Self Esteem: a followup of a discussion I’ve skirted around before

negative-self-image

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God,to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:1-3

Our current ideas of self-esteem are fairly new.  In the 1950’s and 60’s psychologists/counselors such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers dealt with the idea of esteeming oneself in an attempt to foster personal reliance and, in Rogers’ case, a bond between the therapist and patient.  The problem for both the existentialist at the time and the Christian community was that there doesn’t seem to much worth esteeming in human beings.  As a species, we have shown ourselves to be capable of some atrocious things, and have established ourselves as pretty much rotten to the core.

What do we do with the passage from Romans printed above?  Is self-love necessary before we love others as many modern evangelists  television pastors personalities would have us believe?  If our children do not have self-esteem, won’t they stop doing anything productive, cut themselves, become promiscuous and drop out of school?  I’m not asking these questions with my normal snarkiness; these are tough things we have to think through as parents.  The weightiness of this concern keeps us awake at night.  

In my practice/administration, I’ve seen Christian parents do some rather extreme things to keep their children from feeling bad about themselves.  Some of these decisions produced great results.  Others, in my opinion, were hastily made.  But here’s the philosophical and theological stinking point:  If we are Christians, we are called to recognize the total wretchedness of our human condition.  Christ did not come to redeem us because we deserved, because we were worth it, or to give our lives purpose.  The Bible teaches that He died to pay the price (the KJV calls it propitiation) of our horrible, nasty, death inducing natures because ultimately, the sacrifice brings Him, the only Good, glory.

The response of the Christian? To present him/herself as a living sacrifice.  Mirroring the Christ sacrifice, the human sacrifice involves killing our wills. Taking up our crosses and following Christ (Matthew 16:24) involves a  mental shift as our minds are renewed.  It involves us not seeing every experience as relating to ourselves.  Instead of self-esteem, it requires self-forgetfulness. The Christian mind sees everyone as equal. We’re all depraved.  We’re all in capable of good.  We all pretty much stink.  

The beauty in this paradox is that it doesn’t create minds that are defeated.  It creates servants who will give other people grace when they fail and forgiveness when they offend.  Amazingly, this radical paradigm shift allows us to see ourselves as recreated.  We are only strong because of the Spirit inside of us, and because of that Spirit we have respect not only for ourselves, but for other people as well.  If I bring nothing to the table, I have nothing to be taken by someone else.

Graciously, we are able to give ourselves the same forgiveness, the same understanding we give others.  We don’t cut other people; we shouldn’t cut ourselves.  We don’t tear down ourselves with rumors; we shouldn’t do it to others.  The equality of our states opens us up to more acceptance than any quest for esteem ever could.  

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