Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The World Says I Need Self-Esteem...

(Part 1 of a Series)
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

I just had a rather ordinary (for me) embarrassing memory from almost 15 years ago came back to haunt me. It wasn't anything major. I had tried a recipe at a church supper, and it didn't turn out well at all. But the memory just now popped up, and I felt some of the shame of it all over again.

Now, if you know the difference between embarrassment and shame, you'll remind me that I shouldn't feel shame at all about something like that. Shame is the feeling of painful awareness of sin (whether you call it by that name or not). For non-moral failures, I might understandably feel embarrassed, but I don't deserve to feel shame.

I do feel it, though. I feel it whenever anyone says anything negative about me or my efforts (especially my writing). I feel it even when the criticism is constructive, unless its offered very gently and obliquely. It's still hard for me to separate failure (or poor performance) in a task from failure as a whole person.

At this point, the world would be telling me that I need more self-esteem. But is that what God says I need?

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends
(2Co 10:18).

That verse tells me that it doesn't matter what I think of myself. It matters what the Lord thinks of me. Want a few more? Just listen to the "healthy self-esteem" in these verses...and what God thinks about it.

So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked
(Jesus, in Rev 3:16-17).

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
(Jesus, in Luke 18:10-14)

For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin
(Ps. 36:2 NIV)

In other words, we can have tons of "high self-esteem," and have ourselves completely, tragically fooled.

"But wait!" you may protest. "You can't mean to tell me that God would ever want us to feel ashamed!"

Don't take my word for it. What does God say?

Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down," says the LORD.
(Jer 6:15)

"But what about in the Psalms?" you point out. "David says, 'Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed.'" (Ps. 25:3) True, he says similar things throughout the Psalms. But read the whole verse here.

Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed;
Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause. (Psa 25:3)

David never says that people who are embracing sin should go shame-free. He says quite the opposite. There is such a thing as godly shame, and as the verse in Jeremiah tells us above, it's a dreadful thing to fail to be ashamed when we ought to be.

If we pursue self-esteem, we run the very grave risk of glossing over our own sin, failing to see where we need to repent, and being numbered among the proud whom God resists (James 4:6).

So then, what? Should I continue to feel the kind of shame that plagues me when I see my own shortcomings? Absolutely not! But what am I to do about it, if not pursuing self-esteem?

I think this is a good place to stop. Take some time to think and pray about what has been said already. I promise, I'll come back with the two steps that I believe I need to follow to finally be free of inappropriate shame in a way that will delight my Heavenly Father. But if ending this way leaves you feeling uncomfortable or upset, I beg of you to search the Scriptures for what they actually say about this subject, ignoring the smooth talk of modern-day flatterers in whitewashed tombstone pulpits. It is far better to feel godly shame and experience the true repentance that follows, than to attempt to face judgment day with swaggering bravado that will melt before Him like a moth in a volcano.

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted (2Co 7:10)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

(Photo from Stock.xchng by Vivre)


Anonymous said...

There is a dfference between guilt and shame. Shame, I agree, being the term for the necessary heart conviction in the face of sin in our lives. But guilt is a tool of the enemy - the Bible refers to Satan as our accuser, and a liar. Often our thoughts about ourselves come from what our culture says about our actions or performance, not what God says about how He sees us. So, yeah, awesome post - it is about how God sees us. But I would keep in mind the difference between shame - a tool of the Holy Spirit showing us truth about our sinful actions, and guilt, a tool of the enemy saying we have no hope and we as a person are worthless and despised. It is when we believe these lies about ourself that we most need to take up pride and hang our worth on material posessios or accomplishments, things apart from God.

Tami Boesiger said...

I agree it is better to feel shame than to be too full of ourselves, but at some point we need to accept the Truth of who we are in Him and move on in victory. Wallowing in our shame does not bring about God's work at all.

Betsy Markman said...

Oh I agree, Tami! Shame isn't supposed to be a stopping point. We don't stay there. We let it bring us to repentance, and then we are able to move on!

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