Driving down a busy avenue, I pass a bright yellow sign marking the entrance to the Self Esteem Shop. Passing this storefront for the first time years ago, I drove by in disbelief. The absurdity of the existence of a store where you could somehow purchase self esteem made me laugh out loud. The fact that people frequented a store to seek out self esteem seemed ludicrous. My laughter quickly gave way to empathy for the shop’s customers, so desperate that they would pay money to seek something so elusive.
In defense of the store, they offer many items for people dealing with grief, addictions and even help for parents raising children with special needs. Yet as their name suggests, they also offer many self help items professing to help a weary soul find solace by empowering them to build their esteem. As if through their own efforts, they could positively think themselves into who they want to be.
Driving this search for worth is the destructive way that our world measures value, fostering an insatiable quest. Names like Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle have become common in homes across our country. Their books, along with others like them have made best sellers lists many times over, which is evidence that people are desperately looking for help. Seekers are willing to spend their hard earned dollars purchasing items that inevitably are ineffective in meeting a much greater need and fall far short of addressing the root of the problem.
Sadly, the world’s view of esteem is so pervasive that even we, as Christ followers can fall into its damaging spiral at times. Perhaps we don’t walk into a shop brightly lit with a neon sign advertising “Self Esteem,” but what we do as Christian’s isn’t really that different when we find ourselves believing our culture’s lies about value. Measuring our worth, perhaps only in subtle ways by the influence and power we have; our prestige or reputations; the acceptance and recognition we enjoy; our resources and wealth; our talents; our contributions; and even our appearance will leave us playing an unending and ultimately losing game.
When this skewed vision of worth takes root it can reap havoc not only on our own lives, but directly impacts our ministry. When we begin basing our own value on false measures, we naturally begin taking a measuring stick to others’, subtly viewing their worth based upon their abilities, contributions and performance. This thinking is destructive to the church as a whole, in that it wrongly devalues each of us.
As Christ followers, when we enter the world’s game of worth we fail to see the immeasurable worth and value we hold as God’s adopted children. Basing worth on performance and other false measures leaves us seeking out the fickle acceptance of those we encounter, rather than accepting our true worth as God’s children. Anytime we find ourselves striving for worth, we need to do some soul searching. We need to ask ourselves in what ways we may be striving. After we strip away any false measures, we need to truthfully consider, what remains? What we do with the answer reveals where our hearts are when it comes to valuing ourselves and others.
Quickly we’ll find that the things we may have been striving after are achingly superficial and temporary, providing momentary feelings of worth at best and long-term emptiness. They simply cannot be what we find ourselves through. When those things are wiped away, we’re left with who we are, standing alone before God. Nothing short of finding ourselves fully in the God who created us to be in relationship with him and who willingly sacrificed himself on the cross to make that relationship possible, will help us see ourselves in his light, as a reflection of him and realize our true value.
Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, that “… faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God…” Without immersing ourselves in God’s Word, we simply can’t live the life God intended us to, as his children. Allowing God through the truth of his Word to untwine the hurtful life experiences that have ingrained themselves in our minds and twisted our thinking regarding our value, is the only way to realize and stand confidently in our true worth.
Recent research shows an alarming trend among young Christians. A study done by the Barna Research Group revealed that there has been a significant decline in Bible reading among those in their twenties, specifically among those who call themselves Christians. David Kinnaman, Vice President of the Barna Research Group, pointed out that the twenty-somethings of today are one of the first groups to widely embrace postmodern philosophy. "Since the postmodern viewpoint emphasizes that an individual’s experience and personal insight are the prime sources of determining what’s important in life," Kinnaman said, "the decline in Bible usage is another sign that many twenty-somethings are trying to make sense of life without traditional sources of Christian input."
Noted philosopher Blaise Pascal said, "Not only do we know God by Jesus Christ alone, but we know ourselves only by Jesus Christ. We know life and death only through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ, we do not know what is our life, nor our death, nor God, nor ourselves." As Christ followers, it’s not surprising that if we aren’t spending ourselves in pursuit of fellowship with our Creator, through His Word, we simply can’t know who we’ve been created to be. How can we claim to follow Christ, when we’re not meditating on the life-giving words he’s spoken to us?
Contrary to the message of the many self help books selling off of bookstore shelves, we simply cannot think ourselves into a right place. We were created to be loved by our creator and can only truly become who we were created to be through God himself. We need to allow the truth of God’s Word, through his Spirit and through prayer to recalibrate our thought processes to counter the mistruths and sometimes deeply held destructive beliefs regarding our value. Seeking God to find ourselves, we find that God is faithful to help us, and will give us the ability to confidently stand secure in our rightful identity in Christ. Only then do we understand who we are before God.
What does God say about who we are in Christ? God speaks of his children lovingly as his Beloved, chosen for his good pleasure; the apple of his eye; and heirs to his kingdom. We are more than conquerors in him; with a royal heritage; we are a royal priesthood; and when he looks upon us he sees the pure, unblemished, beautiful bride of Christ. Since we are loved so lavishly and esteemed so highly by our heavenly father, let’s live like the beloved children that we are, confident in the knowledge that we are priceless to the One that matters most.
Angela M. Shupe is a freelance writer currently residing in Michigan with her husband and two children.