Too Much Self, Not Enough God

I just went back and read my first two posts on this subject, and I think I may not have as much left to say as I thought I did. There’s been a little feedback, but not nearly as much as I’d like. What are you all thinking, so far?  Agree?  Disagree?  I’d love to hear from you.

If you are a person who feels you have low self-esteem, I’d like to offer you a challenge.  Just for today, put aside your concerns about what people think of you.  Disallow the worried thoughts of what people are saying about you. Don’t concern yourself with whether or not others think you’re a cool person.  Instead of focusing on what others think of you, discipline yourself to focus on how you treat others. Look around you and see if there is someone else who is walking with shoulders bowed and head hanging down.  Offer help to someone who is struggling. Offer a smile, if that’s all you have.  Offer a word of encouragement.  Tell a friend who is wounded and grieving over something that you love her, that you’re praying for her.

Just for today, center your thinking outside of your own stuff and focus instead on the needs of others.  While you are doing that, you will not be worrying about your self-esteem.  I want to point out again that we are all born with an over-abundance of self-esteem.  To love our neighbors as we love ourselves is a pretty telling commandment, isn’t it?  The assumption is that we DO love ourselves.  Self-love is not the problem.

You may ask, “But what about people who hurt themselves?  Aren’t they acting out on a lack of self-esteem?  People who have anorexia, people who cut themselves; people who are addicts, people who attempt suicide, aren’t they suffering from a lack of self-esteem?”

That’s really a pretty good question.  Counseling people with addictions is a very difficult field of work, and not my particular specialty.  However, there are counselors in my office who do a lot of addictions counseling.  What they tell me is that an addict  becomes an addict for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it’s the reaction to early childhood sexual abuse. That’s a very complicated situation, and one I may dig into next–not sure yet. Sometimes addiction develops over time simply because of experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an early age.  There are other scenarios.

The one common thread, in my understanding, is a desire to escape to a world of no worries. Even cutting is an attempt to feel better about one’s situation and one’s self.  Cutting, I understand, causes an endorphin rush and relieves the inner emotional pain and turmoil the victim feels. It’s all, as I said, very complicated.

But what about that desire to escape into a pain-free existence?

Believe me, if I could do so without using some substance or behavior to do so, I would!  For more years than I care to number, I have experienced daily, chronic pain. In my early thirties, I was told I had rheumatoid arthritis.  Later, in my mid-forties, I was told instead that I have fibromyalgia. At this point, it doesn’t much matter what it is.  I just know daily pain, daily discomfort. Sleeping is the most difficult thing for me, because I wake up from the ache of being in one position too long.

I’m not whining here.  I’ve learned to accept it and live with it, and I don’t usually talk about it much.  It’s very boring to others to listen to my list of complaints.  I’ve also learned some things that are non-medication techniques to bring some relief.  The best help is low-impact, graduated exercise.  Walking.  Stretching.  And right now, I’m learning Zumba.  Great fun, good exercise, and low-impact movement. You don’t have to resort to drugs, alcohol, or self-harm to get relief.

I’ll tell you one thing that takes my mind off myself:  The work I do three days each week.  It focuses me on the difficulties others experience, and I promise you that I’d rather carry my own bag of bricks than trade it for anyone else’s. The really cool thing about my work is that as I focus on how I can help my client, I’m also focusing on the Word of God–and that’s really where the answer lies to this whole question.

I found this graphic in my search for a way to illustrate today’s blog:

A very apt illustration of John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

We need to get over ourselves.  We need to quit worrying about the secular humanistic ideal of self-esteem.  We need to concern ourselves with working out our faith in serving others, and thereby honoring and serving God.

When our focus is always on how we feel, we’re going to feel lousy.  We’re going to feel that others don’t appreciate us; that we’re not getting the recognition we deserve; that no one understands what we’re going through or how important we really are.

When our focus is outward and upward, we’re going to feel a lot better about ourselves. Try it.  You’ll like it.

5 thoughts on “Too Much Self, Not Enough God

  1. Michael Kreger

    I haven’t felt the need to comment, so I haven’t. But since you asked…

    The most trouble I have seen, especially in church situations, is a direct result of too much self-esteem or pastor-esteem. The most fun I have had in church is when people were less concerned with Self, and instead focused on glorifying God and edifying Others. When each of us set aside our personal preferences and went along for the good of the group, treating each other as we would like to be treated, focusing on what the Bible has to say rather than on “the way we have always done things,” we had a wonderful time. The self-esteem and pastor-esteem has led to the destruction of all those good times, to the point that I am eager to move on from here and try to find (or help to build) what we used to have.

    Once upon a time, we used to call self-esteem by another name:

    Pride.

    And we rightly saw it as a negative trait, leading to all manner of bad behavior and bad outcomes.

    It has been said many times that sociologists have found no higher levels of self-esteem than among drug dealers/gang members.

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  2. I have a rather homely graphic I use in Bible study. It is on flash cards. Card one is a picture of a ornate throne. Card two is a heart. Card 3 is a triangle representing God. Card 4 is a heart with a picture of a chair (representing a throne) outside the heart. Card 6 is the heart with the throne occupied by me. Card six (and final) is the heart with the throne and the triangle on the chair. That’s the goal. God on the throne in my heart. Simple. But then, I view myself as a very simple person and for some reason, people relate to the simple. And I relate to the “pastor-esteem” that Mike mentions. Ruins what could be effective gatherings of God’s people because someone, usually the pastor, has to be the “big cheese.” It chased me out of a church in my town that I could be attending, in fact, was attending. Now I drive seven miles to a church with a pastor who is a humble servant, AND a powerful preacher. Great combination.

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    1. I like your graphic. That’s a great illustration.

      And didn’t Jesus say that a little child shall lead them. . .talk about simplicity. . .in my never to be humble opinion, a pastor who is not a humble servant is no true pastor.

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  3. Pingback: The Sacred Cow of Self-Esteem | Just Writing!

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