world, to forget Himself in the needs of others, to sacrifice self once for all upon the altar of sympathy. Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, His followers, not away from but into the midst of men. Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort. Wherever men strive, there will we be to help. Wherever men fail, there will we be to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there we will be to rejoice. Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. It means forgetfulness of self in others. It means entering into every man’s hopes and fears, longings and despairs: it means manysidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies. It means richness of development. It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives,—binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours. It means that all the experiences of men shall smite our souls and shall beat and batter these stubborn hearts of ours into fitness for their heavenly home. It is, after all, then, the path to the highest possible development, by which alone we can be made truly men.” —“Imitating the Incarnation,” B.B. Warfield.

No Self-Esteem? That’s good!

To quote the humble Dr. David Powlison:

“In a nutshell: human beings are meant to find God, the One who is worthy of all esteem. It is God who is worthy. It is He who is to be loved and adored; it is He who is to be esteemed and honored. Even in the language we use, the notion of a self-esteem, a self-love, a self-worth–there’s something about that which is implicitly trying to assert about myself something that provides a foundation for righteousness, hope and identity; when we’re actually designed by God to find worship, identity, hope, and meaning in someone else…in the notion that self-esteem is the core, there’s implicitly the wrong God asserted at the foundation.”

Theology and Secular Psychology class

Posting My First Paper!

It’s about time, since I’m going to graduate next month (ow ow)!

This was an easy peezy, short, and fun paper due today! The task was to share a non-scriptural resource that has impacted our lives and could be used in a counseling context. In fact, a blog post I wrote back in 2011 called “Jesus Everywhere” inspired my resource choice (you’ll see I copied parts of the blog post, though it doesn’t count as plagiarism since it was my own writing). 🙂 To get you in the mood, I thought I’d share this video. Enjoy!


In the spring of 2011, my family sat around the table eating pancakes for dinner. My sister asked if we had ever read The Giving Tree because the book came in the mail for her earlier that day. I wracked my brain trying to recall the moral of the story, or even just the mood. I knew of the famous children’s book. I am sure I read it at one time or another. The only thing I could remember was that distinctive cover: green, a tree towering over a little boy looking up at it. Not being able to withstand my ignorance any longer I said, “Story time.” I put down my syrupy fork and reached out for the book. I read the story aloud, showing pictures to my family like I would to a Kindergarten class. And my mind kept darting ahead, trying to predict Shel Silverstein’s ending. But it went in a more tragic direction than I had expected. The tree gives to the little boy throughout the years. First it’s her apples, but as the boy gets older he demands more and more of her, until she’s chopped down to a stump. And at last, when he’s an old man, she says she has nothing left to give. But then she realizes she does have something, and she invites him to sit on her stump to rest. “And the boy did. And the tree was happy. THE END.” Both Dad and I had silent tears. Who would have known that such a little book could conjure up such emotion? ”Jesus.” I said it again, “Jesus. For some reason this makes me think of Jesus.”

This story points to the God of Scripture and his relationship with us. First, as the tree delights to give to the boy, so God delights to give to his people. This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:11, “ If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” The lie Satan set loose in Eden was that God does not want good things for his children—Jesus’ words set the record straight. Secondly, every time the tree sees the boy and gives parts of herself, the narrator repeats, “and the tree was happy.” Does this not echo God’s exuberance and excitement over being in relationship with us? Zephaniah 3:17b affirms this, “…he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” In addition, like the boy, we are too busy. We pursue all the things he does- money, a wife and family, a house, and a boat. He hurt the tree to get what he wanted, and so we squander God’s grace in pursuit of worldly treasures. Though the tree suffered, she was still so excited to see the boy, and she loved him. The tree’s unrelenting love harkens back to the parable of the Prodigal Son where the Father (representing God the Father) runs out to the meet the wayward Son, even though the Son had greatly maligned him. What an unexpected and unhuman welcome!

