Jesus and the Paradox of Self Esteem
Imagine yourself on a rooftop patio downtown Vancouver, looking out at the horizon. Everything around you comes into view: the tall trees, the boats in the harbor, the bridges stretching out over the water, and all the buildings. In it all, you see beauty, especially as the sun hangs perfectly in the sky, illuminating the structures all around you. The view is perfect as it is; you’re not focusing on how that old building from the 70’s clutters the skyline, how that one barge sitting in the water takes away from the view, or even how there is some garbage on the street below. When you look at the view, you see the entire view as it is, and enjoy how all the individual parts come together to form the whole.
When a person struggles with self-esteem, it’s like they look at the landscape of their life, and just see the parts that need work. Like in the example mentioned, this would mean looking at the things that get in the way, that are unfinished or ‘ugly’. As a result, typically when people learn to work on their self-esteem, they’re taught to focus solely on best parts of themselves as a way of shifting focus away from the unsightly parts. This involves an intentional refocusing on the best parts of themselves, instead of fixating on the parts about themselves that they feel shame about. Sometimes this can look like choosing to focusing on 5 things every day that they like about themselves, and then repeating these things to themselves over and over, day after day. This process is often called ‘doing affirmations’, as a person begins to affirm themselves for their strengths and achievements.
It is a useful practice to be aware of one’s gifts. And, it is certainly unhealthy to only ever be considering the negative aspects of our character and behavior. However, both these approaches fall short when we consider how Jesus sees us as his children. He sees us as we are, and loves us anyway. While we were still broken and enemies of His, He died for us. In fact, He didn’t see just the good parts of us and then choose to die for us so we could be reconciled with Him, He saw all the parts of us, especially the bad parts. Knowing all the ways we have hurt him, and would continue to do so, he chose to take all of our suffering and pain, and conquer it. Because He died for us, He put a price on our lives: the price of His own life. This means we are not just priceless by human standards, but we have the value of Christ’s life: to God, we are of infinite worth.
For some people, this is easier to understand than others. Most Christians can say with confidence we are broken, and need Jesus, but they struggle to understand the other side of it: our infinite worth in Him. For those who have a hard time understanding we are priceless to God, it means trusting that who He says we are is who we actually are. Sometimes this means trusting His word, and our worth in Him, more than our feelings sometimes. When Jesus looks at us, he see all of us: the good and the bad. And, he loves us just the same. As Christians, this can change how we work on our self esteem. We don’t have to affirm ourselves by just focusing on just the good, we can look at ourselves and find that our worth comes not from what we do well, but because Jesus chose to die for us. We are precious to Him, even in our brokenness.
If we return to the image of looking at the Vancouver skyline, and remember that we see beauty in it all, not because it’s perfect. We can even see parts of the skyline that are less desirable, but together they make up the unique and special sight. This is how Jesus sees us, and how we can learn to see ourselves. We could easily look at our lives and say ‘I’m only going to focus on the good’ or ‘if I take out the bad, then I’ll finally be able to love myself’. But we can learn to look at our own lives by seeing ourselves as God sees us, and as we see the horizon: taking the entirety of what is seen, and loving it as it is.