The world has gone self-esteem, positive affirmation crazy. The self-help industry is big business. There are some gurus and some poo-poos out there. If you search Amazon.com books for “self-esteem” you find 155,148 books on the subject. Barnes & Noble shows 1780 books with “Self-Esteem” in the title. Everybody is talking about building a positive self-image and raising your self-esteem. Yes, even me. I wrote “Stay In Your Lane” to help boost self-esteem. But if you ask me what book I find most effective to build the esteem of others, it’s The Bible. Hands down! (Or Up)
The Bible has many passages that teach us life lessons. It’s my go-to life coaching tool. One of my favorites is in Numbers 13. Moses sent twelve guys out to spy on their foes in Canaan. When they got back, eleven of them told Moses how impossible it would be for them to take over the land. The men made it clear that they could not, would not, and were not interested in going up against their big foes.
In Numbers 13:33 the men told Moses, “We were like grasshoppers in our own sight and so they saw us that way too.”
I’m not so sure that’s true. These men assumed that men in Canaan saw them as grasshoppers. But did they really? Who knows? How can you know what someone else truly thinks of you? In the world we live in, people who pretend to hate you secretly admire you and people who claim to admire you secretly hate you.
Some of us have been taught that the way we see ourselves is the way other people see us. However, when we look in the mirror we see much more of ourselves than other people see of us. We see the tiny lines in our forehead and every freckle on our cheeks or a newly sprouted gray hair. Nobody else sees that. In the same way, we see more of our emotional and psychological being than others see. We see our failures and our fears. Nobody sees that either…unless you show them.
“Even if people see us the way we see ourselves, the more damaging scenario is that we believe the way we see ourselves is accurate…”
Even if people see us the way we see ourselves, the more damaging scenario is that we believe the way we see ourselves is accurate and live out that reflection for other people to see. If the twelve spies saw themselves as grasshoppers they probably hopped out of Canaan like scared little bugs. Perhaps that was more telling to their adversaries than a mere physical inadequacy. If you view yourself as inadequate then your action and speech are likely inferior to match. That’s what people see.
What you see in the mirror is distorted by your own insecurity. Other people do not possess the intimate knowledge of your past, your purpose or your pain to see you the way you see yourself. It is your acceptance of that reflection that you portray to others. Only God can see who you truly are and what you are truly capable of achieving. Therefore, you have to believe God and let every man be a liar. (Romans 3:4)
Enter the positive affirmations and self-help multi billion dollar industry. So, if I look in the mirror every day and tell myself that I am smart, I am kind and I am important I will eventually believe it. Don’t bet on it if you actually believe you are dumb, hateful and insignificant. You know you are lying to yourself when you make a positive confession and you will never believe the $19.99 word that has been planted in your mouth by the gurus and the poo-poos.
Why would you trust yourself to even read the right book or follow the right positive plan for purposeful living? You think you are a misfit, a mess-up, or a mistake. Enter The Bible. A 2015 report from the Barna group reported that 88% of Americans have at least one copy of The Bible in their homes. The Bible still sells some 40 million copies annually. Some of the same positive affirmations encouraged by the gurus and poo-poos are in the Bible. The difference is that I’m not saying it about me – God is. I believe what God says over me any day. I’ve been known to be wrong –or flat out lie. Jesus is “the truth” and God is “not a man that he should lie.”
“You see, self-esteem is a bit of a misnomer because very little of our esteem comes from ourselves.”
You see, self-esteem is a bit of a misnomer because very little of our esteem comes from ourselves. Our parents, our teachers, our family and friends, all play a part in building the identity that houses our esteem. If all my friends are cute, I’m think I’m cute too. If my family is really smart, I think I’m smart too. Our “self-esteem” stays tucked away inside of us, but we aren’t the ones who put it there.
Re-enter the Bible. So verses like Hebrews 2:7 that tell me that I was made “a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor” demolish any bad feelings I might have about being too tall or too short or too White or too Black. Psalm 139 reminds me that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” on purpose by God. Yes, it has become a churchy cliché but it is still true, nonetheless.
Positive affirmations are a good thing. Self-esteem exercises like keeping a “happy journal” or standing in the mirror may work. But, never forget that most of what you hear and see in popular self-help media is derived from the principle that God created us for a distinct purpose and every one of us is so valuable that He sent his only son, Jesus, to die for us that we might live abundantly. So when you look at yourself and see just how broken or inadequate you are as a parent, a lover, a friend, an employee, a boss, a Christian…. just repeat this affirmation. “Mirror, Mirror on the wall…you need some windex.”
Kamryn Adams is the author of four books, including “Stay in Your Lane: Know Yourself, Love Yourself, Live on Purpose” (2014)