The Self-Worth Struggle
Introduction … source of our self-worth
Self-worth, often referred to as self-esteem, is considered to be indicative of a person's basic mental evaluation of their value or worth. In developing self-worth a person judges their ability to meet personal standards, which they themselves have generated from their perception of social, cultural, and peer standards. In doing this we generally base our value system on our interpretation of peer behavior and by listening to feedback we receive from those around us. As a result, the source of our sense of self-worth is frequently taken from the world … we become a product of the world we live in.
Our initial establishment of standards, and our formative development of a sense of self-worth, is highly influence by those closest to us. If we are born into a family of jocks there is a good chance we will initially set athletic standards. If we are born into a family of outlaws there is a very good probability we will adopt standards that rebel against the social norm. There is also the fact that some people foolishly try to identify with celebrities or social conventions. This is not a condemnation of celebrities, but our immolating them can result in our setting performance expectations that are absolutely wrong for us. In fact we can actually fail to recognize who we really are, resulting in our fabricating an alien persona based on what we think the world and others expect us to be.
The more dependent we are on the opinions of other people the greater the probability our world-fabricated standards will not bring us true peace and happiness. Consider all the people who have achieved great success but still committed suicide.
Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962) Marilyn came from an orphanage to become the most beloved movie star of her time. She had money, beauty, and fame. Yet, she killed herself at the age of 36.
Alan Ladd (I) (1913–1964) Ladd was a famous actor with a tremendous line of successful films. He was powerful, wealthy, and loved by everyone, and then at the age of 50 he killed himself.
Lucy Gordon (I) (1980–2009) Lucy became a face of CoverGirl in 1997, and then began an acting career. She appeared in The Four Feathers (2002), Spider-Man 3, and A Heroic Life (2010). She had a future that many dream of; but, she killed herself at 28.
Robin Williams (I) (1951–2014) Came from a good upper middle-class home and achieve astronomical success as an award winning actor and comedian; at age 63 he committed suicide.
Most assuredly these examples are extreme cases of a screwed up self-esteem; but, they do demonstrate how important it is to understand what influences our formation of self-worth. We have all seen the individual that, if we could buy them for what they really are worth and sell them for what they think they are worth, we could make a fortune selling them. On the other hand, there are people who have great potential but never achieve success because their sense of self-worth is beaten down by the influence of other people. The point is, if our self-worth is highly influence by social standards, or by our perception of what others think of us, we have allowed the world to control who we are. Most assuredly, there are social standards we need to take into consideration; just as there are other people whose opinions are important. But more important, we must be aware of the fact that the human psyche has a distinct preference for positive feedback: even when it is inaccurate. When we primarily base our self-worth on poor or inaccurate positive-feedback it can lead us into the situation where we are not who we should be. So you see, it is imperative that we know and fully understand the root source of our sense of self-worth … the best source is the word of God.
1. The Struggle
It is a very simple minded person, or one who is supremely arrogant, that ignores or denies the existence of forces, which influence their self-worth. Let’s face it; almost all of us are sensitive to other people’s opinion about us. We want to be loved by those we love; we want to be appreciated by those we labor for; we want to be respected by our peers; and we want to be honored by those we sacrifice for. When we are loved our ability to love is strengthened; when we are appreciated we take confidence in the quality of our labor; when we are respected we feel like we are a part of the team; and when we are honored our self-esteem is lifted. So you see, whether we want to admit it or not, most of us develop a sense of self-worth based on the reactions of the world around us.
When we are covered in positive attitudes and reactions we develop good self-esteem, but when we are flooded with negative attitudes and reactions we can develop feelings of low self-worth. This is why people have a tendency to do and say those things, which will generate a positive response from people deemed most important to them. To receive love some will deny self; to receive praise some will become the bosses toady; to receive respect we will dress and act the way our peers expect us to; and to be honored we will become what others want us to be. At least we frequently attempt to do these things. The tragedy in all of this is that, when we primarily focus on pleasing others, we can lose sight of who we really are. A child who hates baseball will play baseball to receive praise from a father who loves the game. A man who hates living in town will live in town to get love from a woman who hates living in the country. When we labor to develop self-worth by obtaining positive reactions from other we are frequently struggling with a motivational dichotomy.