Most powerfully, the tree gave all of herself to the boy (apples, branches and trunk) to the point that she had nothing left but a stump—yet even that she eagerly gave to the boy! Christ, too gave all of himself for us, even his very life. And he did that by “climbing up a tree,” a different tree, to suffer and die for us. Philippians 2:7-8 describes Christ’s sacrifice: “ but [Christ] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus emptied himself and died so we might live a glorious life and eternity with him. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). That is the Giving Tree. That is Jesus.

This story surprised me by the powerful depiction of the nature of God’s love. His love is perfect and almost unfathomable. After our read aloud, I realized a lie had crept into my heart; the lie that God is distant and unforgiving. The Giving Tree compelled me to explore Scripture—was the tree’s unconditional love for the boy like God’s love for me? Does God delight in me that much, want me that much, is he willing to sacrifice everything, even though I’m such a sinner? The verses I mentioned are only a sliver of those I found proving God’s sweet and intense love for me. In all my sinful estate, God sacrificed what was most valuable to him, his perfect son, Jesus Christ, for my sake. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This truth, prompted by the story of The Giving Tree, changed me in that I strive and pray to be the “anti-boy.” Spending as much time with the tree as I can, cultivating thankfulness, and turning away from earthly treasures are a few ways I attempt to do that. Moreover, the selflessness of the tree and her rich love are held out as a beacon before me.

In conclusion, the most obvious counseling application is to read The Giving Tree to a child in order to explain God’s love to them. However, not only did the story touch my heart as a woman in her 20s, but it also touched a man in his 60s, my Dad. God can use anything, even a children’s book to share his truth. Read this story to any aged counselee when in need of demonstrating the extreme measures God has undergone in order to be in an intimate relationship with them. No matter how we have maligned God, his love is greater. Does that not burn a fire in our hearts, springing us into action? Does that not ignite within us a love to worship, serve, and please him? Let us live today in light of such sacrificial love, as servants of the Man on–now off–the Tree.

A Window Into My Westminster World

My friend at Westminster recently created his own tumblr called “Calvin Would Be Proud.” I wanted to share it with you, beloveds, to give you a slice of my life here at Westminster Theological Seminary. I, myself, don’t get everything he says, but many of the counseling ones ring true to me. And his most recent post, see below, nailed it. I am definitely weird!

My Besetting Sin: “Make Much of Me!”

I can’t describe the practical outpouring of LOVE better than this.

“Do you feel more loved when God makes much of you or do you feel more loved when God, at the cost of His Son, enables you to enjoy making much of Him forever? . . . Love is doing whatever you have to do at whatever cost to yourself in order to help another person stop finding pleasure in being made much of and help them get to the mature, God-exalting, Christ-besotted, joyfully self-sacrificing, self-forgetting delight in making much of God for the sake of others.”

-Piper and Delk, Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling

A Chattanoogan Adventure at the CCEF Conference

I think it’s about time I share my musings on the 2012 CCEF National Conference on Guilt and Shame! I’m still processing all of it, but I’ll let you in on what I’m chewing on. I delighted in the conference so much. The whole trip actually. We stayed at a house on Lookout Mountain, and because we weren’t staying in a generic hotel, the week had a “retreat” and “homey” sort of feel. Chattanooga is beautiful in the Fall, mostly because of the richly colored leaves on the trees. The family we were staying with even took us out in a convertible bug on a ride around the mountain to a crazy high bluff!

There’s that restored bug! We jumped over the side into the backseat, like we lived in the 50’s, driving to a malt shop.
A hang-gliding bluff
The view had me speechless and grinning from ear to ear.
Wind blown hair!

As for the conference, although I had already heard some of the things presented, I heard them anew and left feeling refreshed. I realized I am so forgetful (like Israel) and need to be reminded of God’s truths every day. There were also many new things I heard too, especially in the breakout sessions (check out the link for  the schedule). Here are some gems that stuck with me:

-Shame is the larger category encompassing guilt. Shame is you are in the public square.

-Shame is we are exposed, worthless, failure, outcast, contaminated, disgraced and naked.

