Summary: An accurate view of yourself come from 1. an understanding of God’s view of who you are. 2. knowing the truth of who you are. 3. having a humble view of who you are.
In the Scripture reading today, we hear the Lord saying to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” It seems that when most people think of God coming to them and saying something, they think of him saying something about what is wrong with them. They often associate the voice of God with a guilty conscience. But, more often, the voice of God comes to announce our extraordinary worth to God and his plan to use us. This personal worth is inseparably tied to the fact that we were made by God. And our worth to God started before we were born. We have worth because we were born in the mind of God before we even entered our mother’s womb. We were valuable to God before the world began — because already we had begun in his mind and imagination. We are the product of his creativity and love. That is something that can never change or ever be taken away from us — indeed, it is the only thing we cannot lose.
What concerns me about the way we talk of self-esteem today is that it seems to be tied to our abilities. We tell children: “You can be whatever you choose to be!” Of course, this is not true. If I spent 12 hours a day practicing the piano I could never play like Joanna or Linda. I could never play the guitar like Jeremy. I will never be able to paint like Rissie Strayer. I will never be able to comprehend mathematical science like John Noonan. I will never be able to run like David Overholt — regardless of how many hours I would train. There are many things I cannot do, and the things I can do are often not as good as other people can do them. That reality dawns on children sooner than later, and so the questions is: Then what? The truth is, you can’t be anything you want to be, but you can be everything God wants you to be. That is where your identity and self-esteem must be grounded or it will eventually fall apart.
The American culture places extreme value on outer appearance. We value youth, beauty, athletic ability, intelligence, education, wealth and fame. But what happens when you have it all and lose it. What happens when Superman becomes a wheelchair man? What happens when a supermodel gains some super weight or gets super old? What happens when a super intelligent person has a stroke? What happens when a superstar ends up in jail or addicted to drugs? What happens when you have a super career and lose it? What then? Where do you get your feelings of esteem and personal worth, when everything on which you have based your value has vanished?
In this passage from Jeremiah, the first thing I see is: An accurate view of yourself comes from an understanding of God’s view of who you are. When God told Jeremiah that he valued him and had plans to use his life, Jeremiah protested that he was only a child and could not possibly be of value to God. But the Lord said, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” (Jeremiah 1:6-7). God had plans for Jeremiah that Jeremiah could not understand. Jeremiah saw himself as having no value, but God saw him as having great value. His value was not how he saw himself, or even how others saw him. His value was in how God saw him. You may not seem like much in your own estimation, but it is who you are in God’s eyes that matters. The kind of self-esteem that says, “I’m worth something because I am doing well and others look up to me” is a black hole from which many people never escape. If your feelings of self-worth are based on how you see yourself, or how others see you, then you are hooked to the wrong star. You will spend your life climbing the ladder of success only to find it was leaning against the wrong building.
If you take a tour through the Developmental Center (for the developmentally disabled and mentally retarded) here in town you will see many individuals who cannot get out of bed by themselves, let alone go to school or play sports. Many of them have never been able to contribute anything to society and never will — they are totally dependent on society to take care of them. Many cannot speak. They are not physically attractive. They will never have a relationship except with their caretakers. They will never earn an income. They cannot control their bodily functions. Of what value are they? According to the Scripture they are of inestimable worth to God. They are as much a part of his creation as a the doctors, nurses and aides who take care of them. Their worth to society is the very fact that they dependent on society. They are God’s gift to us. God is teaching us the value of taking care of people who can never return the favor in any way. And yet, those who work with them can tell you that they receive a great deal from these people. God is showing us the value of human life when life is all these individuals have. God has said, “For every living soul belongs to me” (Ezekiel 18:4).