Build Self-Esteem That Lasts a Lifetime
Self-esteem is a tricky emotion to master. At one moment, it can feel like we are on top of the world, and at another like we don't know why we exist. It's normal to feel these things and people who say otherwise are either fibbing or haven't lived long enough to be rocked by reality. The trick to developing a secure sense of self is to root it in something that is eternal and immovable, God's love. Below, I've listed 5 common sense tips that will give you the tools necessary to build self-esteem that will last a lifetime.
1. God is comfortable with sinners.
There is this odd thing that happens every Sunday across the United States. Groups of sinners get together, iron their best shirts, trim their beards, put their children in clothing that resembles Easter eggs and march off to a building with other people who do the same thing. These are the same people who that week may have been sinning like it was a going out of business sale and they may not get the chance to sin again. But on Sunday, by looking at them, I'm not sure if they have had a sinful thought in their lives. There is nothing wrong with dressing up for Church. I do it myself. However, there seems to be this odd, unspoken agreement, that maybe if we look nice then we are nice. Maybe God will be appeased by our niceness. He will be fooled by our shiny exterior and forget about our busted heart. But from everything I can see, God seems to be quite comfortable with sinners. He might even prefer them.
For goodness sake, the majority of the Bible was written by a murderer, an adulterer, a bounty hunter, and a backstabber. If I'm drafting my all-star team of moral leaders, I don't think any of these guys would have made the cut. I'm looking for the moral equivalent of Lebron James. Someone like Mother Teressa. I'm probably not calling Christopher Hitchens to check in and see if he has had a change of heart. I need someone who can be trusted. Someone who has never tweeted something reprehensible or gotten too drunk at a party. But somehow, God finds value in these people.
So what's my point? It is as simple as this - God finds the broken where they are and makes them whole. No Easter egg clothes required. Being loved as a sinner isn't an excuse to sin more and never change. Change is possible because you are loved. You are granted freedom so that you may become better. In being seen as more than you are, you gain the confidence to become more than you were. Your shortcomings may even be the life experience needed to reach someone's darkest corners and illuminate them. God seems to prefer sinners - you might even be one of them.
2. Self-esteem grows in the sunlight of God's love.
Without God, our self-esteem is directly related to action. If you lose weight, then you are good. If you work harder, you will be rewarded. If you are especially nice, you will be well-liked and respected in your community. Chasing self-esteem as an external measure of your marketability is a dangerous game.
The obvious next solution is to go internal. You must accept and love yourself because you are worthy...but if you were worthy, would you need to convince yourself that you are worthy? In the same way that externally validated self-esteem leaves you empty in an attempt to earn love, internally validated self-esteem is an infinite loop rollercoaster of positive thinking and reality regress. It's turtles all the way down.
So where does that leave you? Are you destined for a life of low-grade self-hatred? Certainly not. For true self-esteem and self-acceptance to develop, you must measure yourself against the only unchanging standard that exists on Earth, God's love. Now, I am not saying that self-esteem is given as a gift for loving God. But rather, as you move toward God and understand the magnitude of His radical, unending love for you, self-esteem will naturally grow in the sunlight of God's grace. You will have the courage to look at your broken parts and say "I see you. I hear you. I understand you. I hope one day that I can be better. But even in my darkest moments, God cannot love me more than he already does." That is true self-esteem.
3. Don’t throw your pearls before swine.
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." - Jesus, Matthew 7:6
I love this Bible verse. Mostly because it is so strange. The Jesus quotes you typically see on the internet fall into the category of nice pleasantries that everyone agrees with. This quote stops you in your tracks. First, because it sounds so harsh, and second because it is confusing. So what does this strange statement mean? It simply suggests that it is your responsibility to guard your relationship with God and protect the gifts he has given you. Keep safe what is special.
This is a simple rule with large implications. First, you should help where help is wanted. If you want to help someone find their way through depression, that is great and admirable, but it requires a commitment from both parties. You may want to share Jesus' love with a friend so that they can live a more purposeful life. That's wonderful but they may not be ready to accept that yet. If your offer of love or assistance is not welcomed, don't continue to offer it. Help that is offered but never accepted leaves both parties frustrated and resentful. One feeling unseen and the other feeling disrespected. Many times good intentions fall on deaf ears and it isn't your responsibility to change that.
So why include this in a blog on self-esteem? Because in learning to love others as they are, you will learn to love and accept yourself. By giving people the grace to be who they are, while meeting them where they are, you can appreciate them as they are. There is no need for them to change to receive your love, but when they are ready for change you can give to them from a place of wholeness rooted in God's love.
4. Confidence requires the courage to fail.
I am a perfectionist at heart. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I can arrange things just right. I want things to be perfect and I'm highly ambitious. This is a toxic combo. As my personal list of successes and failures grows, I learn that I do not know what I am doing...I only thought I knew what I was doing. Then I spend some time working, convincing myself that now I actually do know what I'm doing, only to find myself with egg on my face again with the first challenge that presents itself. Sometimes at night, I wonder if God finds joy each time he humbles me in my hubris. Surely he does not, but I wonder. With each challenge, I reach the peak of what I know must be Everest, only to find out that I've just climbed the tallest hill in Kansas. With each failure, I am reminded that I am not driving this ship. God is. And I am exactly where he wants me to be.
I like to imagine the Apostle Paul as a sort of Roman Empire Elon Musk. The type of apostle who will sleep at the factory to improve car production. The other disciplines may have been having barbecues with their families on the weekends but not Paul. He was putting in the hours to get the job done! (hello bonus) So what does God do with this titan of industry? He throws him in prison. This is an abject failure for a man of action. But hiding beneath this "failure" was God's plan for Paul - to write a large portion of the New Testament while in prison. Confidence in God allows what would be failure to become a new avenue to success.
5. Play to the spirit, not the flesh.
I can almost always be convinced to eat pizza. I think the first bite of pizza may be a top 10 experience for me. I've never eaten anything healthy in my entire life that I thought was as good as pizza. Eating junk always feels amazing in the moment but you always pay for it later. On the other hand, convincing me to work out is almost always a struggle. "It looks like it might rain", "let's go see a movie instead", or "I can't. I feel sick from eating that pizza" are all common justifications. But after working out, I'm almost always glad that I did. There is a strange paradox that plagues all humans. Like moths to a flame, we are drawn to easy things that are immediately gratifying even though we know they will cause us pain later.
Like the body, the spirit is weak to temptation. Stress, anxiety, and self-doubt are the pizza of the emotional world. In a bid to keep ourselves safe, we take on stress at the drop of a hat. Higher-level emotions like gratitude and acceptance are always a hard sell - especially when people like me (sorry) say that these emotions are a choice. But I know that when I choose to embrace these higher-level emotions, I can feel my spirit lifted.
The true mark of a spiritual person is someone who finds gratitude even in their darkest moments - someone who transcends the flesh completely -recognizing that even in their despair, this life is a gift from God. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the act of playing to the spirit naturally leads us to feel more fulfilled. Stress, anxiety, and self-doubt don't have the appeal they once did as we move closer to God.
"In every encounter, we either give life or we drain it. There is no neutral exchange." - Brennan Manning