With all the emphasis on positive self-esteem touted by “feel good” pop psychology and the move toward tolerance of any behavior, our youth are still wallowing in a quagmire of self-pity (and teen age suicide is on the rise). What’s at the root of these problems? Is it failing marriages, lack of father figures, or lack of parental guidance and boundaries? While all these contribute to the problem, they are not necessarily the core issue for lack of self-esteem.
From the beginning of time, mankind has stepped out into the world demanding its own way. Eve ate the apple because she wanted to have what it possessed, Cain killed Able because he wanted his sacrifice to be acceptable to God and it wasn’t, God sent the Great Flood because mankind had become so corrupt, full of sin and self-centered. Babies are born totally focused on self and a two year old is not far behind! Many Americans want things quickly and demand their own way.
The Bible tells us in Timothy 2:3-4 that in the end times “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” The more people concentrate on their own needs, the more they become self-centered, which makes them more like the above and prone to self-pity, depression and other evils. Herein lies a contradiction. The more society tries to pump up self and feed it what it wants, the more it wants. And the more it wants, the unhappier or less content it becomes.
And often the reverse is true. The less stress there is on owning material goods and pleasing self, the happier or more content the population tends to be. This can be observed in less wealthy countries, (though not in totally impoverished nations). The children and society at whole are more content, but not for long because materialism is infiltrating these places too, but back to the idea of self-esteem. Here’s another seeming contradiction that the Bible addresses. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). This is often meant to pertain to the afterlife. Those who lived first for themselves will be last in heaven, but there is an application for the here and now as well. As we put ourselves first, we place last in pleasing God and often are not content. Those who put others first are more satisfied.
Jesus came to serve others and His life was an example of servant hood. If He is to be our example in all things, why not in attaining self-esteem? Because it appears to be at odds with modern society and its thinking—get what you want, fight for it, put yourself first, feel good about yourself and do what feels good. These are some of the tenants of today’s version of self-esteem, but basically self esteem is feeling good about yourself. So is it wrong to feel good about yourself?
No! Indeed the psalmist David proclaims “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). God created us and as the popular poster says, God didn’t make junk. It’s not that we shouldn’t feel good about ourselves, but it’s the method society uses to get us there that contradicts the Bible. Focus on developing yourself, seek your desires, put yourself first, do what feels good. All this doesn’t cure the problem of lack of self-esteem. So what will?
Go out and help others, give of yourself, volunteer and serve. Follow Christ’s example in loving others as yourself and self-esteem will begin to blossom beyond self. Teach children to think beyond themselves and their own needs and self esteem will rise. God made us to live with others and help them. When we achieve this, we fulfill God’s purpose for our life and so we experience contentment, satisfaction and peace. These are more satisfying and long lasting than the false pumped up efforts of society today to lift self-esteem.
As St. Francis said in His simple prayer “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled…as to console, to be understood …as to understand, to be loved…as to love. For it is in giving…that we receive. It is in pardoning…we are pardoned. It is in dying…that we are born to eternal life. So let self-esteem die and give rise to something higher and better—the love of God and others.