Perhaps the dichotomy, or our struggle with our source of self-worth is not as clearly defined as that of Dr. Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s play “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus,” but most of us have conflicting or opposing forces in our lives. It is not uncommon for problems such as shyness, nervousness, pugnaciousness, and many other behaviors to be the result of conflicting sources of self-worth. For example, a Christian is constantly torn between following the Holy Spirit’s leading and following the leading of the world. Nowhere is this more obvious than with pastors. The source dichotomy of self-worth is probably why pastoring is a profession riddled with so many dysfunctional workers. This is not said with so much as a single ounce of animosity. Actually, this was said with a degree of conditional respect and with a great deal of sympathy. When we deal with a preacher we are dealing with a man whose life is one massive self-worth dichotomy.
Christian self-worth dichotomy
It is no wonder Christians, especially church leaders, can be so dysfunctional; they are directly motivated by, and their life is valued by, the two greatest diametrically opposing poles in the universe: God and Satan. It is God who calls us to Christ, but it is the world that calls loudest to our living. It is God who calls a man to lead, assuming that person is actually called, but it is the congregation who provides immediate feedback. God may initially have our heart, but eventually it is the world that can dominate our sense of self-worth.
Most assuredly there are times when all Christians find themselves torn between the forces of God and Satan; but, it is the preacher that God expects more from. There is no man who is immune to the things that bring us praise and adoration from people; and, it is this “positive feedback” that can eventually dull our drive to please God. This is not to say that it is wrong for us to care about the opinions of others. After all, the person who says they do not appreciate approval and accolades is either very simple minded or a very arrogant and self-focused person. What we are saying is that in our determination of ‘who-we-are’ our number one concern must be in regard to what Jesus thinks about us, not what other people think. We must not become like the people who believed in Jesus but never accepted Him because they were fearful of losing the approval of other. (John 12:42-43) All Christians face this trial but it is the pastor who seems to be under the most ferocious attack.
2. Self-worth gained through Deception
You can paint an old barn to help sell it, but it is still an old barn. A woman can put on a girdle to attract a man, but she is still fat. It is doubtful that most of us set out to deceive; yet, it is highly probably that most of us have experienced the temptation to deceive others and/or ourselves. While deception is generally considered to be the act of making someone believe something that is not true, deception can also be the act of diverting knowledge of the truth. For example: Joe’s friend may tell his friend’s wife, “I saw Joe at the grocery store just a while ago.” “Just” is a subjective term, and thus it is not an accurate measure of time. The man may have seen Joe in the grocery store 4 hours ago, but he deceived Joe’s wife with the suggestion it was only a little while ago. So you see, we can deceive with a blatant lie or we can deceive in more subtle ways, but it is still a lie. The greatest tragedy is when we resort to subtle deceit in an attempt to curry positive feedback to bolster our sense of self-worth.
We are especially susceptible to employing deception when we want to earn positive feedback from others. In most cases a worldly person is only risking their personal integrity. Christians, however, are risking their relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps the greatest danger is when we resort to self-deception in our attempt to justify our actions and our character. We need to remember that if we allow Satan to influence our measuring of self-worth we have yielded to Satan’s definition of who we are. Scripture clearly tells us we that are to define ourselves by the Word of God; but, Satan leads us to define our self-worth by worldly standards; or, by the standards of immature Christians and hypocrites. (Galatians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:4) Not that it is bad to have the approval of others; but, when we seek the approval of other Christian we are always in danger of failing to recognize the necessity of first seeking God’s approval. When we look to man for approval we must look away from God, and in so doing we are in grave danger of deceiving ourselves.
