I used to think I had great self-esteem. But I used to confuse self-esteem and confidence. I had confidence, to a degree. Self-esteem? Maybe not so much.
Neighbors told me I had pretty hair and nice eyes; so I had confidence in my appearance. My teachers told me that I was smart; so I had confidence in my intellect. My class nominated me for wittiest; so I had confidence in my sense of humor.
But what I didn’t have was confidence in myself, value in who I am as a person, a strong foundation of my personal worth, or a legitimate sense of my position in this world. In other words, I lacked self-esteem. But my lack of insight into myself, my emotional well-being and the true implications of self-esteem made it impossible for me to realize it at the time.
My low self-esteem was not apparent to me until I was in my late twenties. By then I had made a myriad of poor choices that no self-respecting woman would make. I thought I was in control, and that I knew what I was doing. I deceived myself into thinking that I was content to be treated poorly and to even endure abuse.
I labeled my bad decisions as freedom or even a right of passage, and while this may have been true to some extent, it didn’t change the fact that my passage through life was not based in my identity and purpose but rather in fear of rejection or even abandonment.
However, my low self-esteem didn’t always manifest itself in such intense ways. Sometimes my low self-esteem affected simple things like what I wore, how I spoke, how I allowed my co-workers to treat me, what projects at work I felt willing to step up to, what college classes I took or even in what music and movies I indulged.
My self-esteem had convinced me that I was small, and that I should make small, safe choices that would keep me in a small, safe box. My low self-esteem kept me standing still, afraid to fail and even more afraid to succeed. As small as my self-esteem was, it managed to overpower my potential. Sadly, it kept me average.
After a fitful divorce and an awkward post-divorce era, I began following Christ (nearly as awkwardly). My “come to Jesus” moment was in the middle of ravaging darkness and fear. It was a process that began with a moment and continues throughout my walk with Christ and my journey through life.
What I didn’t understand about self-esteem for so long is that before following Christ our self-esteem comes from what we can accomplish or how we feel about ourselves that day or even that hour. It may also come from how other people treat us or how we perceive that they see us. An argument with a loved one or criticism at work can be immensely unraveling for a person with low self-esteem. Even a cross look or a perceived slight from a friend can be very damaging when one’s self-esteem is lacking.
Incredibly, after following Christ, our self-esteem does not come from what we have done in the past, what we can do now, or what we can accomplish in the future but rather it comes from our position in Christ, as God loved us so much that He gave His Son for us. After Christ, we can stop saying things to ourselves like, “I can’t…” “But I…” and “I’m just…”
The irony about self-esteem is that it is not really about us at all. It is about a God who loves us so much that He is love (1 John 4:8), and He wants to know us personally (Rev. 3:20). As a follower of God, I have learned to stop worshipping my abilities, my mistakes, my guilt, my fear and my pride. While I still struggle in all of these areas at times, my peace comes from putting my hopes and stock in His abilities, His victories, His glory, His strength and His love.
Self-esteem is not realizing how great we are, but rather in realizing how great He is and what we can do, achieve and experience while resting in a peaceful sanctity in Him, even when the world is shouting:
After Christ, I hear confident reassurance from Him that says,
In short, self-esteem is rooted in security, watered by taking risks, bathed in sun by ability, and harvested by success. And ironically, the more we overcome, the more challenging the season, the sweeter the harvest. Ask me how I know.
I used to feel rootless, parched and withered. But His Word reminds me that I am adopted into His family (John 1:10-13) and that I have a position just below the angels and I am crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5). These are not the words describing a small and lowly person with no value and no chance for a good future. These words describe a person whose value and ability come from Him, whose future will not be perfect, but who can feel joy in life regardless of the circumstances.
Self-esteem that is based in a relationship with Christ allows us to ask, “Who am I today and what is my purpose tomorrow?” without the sickening fear of not being able to rise to the challenges at hand (1 Cor. 12:9).
Let me clarify, finding one’s self-esteem in Christ does not mean that the person no longer matters, that their dreams or abilities are pointless. On the contrary, it gives meaning and purpose to every gift and every dream that we are blessed to experience.
While my confidence was once based in appearance, intelligence, wit and the good will of others, my self-esteem as a child of God is based in:
I won’t pretend that I am a spiritual guru that doesn’t struggle with each of these characteristics. I also won’t pretend like a good hair day or a well-placed compliment isn’t good for my spirits. By all means, I still enjoy the pleasures of being a human and a woman with regard to ego and relationships. But neither rules me. When I became a Christian, I stopped seeking to be the center of my world. God took that place, and what a rest it gives me!
Our faith in Christ is what establishes who we are. Perfection, performance and even the desire to be “good” can rest easy, and we can be comforted by something so much greater than ourselves or our abilities.
I wouldn’t trade my confidence of old for the “self-esteem” I have enjoyed through Christ. No matter how bad life feels some days or how incompetent I feel at a task, nothing can change my position in Christ. It is done. The war is won. And no defeat in battle can convince me otherwise.
While the world will be ever changing, and our feelings about ourselves cannot always be trusted, we have a God that is constant, never changing, never-ending, always loving, and ever forgiving.
That is esteem worth having.
I am not the woman I used to be. I am becoming the woman God designed me to be.
And it is lovely.
Kris Wolfe is a Christian, wife and mother. She is a freelance writer who focuses on spiritual and practical encouragement, writes lessons for small group purposes for churches, and is also a small group coach. Kris has a master’s degree in Biblical Counseling from Luther Rice University and Seminary and is a listed TN Supreme Court Rule 31 Mediator.
I used to think I had great self-esteem. But I used to confuse self-esteem and confidence. I had confidence, to a degree. Self-esteem? Maybe not so much. Neighbors told me I had pretty hair and nice eyes; so I had confidence in my appearance. My teachers told me that I was smart; so I had confidence in my intellect. [Read more...] [En español]
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