February 24, 2013
Rev. John Watts
JOURNEY TO HOPE: SELF-ESTEEM
Some of us remember the self-esteem movement. It was suggested back in the 70’s that just about every ill in society could be traced to children who didn’t feel good about themselves. Parents were taught to constantly praise their children. This was about the same time spanking was falling out of favor. Even saying “no” to a child was discouraged. The last thing you wanted to do was damage the little one’s fragile ego.
Whole school districts decided the building of self-esteem was their primary mission. On the playground no longer were captains allowed to take turns choosing who would be on their ball team. You might hurt the feelings of those who weren’t chosen first. Grades and awards and competition were de-emphasized. Everyone was smart and talented and beautiful. Everyone was “above average”.
If we could just raise a generation where all the children valued themselves and knew how wonderful each one of them truly was, a whole new world would be born before our very eyes! Except it didn’t quite work out that way. The self-esteem movement basically produced a bunch of selfish kids who are now adults who have been conditioned to blame others for their own shortcomings which they didn’t even think they had. We didn’t see better grades or more successful careers or a reduction in violence. In fact, we’ve come to discover a curious fact. Extremely aggressive, violent people tend to think very highly of themselves!
We come today to the second mile marker on our journey to hope. We are going to be talking about self-esteem. But not from a pop-psychology, social engineering perspective. We’re going to be looking at what the Bible has to say about this subject, and specifically we’re going to be looking at the example of Jesus.
Perhaps the reading of the scripture surprised you again today. Last week we read about Jesus and the children, which at first glance seemed to have nothing to do with our subject that day which was relationships. Today we read about Jesus enteringJerusalemon Palm Sunday. Well, Palm Sunday is still a month away. And besides, what does Palm Sunday have to do with the subject of self-esteem?
If you’ve ever ridden in the front of a parade, you know that it makes you feel real good about yourself. I’ve never had that experience, but my parents have. They were grand marshals of the big parade last summer in the big city ofMadras,Oregon. I was there. I got to experience their pride vicariously. It’s pretty heady stuff, first of all to be in the parade and not just on the sidewalk watching the parade. And then to be leading the way, before all the floats and the horses and the clowns and the marching bands and all those little cars the Shriners always drive. I think both of my parents probably had their fragile egos damaged by spanking when they were children, but riding in front of that parade I’m sure repaired all that damage and then some!
Our president recently had his second opportunity to ride in the front of a parade. The inaugural parade. I don’t think he has to worry about massaging a fragile ego, but the moment I remember from that day was before the parade began. It was right after his inaugural speech. It was time to leave the Capitol building and head forPennsylvania Avenue, when President Obama stopped and turned around to look back at the million people in attendance. He said, “I want to look one more time. I’m not going to see this again.”
(Youtube video: “Obama Takes One Last Look”)
We can only imagine what it felt like to be Jesus at the head of that Palm Sunday parade. All those people. All there for him. All the praise and adulation and hosannas. It probably felt good. It would have felt good to any of us. But it’s quite clear from the scripture, that wasn’t the reason he was there. He came toJerusalemnot to boost his sagging self-esteem. His self-esteem was right where it was supposed to be, whether the crowds were for him or against him. No, he came toJerusalemfor a very different reason. He came there to die. He came there to be obedient to God.
We’re bringing this backpack on our Lenten journey. Inside the side pocket this week we find a little mirror. Some might not consider a mirror essential equipment for a backpacking trip. When you’re in the wilderness, you don’t generally worry about your appearance. Although I remember on wilderness trips when I was growing up, my dad would always have a little metal mirror like this that he would tie to a tree each morning so his hands would be free while he shaved. Some people wouldn’t bother with that. But this mirror isn’t about personal hygiene. This mirror reminds us that many of us spend a lot of time looking at ourselves and worrying about how we look to others. That is to say, for many of us our self-esteem is formed by what other people think of us.
We’re on the brink of this 85 billion dollar “sequester”. 85 billion dollars is chump change compared to what Americans pay every year to make themselves look good! Whether it’s trendy clothing or the latest car or whatever everyone else is buying so if we don’t they’ll think something’s wrong with us.
One industry alone brings in 10 billion dollars a year. Cosmetic surgery. There was a special about this on 20/20 recently. About people who are not content with what they see when they look in this mirror. There was Joan Rivers who talked about her 700-plus plastic surgeries. There is such a thing as addiction to plastic surgery. But the one that bothered me most were two young sisters whose dad happened to be a plastic surgeon. He had done multiple surgeries on each of them before they reached age 25. And it wasn’t as if he was correcting some birth defect. They were normal, attractive girls before surgery number one. The fastest growing age segment for cosmetic surgery? Age 13-19.
Some don’t worry so much about their beauty, but they are equally obsessive about their accomplishments. Grades, degrees, careers, fame, fortune. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with cosmetic surgery. But if the reason we seek all this is so we can conform to the image others have of who we ought to be, if it’s to please other people, if it’s to convince ourselves that we have worth and value, if that’s the reason we try so desperately to make ourselves look good, then we’re doing it for the wrong reason. It’s what the Bible describes as “chasing after the wind” (Ecc 1:14). That’s an exercise in futility. You’ll never catch the wind. And even if you do, what’s the point? If our self-esteem is based on something as flimsy as how we look or what we’ve done, we are missing what the Bible tells us about why we all have inherent worth and value.
It’s early in the Bible. In fact, it’s the 26th verse. Genesis 1:26. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.'” You are I were made in the image of God. Some have read this verse and concluded that it means we look like God. Or God looks like us. That there is some physical resemblance. I don’t think that is what it means at all. It means that there is a spiritual resemblance. God’s nature is built into our spiritual DNA. We are spiritual beings. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience. We are not God. But we are related to God. We are sons and daughters of God. We are made in God’s image.
If you really accept that and believe that, how can you struggle with low self-esteem? God holds you in the highest esteem! Who are you to disagree with God? What matters isn’t what you think of yourself. What matters isn’t what others think of you. What matters is what God thinks of you. And what does God think of you? God thinks you’re terrific! If God had a wallet, God would have your picture inside it! You are loved, you are treasured by your Creator!
And that’s the basis for healthy self-esteem. God made me. God loves me. God thinks I have value and worth. Therefore, I’m going to agree with God! Regardless of what other people may think. Regardless of what I may at times think. If God is for me, who can be against me? (Rom 8:31) So, I’m going to go ahead and be the best person I can be. Not because I have to prove my worth, but because I know my God-given worth and therefore I believe in myself.
That was Jesus on Palm Sunday. He knew who he was. He wasn’t plagued by self-doubts and insecurities. He didn’t need to ride at the head of a parade and see all his adoring fans to give him an emotional boost. He was as filled with courage and confidence on Palm Sunday as we was five days later when these same people were calling for his death. His self-esteem wasn’t like a yo-yo, up and down, up and down. His self-esteem was strong and steady, because it came from God.
I’m going to hedge a little here. Preaching professors say you shouldn’t do that. It confuses people. Save the hedging for another sermon where you’re making a different point. But I think this needs to be said while we’re on this subject. The Bible does indicate that Jesus had his moments in the final week of his life on earth when his courage and confidence were shaken. One such moment was in theGardenofGethsemane. This was after he had been betrayed by Judas and before he was arrested. It was pretty clear by then what was about to happen. He prayed, “Father, all things are possible to you, remove this cup from me” (Mk 14:36). He didn’t want to die. The other moment came as he was dying, after he had been nailed to the cross. He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34). He wasn’t exactly feeling God’s love at that moment.
What are we to make of this? Have we found a chink in the armor of our Savior? Not at all. We just are reminded that Jesus was human. He was also God, but he was human. As human beings we understand. We all have moments when we get down. Even Jesus did. But he got through those moments. With God’s help, he got through. Because he knew that God’s love for him and God’s purpose for his life were steady even at those moments when his moods were not.
God’s opinion of you isn’t going to change. God is for you, even when it seems that everyone else, yourself included, is against you.
Now another hedge, though I don’t think this one is really a hedge. This is a clarification. When we say that God loves us and believes in us and is on our side no matter what, we aren’t saying that God thinks we are perfect. God knows very well that we aren’t. We are sinners. Every one of us. God isn’t like one of those parents back in the 70’s who swallowed everything the self-esteem movement was dishing out. God isn’t a permissive parent who thinks his dear little children can do nothing wrong. God knows us, knows all about us, and still chooses to love us. We don’t earn more love when we’re good. God doesn’t love us less when we’re bad. Like a parent who has had many reasons to be proud of a child and many reasons to be disappointed in a child, the love doesn’t go up and down like a yo-yo. The love is steady. “Steadfast love.” That’s what it’s called in the Bible. Just knowing that what God thinks of us doesn’t change, that our worth is a God-given constant, frees us to be the people God created us to be.
In our journey to hope, when you look in this mirror, look at a person who God loves and God believes in. See yourself not as others may see you. You might look better than you really are to others. You might look worse than you really are. Either way, it’s not what others say that matters. It’s what God says. And God says, you aren’t perfect. No one is. But still you are awesome. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Not even yourself.
There was a little girl with healthy self-esteem. She lived inChicago. She was playing in the park one day. She started a conversation with a woman she didn’t recognize. It was a friendly conversation. This woman asked questions about this little girl and showed a genuine interest in getting to know her. When the woman got up to leave, the little girl asked for her name. The woman hesitated. Then she decided to go ahead. She said, “You tell your mommy that you were talking to Oprah Winfrey.” The little girl said, “And you tell your mommy that you were talking to Sarah Albright.”
You were made in the image of God. You are the person God made and God loves. Take pride in who you are. Have faith that God is leading you on a journey to discover all that you might become. Look in the mirror and see the person whose picture God would carry in his wallet, if God had one.
Dear God, some of us are way too hard on ourselves. We are our own harshest critics. We see the flaws and the weaknesses and we can never be good enough to satisfy ourselves. Others of us are way too easy on ourselves. We have self-esteem, but we lack self-knowledge. The result is an arrogance and a resistance to the changes you would work in us. All of us need to trust you when you tell us that you love us. You love us as we are right now and you love us as we might become by your grace. So help us all, the insecure, the arrogant, and everyone in between, to see ourselves as you see us, and to become the person in your image you created us to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.