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SELF-ESTEEM BEYOND THE MIRROR (published in The Tribune 8/3/13)

posted Sep 7, 2013, 1:18 PM by Fccea Webmaster
A rather homely young man went to a psychiatrist complaining, "Doctor, I'm so depressed and lonely. I don't have any friends; everyone laughs at me. Can you help me accept my ugliness?" The doctor replied, "Sure, I can help. Just go lie face down on that couch."

Sometimes even those with the best of intentions are quick to remind us of our deficiencies. It leads to feelings like those expressed by Woody Allen when he said, "My one regret in life is that I'm not someone else."

The recognition that many people feel that way has led to a major emphasis in our educational systems over the past 40-plus years of enhancing self-image. The assumption has been that if we can get people to feel better about themselves, it solves a lot of personal and societal problems.

It is interesting, therefore, to see not a few recent studies debunking that idea. For example, psychologist Lauren Slater, in a New York Times article entitled "The Trouble With Self-Esteem" points out that there is no objective evidence that low self-esteem is a big problem in society. She quotes three current studies all of which reach the same conclusion which she summarizes by saying that "people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem and feeling bad about yourself is not the source of our country's biggest, most expensive social problems."

The fact is that we have succeeded in creating people with an increased awareness of self and a higher regard for self, but it has not solved personal or societal ills. This was demonstrated anecdotally by a journalist named Ralph Schenstein who, in an article entitled "The Modern Mount Rushmore", reported that when he asked a group of 20 children from his daughter's third-grade class to list the three greatest people they had ever heard about, he got answers like Michael Jackson, Batman and Madonna. There were no Lincolns or Washingtons or even modern equivalent role models -- only celebrities.

But what really stunned Schenstein was that eight of the children replied, "Me!" He concluded, "It is sad enough to see the faces on Mount Rushmore replaced by rock stars, brawlers, and cartoons, but it is sadder still to see Mount Rushmore replaced by a mirror." But isn't that exactly what we have been actively pursuing for the past many years?

I am not advocating that one should feel bad about oneself. But I would suggest that self-esteem is best built by seeing oneself in relationship to our Creator. Our true value derives from being made in His image. True meaning comes from seeing my life in relationship with Him.

The recently deceased Brennan Manning, in Ragamuffin Gospel says, "Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the God of grace."

John Piper explains further that to instill personal pride in one who is made specifically for the purpose of loving and glorifying God is to introduce a lethal distraction. To fail to point people to the all-satisfying God is not to love them. He comments, "To make them feel good about themselves when they were made to feel good about seeing God is like taking someone to the Alps and locking them in a room full of mirrors."

Paul notes in Acts 17:28, "In him we live and move and have our being." If indeed we were made to be in a living, loving relationship with our Creator, is it any wonder that anything less will leave us feeling less than good about ourselves?

Perhaps that's why a lot of people ended up feeling like comedienne Lily Tomlin who reports, "I always wanted to be somebody. Now I see that I should have been more specific." That is exactly what God offers through the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. A self-esteem built on a relationship that extends far beyond personal gratification.

Dave McNeff is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Eaton (