-Back to Genesis, in the garden, “the first thing God does is he covers us with animal skins. At that particular time in history, to be covered with dead animals was not a fine garment. There’s a message in it saying, “If you want to act like an animal and be associated with an animal, then let me dress you as an animal.” But that’s not the final word. In Exodus 28, God says, “Make garments for Aaron and priests that will give them dignity and honor.” Then, they have these garments where God is ultimately the tailor. They are utterly exquisite! The turban says on it, “Holy to the Lord.” Here is our problem, we are naked and exposed. But it’s all over Scripture, that our God knows such things and he is in the process of dressing us. Now, you are no longer a person identified by your shame, you wear royal garments and you are a saint. It means that you belong to God. Can you imagine anything grander??!” -Dr. Ed Welch Plenary Session 1.

-Our own Lord, the one we follow, was the one most shamed and mortified. We don’t say ‘Christ murdered.’ We say ‘Christ crucified.’ Christ knows shame to the core.

-Not only did our Master know shame, but we are to joyfully and willingly try to walk in the way of his sufferings. Romans 8:17 says, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

-It is a non-human thought, a divine thought, to cultivate joy in participating in shame, but it’s not just anyone’s shame, it’s Christ’s!

-I was struck by Dr. Welch’s short biography of his life. It’s one word: “Help.” It seems so simple, but that is the thing I forget the most. To cry out “Help” to my God. Then he added, “Thank you.” How often do we an exchange with God daily saying “Help” and “Thank you”? Ashamedly, I can go a whole day without saying these things. It was even more moving to see how that bio affected Tim Lane, the President of CCEF, who scratched his whole speech about listing CCEF’s resume and its many activities. Instead he just said, “Help” to us, in asking for financial support. It’s powerful to see God’s truth affecting those around you and bringing change.

-3 basic principles of Christian Religion according to Augustine:

  1. Humility
  2. Humility
  3. Humility

“The humility of knowing your need, of asking for help, saying thank you, and loving the one who helps you. Pray together. Think first about where you need help. What is your sense of need for help? Think of one phrase out of Numbers 6 that most speaks to your need. And then ask for help and then say thank you.” -Dr. David Powlison, Plenary Session 2.

A line of people waiting to talk to Dr. Emlet after his breakout session “The Silence is Deafening: Understanding and Welcoming Those with Same-Sex Attraction”
Here’s the wolf spider that bit my arm while I was sleeping. And no, I did not have a panic attack or hyperventilate when I saw it. I’m getting more courageous.
After getting stranded because of Hurricane Sandy, we decided to thank our gracious hosts by raking the lawn of the mountain house. All hands on deck!
The dog, Yuna, a gentle giant. Reminds me of Falcor from The Neverending Story. Anyone?
Also, I happed upon some special books. Look at the name of the illustrator. 🙂

Guilt n’ Shame, Shame n’ Guilt

There’s still time to sign up for this year’s CCEF 2012 National Conference in Chattanooga, TN. This year it’s on Guilt and Shame…it’s gonna be good folks!

“Have you ever felt shame? Struggled with a lingering sense of guilt? Do you know someone who wrestles with relentless feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt? Have you ever been treated in such a way that leaves you feeling stained, damaged? This conference aims to understand and speak to guilt and shame through the truth of Scripture, and to equip those who attend with the resources to do the same—in their own lives and the lives of others.”

Learning by Doing

This reminds me of past conversations on liturgy and “faking it till you make it” with Dr. Davis. It’s encouraging as I begin this counseling internship.

“What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups–playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits, so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.”

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Cure of Souls (And The Modern Psychotherapies)

From David Powlison’s The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context:

“Here is the inescapable fact that we have in common: throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the Bible-believing church has been woefully weak in the cure and care of souls. And Christ would have us do some serious maturing in individual and collective wisdom. Maturing is hard, slow work, made the slower because the issues at stake are momentous. No doubt, the sower of discord and falsehood is always active in hindering the church from growing up toward real wisdom regarding both the ailment and the redemption of our humanity. But the Sower of love and truth seems willing to work amid the tumult of passions over the long haul: over decades, lifetimes, and centuries. Biblical wisdom does not spring full grown from the head of Zeus. It is born small and grows through many trials and missteps, by the sustaining grace of God, toward the fullness of the mind of Christ” (272).