The Myth of Self-Esteem

I was once asked to teach a women's retreat for my church with a topic of self-esteem. As I began to research, I found that while there were countless books about it, the Bible was silent on the subject. In fact, scripture seemed to take an opposite approach since it spoke so much on humility.

And yet, I know that what we think about ourselves is important. It affects our stance, our faces, our attitudes...and to a large degree our success.

What I did find is that scripture speaks a lot on the topic of identity. In fact, it is a core concept. It's the reason names were so important. And why God often changed them. Calling Abram, Abraham. And Sarai, Sarah. Jacob, Israel. In the new testament, Simon becomes Peter. And Saul, Paul.

I've often wondered if some of the Jewish law isn't about identity. Things like the command not to cut the sides of your hair. When you see an orthodox Jew with those beautiful curls at the sides of his face, you know immediately who he is.

Elsa-the-Poet and I had a conversation on this theme last week that in all of our relationships we tend to “like” people who make us see ourselves in a way that makes us feel good and “dislike” or be hurt by those who challenge our image of ourselves.

I've observed the power of this in my own life. When I'm confident in who I am and my purpose on this planet, I have an endless supply of encouragement for those around me and can deal with criticism in a healthy way. Yet when I struggle with the questions of who I am and my place in the world, then criticism eats at me and I can easily echo my friend's statement of herself from a darker time, "What's the point of me?"

Groups have this challenge too. Without a clear vision of who they are and why they exist, they often disassemble.

The challenge is that much of our understanding of ourselves comes from the external. What people say about us. How our spouse relates. Input from work or school or children. We carry an unreasonable amount of baggage from the echoes of the past.

Maybe one of the most valuable gifts we can give to each other is the gift of identity. The ability to see the best of ourselves. To notice the hidden beauty and reveal it. To affirm worth. To create that sense of belonging.

Maybe such a gift would change our faces and our stance and help us become who we really are.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall