Many people these days, myself included, battle with what we call “low self-esteem:” condemning thoughts about our abilities, gifts, appearance, and value.
As Christians, one of our reactions is usually to dismiss the battle all together by saying that it doesn’t matter and trying to shrug it off. But like anything that rests under the surface for a while, it manifests in other ways. We see it in diets, eating disorders, and people grasping at status objects to boost their worth.
Often our other approach is to go to God and the Bible to counteract those attacks with what we know to be true. But there tends to be a problem with that approach too: if I am so busy trying to tell myself I’m worth it and that God made me unique, even using scripture, I’m fighting fire with fire. The world will always be telling me that I’m not _____________ (pretty, smart, talented, fill in the blank…) enough. If I’m always running to other people, God, or the Bible to tell me I’m ___________ enough, I’m never going to win that battle, because I’d have to spend every waking moment building myself up to counteract the world that is always tearing me down. It’s never enough to satisfy long-term. Plus, even when I’m “winning” that battle and feeling pretty confident about who God made me to be, by placing my faith in the person God designed me as, I’m still being prideful, because I’m still placing my faith in ME and how God made ME. Then, as soon as I stumble, which God promises will happen to the prideful (“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud,” Proverbs 18:12), I’m back to clamoring for encouragement from God and others. It’s a pendulum.
One of the above routes leads to addictions and disorders. The other leads to a crazy cycle of pride and low self-esteem. Basically, we’re screwed either way. So, what should our response to the battle with low self esteem be? Humility.
We know the opposite of pride is humility. But opposite of low self esteem is humility? I’m beginning to think so.
Pride is “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority…” (dictionary.com). A good amount of self esteem could be defined as an accurate opinion of one’s own dignity and importance. Low self esteem could be defined as a low opinion of one’s own dignity and importance. Herein lies the problem: either way, we are focussing on OUR own dignity, importance, etc, whether we feel good about it at the moment or not.
Some of you who have been around Christian churches a while have heard the old saying “Humility isn’t thinking LESS about yourself, it’s thinking less ABOUT yourself.” That seems consistent with humility being the antidote to self-esteem issues. But we always need to discover what the Bible says.
Let’s take a look at how Jesus lived His life, because I’m willing to bet He didn’t wrestle with low self-esteem at all. He knew who He was: the living bread, (John 6:51), the light of the world (John 8:12), the good shepherd (John 10:9), the Son of God (John 10:36), the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), and the list goes on. He knew that He was fulfilling prophesy from Isaiah. He was outspoken about who He was. But as Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-7, He didn’t take pride in the fact that He was God’s son; he humbled himself like a servant. He was the ultimate servant. Still, He fulfilled His purpose here on earth, and when someone asked Him who He was, He told them.
Most of know the connotations that humility brings: undervaluing yourself, soft-spokenness, and timidity. But there’s is power in humility.
In the Bible, humility is often correlated with exaltation: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”(1 Peter 5:6; see also Luke 14:11, Matt. 23:12, James 4:10). Exaltation isn’t the goal of humility, but if by seeking humility we seek to make ourselves less, isn’t that contrary to what God would like to do in us (exalt us) ultimately? So then humility isn’t tearing yourself down or downplaying your abilities.
In Matthew 12:31 Jesus says to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He doesn’t say to love your neighbor more than yourself, or to love yourself less. He wants that love to be equal and proportionate. After all, He made us all equally and individually and delights in each of us (Psalms 139:13-15). So no one person is better than the other. And according to the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:6) “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” What is truth? It’s the entire Bible and what God says about His children… like that we’re all gifted in different areas and are responsible for using those gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12:6-7).
C.S. Lewis, in Screwtape Letters, says this: “…Thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools… [God] wants [man], in the end, to be free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as his neighbor’s talents–or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.”
I think it’s a fantastic summary of how we should view humility. If we rejoiced in our own talents as frankly and gratefully as our neighbor’s talents, we wouldn’t be prideful nor lack self esteem. It would be just the right balance.
So let me ask you (and myself) this: have you spent as much time and energy delighting in and being thankful for your, other people’s, and God’s abilities as you’ve spent trying to fight off those voices that are telling you “You aren’t ______________ (skinny, attractive, qualified, smart, etc.) enough.” Maybe that’s where the key lies.