Psalm 139: 1-24

I work as a learning mentor at a high school, and several of the pupils (girls AND boys) that I work with have low self-esteem. I feel quite passionately about this subject, and so it was upon searching on the internet for ideas on raising self-esteem, that I came across a Christian website devoted to putting across the biblical view of this poignant issue. According to the writer of all the featured articles, God has no opinion on self-esteem; the Bible gives no view on it. His opinion was altogether quite negative. My first reaction to this was anger and disappointment. I was cross that someone could put such a one-sided, cynical view of Christianity onto the internet where it can be accessed by many non-Christians. But on thinking about it some more, I have allowed his argument to slightly change the way I think about self-esteem.

For a long time, probably since sex was around (!), people have felt pressure to look and feel sexy. This often involves thinness, good looks, intelligence etc. This kind of pressure has sadly and inevitably meant that many people feel that they are not ideal, not good enough, and therefore low self-esteem is a common trait in many people, in some people more than others. As I say, this is an issue that has been around for a long time. A more recent response to this problem of self-esteem, is a Feel Good, Do Whatever You Want and Love Yourself attitude that society has taken on in an attempt to deal with the overwhelming feelings of not being good enough. It is important to raise self-esteem where it is low. God does not want us to have a bad opinion of ourselves - because this would be denying that God lovingly created us (Psalm 139) and that he loves us (Zephaniah 3:17, Isaiah 43:1-4, John 3:16...). But what I'm trying to say is that we need to be wary of taking our 'raising self-esteem' values too far. Too often I have seen self-esteem values going too far and bordering on pride and hedonism. What has happened is that people have started to imply that because it is important to celebrate individuality, people should be who they are, express themselves how they see fit, and do what makes them feel good, and don't you dare challenge them because that would be politically incorrect! I was watching The Simpsons a few weeks ago and Bart made the unfortunate mistake of saying 'because I felt like it', in front of an eccentric psychologist visiting Springfield. A Do What You Feel Like campaign ensued and absolute chaos and tragedy quickly followed!! Hopefully, you can see where I'm going with this!

As I said, raising self-esteem is still of paramount importance. Several weeks ago, Amy Thompson wrote a Cross Rhythms Bible Study on 'Spirit-deep beauty' and self-esteem that put across an accurate view of God's love and self-esteem. She has got it right. But so many people have got a skewed vision of how we should see ourselves. Self-esteem has been converted to pride, and the Bible says that 'Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom' (Proverbs 11:2). God opposes the proud. He wants us to get a balanced view of ourselves. In Romans, Paul says, 'be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you' (12:3). What He doesn't want is for us to feel unworthy, unloved, and un-useable. What He doesn't want is for us to be proud and self-seeking. What He does want is for us to see ourselves through His eyes, loved, valuable, unique, precious....

And finally, I want to say, in agreement with the web writer, that we need to spend less time worrying about ourselves and what we look like and concentrate on others, becoming - as a wise man once said - an 'investor in people'. Believe it or not God also said it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself' (Matthew 22:39). You will find that as you love others, you yourself will be loved in return, for yourself, exactly as you are. And isn't that just what we want anyway?

So, I hope you can see how I allowed that cynical view to re-shape my thoughts on self-esteem. I still wish he hadn't put such a one-sided view of this issue on the net. I'm still looking for ideas on raising self-esteem so I can help the young people I care about, and I still look to encourage and love the people around me because I want them to experience GOD'S self-esteem. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.