Many years ago—so many that the memory is framed through the eyes of a small girl who felt daunted and dwarfed by many things, especially the prospect of growing up and serving God well—my mom bought me a pair of jeans from SEARS. Stuck to the pocket was a sparkly butterfly sticker about the size of my hand with the brand name scrawled at the bottom: SELF ESTEEM.
I loved that sticker to bits because butterflies +bright colors was my jam. Yet with it stuck to my worn-out zippered Bible case, I felt guilt every time I looked at it until, finally, one night at fellowship I tore it off and ripped it to shreds.
That was probably the first indication I’d be dealing with self-esteem issues in my life.
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is exactly what it says on the box: the estimation of one’s self. If you were to take a mental inventory of who you are as a person, the outcome would be the metric of your self-esteem—and it would tend to either higher or lower levels depending on what your inventory (supposedly, theoretically, if our self-inventory is actually accurate and based on an honest metric) reveals.
Despite its rather innocuous nature, in many circles—especially Christian ones—the term self-esteem has lately become a bit taboo, a bit of a dirty word. It’s been connected, arguably to unfair levels, with pride; i.e., if you have a high estimation of yourself, you aren’t being honest about how broken you are. This was where my issue with the word lay in my preteens when I tore that butterfly sticker to shreds; despite being a burgeoning wordsmith, I bought into the belief that self-esteem was the same as pride and therefore a sinful concept I should not have anywhere near my Bible—pretty butterflies be scrapped.
By contrast, in many cases low self-esteem is connected to humility or humbleness and is considered the more acceptable or even godly of the two options. The theory is that if you keep a low estimation of yourself, you’ll never run the risk of committing the same terrible sin as the Devil himself—being so puffed-up you transcend the deific—which is arguably safer. Others say we shouldn’t think about self-esteem at all—not discuss it, not address it, simply go on with our lives as if we were a blank slate, unaware and refusing to assess ourselves.
The problem is that if we’re not aware of how we’re talking to and about ourselves, we neither recognize places where we can grow nor come to awareness of where God is working in us and where He’s strengthened and empowered us to carry out his will; and the Devil will do his very best to corrupt our estimation of ourselves so that we are unable to serve God.
In this case, I want to focus on the detriments of low self-esteem and why it does not empower us to serve God; in fact, it’s a terrific hindrance to our ability to be effective ministers for Him.
Consider this: if your estimation of yourself is all about your shortcomings, if all you see when you look in the mirror is an incompetent, poorly-shaped, foolish failure, then will you react to the calling of God on your life like a Isaiah (here am I, Yahweh, send me!) or a Moses (but, Yahweh, I’m slow of speech!)? Will you be eager to leap to answer His summons or will you tell Him to find someone else who’s not such a broken, useless waste of space?
The Low Self-Esteem Issue
Low self-esteem is an increasingly more rampant issue, particularly among the younger generation. With the help of social media, reality TV and 24-hour news, everyone else’s so-called “perfect” life is never more than a scroll, a click, or a channel-flip away. As these resources shrink the awareness gap between the so-called “haves” and the supposed “have-nots”, the chasm in our hearts grows ever wider; the urge to measure our lives against the success of others becomes a temptation ever more difficult to ignore.
There is always someone closer to achieving the coveted, nebulous “standard” than us; always someone more beautiful, more talented, more successful, more spiritual, more blessed, more peaceful. Bit by bit, our estimation of ourselves shrinks; bit by bit, low self-esteem creeps in the door. Suddenly, we will never be a good enough spouse, parent, Christian, writer, artist, musician influencer, advocate, minister, teacher, councilor, or friend. The story we tell ourselves becomes all about our lackings rather than the ways we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Here’s the thing that people—Christians especially—must understand: low self-esteem is not synonymous with humility; humility is recognizing our brokenness but understanding where God’s grace and our being made in His image fills in the gaps. Humility neither praises nor puts down the self; instead it focuses on Christ in us and spreads a message of transformation, endless possibility, and God-sustenance that comes from embracing our identity in the Creator of the Universe. Low self-esteem, by contrast, wallows in its brokenness to the point of accepting that all we are in it is all we will ever be. It does not aspire to attain greater, to strive or grow; it says “I am not good and will never BE good,” and therefore doesn’t aspire to stand in God’s light.
Low self-esteem settles for second best; humility and clarity of self recognizes flaws and sees them washed in the blood of the Lamb. Where low esteem settles for second best, humility steps forward in grace and changes things for the better.
The Self-Esteem Solution
So what IS the self-esteem solution? How do we overcome crippling low self-esteem but avoid becoming puffed up on our own human greatness—real or imagined?
I believe it’s this: we’ve got to spend enough time and energy in our relationship with God that our esteem is measured not by a personal inventory of our strengths or weaknesses based on a mortal standard, but simply and powerfully through the eyes of the Creator. When we measure our worth honestly and accurately against the standard of the One who made us, we are certain never to come up short or overblown. Our God, Who knows the hearts of all people, Who shaped and formed us, has the perfect and clear view of who and what we are.
It is only by being transformed through His love, His grace, and the truth of how HE esteems us that we will develop a healthy self-esteem—recognizing our flaws and shortcomings but choosing to embrace our identity in Christ and step forward boldly in that to change the world for the better and bring the message of Jesus’ love to the world.
This is something we must learn to live in, so we can model it, so people see that the reality of who we are in Christ is not a constant self-hating pity-party but rather a clarity of reality and purpose that allows us to be better.
Where Do I Start Finding Out What God Says About Me?
There is so much we can learn from Scripture and relationship with God and Jesus Christ about who we truly are and how we should esteem ourselves through their eyes. Below are just a few—I encourage you to read them and apply your name to them, to take time and meditate on the spiritual reality these passages bring to light. These are the truth of who we are—and by truly embracing them, and many others throughout the Bible, we will become more balanced in our estimation of ourselves, our calling, the truth of who we are in God’s eyes and in Jesus—and we will be better equipped to serve them as we’ve been called and created, fearfully and wonderfully made, to do.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:16, 17
The Spirit himself bears witness together with our spirit, that we are children of God […] And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.