This is especially true when a church leader looks to the congregation for the defining measure of his self-worth. In most cases, there is a preponderance of spiritually immature people in the congregation and it is impossible for a church leader to please both God and immature Christians. This generates the real danger that a preacher will eventually use congregational accolades as justification for ignoring or deviating from scriptural teachings. To know the truth and not tell the congregation all of the truth is to practice deception. Think about it, how can you honestly consider yourself a Christian leader when you only tell the congregation what they want to hear; and, you almost always ignore correcting, or rebuking, or giving them strong encouragement? To know there are those in the congregation, who are weak and immature; yet, continue feeding them milk, is to deceive the people and leave them vulnerable to the workings of Satan. An even greater deception is to know there are those in the congregation who are living in sin and never confront them or publically identify the existence of such a sin. We are not saying you need to call out the individual sinner; although it might be best to do so. You must, however, rebuke the sin itself in the presence of all so that those who are sinning will come under conviction by the Holy Spirit; and, so that others will become fearful of falling into this trap. (1Timothy 5:20) While this deception is damnable for a pastor, we must admit we are all in danger of practicing deception when we know there is a weakness or sin in the congregation and we do not address it.
3. Choosing the world instead of God
It is by our mind that we determine how we value ourselves; thus, that which manipulates our mind will have a major impact on our establishing a sense of self-worth. When my brothers and sisters are immature Christians, and I let them influence my sense of self-worth, I have based my self-worth on worldly values instead of the Word of God. This is because immature Christians are focused on the flesh and not on the spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5) We all risk our integrity when we desire the praise of other, but we risk the eternal state of our souls when we let our mind be influenced by people more than the Word of God.
The word of God is filled with encouragements to endure, to finish the race, to fight the good fight, to struggle, to overcome, and to remain faithful. It also warns us that failure is real, failure is our responsibility, we will be judged, God has no tolerance for those ignoring His instructions, and hell is real. God does not give out any “you-are-saved” trophies just for being born. It is a hard cold fact that our eternal existence will be dictated either by the world or by the word of God. It is our duty to allow the Word of God to transform us by the renewing of our mind, so that our life will be a testimony to the will of God and to that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2) Most assuredly this is difficult to do. We live in a pseudo-competitive culture where we are taught that having a high self-esteem will grant us peace, and value, and even health. We are taught to have high self-esteem and at the same time society conditions us to base our self-worth on the reaction of others. Think about it, society tells us we need to be special and above average in order to feel good about ourselves; yet, at the same time we are told to always think positively about ourselves. Self-worth has become an oxymoron where we compete to win, but we give trophies to everyone for participating … just so everyone can feel good about themselves. Even Christians have become a bunch of weenies where the standard measure of a preacher calls for an entertainer and someone who will tell them what they want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3-4) We have reached the point where, instead of the church influencing the world, it is the world that has influenced the church.
Conclusion …. The Obedient Christian
The fact has been, and it always will be, that every Christian is faced with the dichotomy of developing a sense of self-worth through man or developing a sense of self-worth through the spirit of God. Even when we know that God must be the source of our self-worth we will be sorely tempted to establish a sense of self-worth based on worldly standards and the approval of man. (Galatians 1:10) It is only when we can rise above earthly things that we are able to see ourselves as God sees us. It is only when we see our self as God see us that we will learn to establish a self-worth anchored in the Word of God. It is only when our self-worth is anchored in the Word of God that we can mature as a Christian. It is only a God-centered self-worth that enables us to successfully work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
A God centric sense of self-worth is critical if we are to please God. This is true for all of us, but it is many times magnified in the life of a shepherd who desires to please God, but his ears are filled with the blatting of immature sheep. He is torn between the desire to preach what is gentle and the need to make disciples. A preacher’s mind can be a swirling vortex where part of him wants to tell the people everything is wonderful, but another part of him wants to urge the people to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. He wants to preach a sermon where he hammers home the point that Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” He knows the people need to hear the hard cold facts, but he also knows they will not like what they hear. (John 15:1-11) Of course it is not just the preacher whose sense of self-worth is torn between the world and the Word of God. We are all vulnerable to developing a sense of self-worth through ignorance and pride and even deception; for we all are susceptible to measuring our self-worth against the approval of man instead of God.