I think we’ve all experienced it before—that sense of timidity and insecurity, feeling like everyone can see it written all over us. We lack confidence and incessantly question how other people perceive us. Do they think I am smart, funny, pretty, capable, or disciplined enough?
I have experienced this in every season of my life. It’s not something that we grow out of after high school. No, it just morphs and changes as our lives and circumstances do. The question of the high school girl, “Do they like me?” or “Am I pretty enough?” just becomes the question of the woman in the workplace, “Do they think I was worth hiring?” or “Are they going to be disappointed with me?”
These kinds of feelings and questions are a universal human experience. Even those who seem so resilient and confident have their own moments of doubt. The questions themselves are not the problem. As Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
But many of us have let them build a nest in our hair—a nest that is visible every time we look in the mirror. But then we just make a bigger mess by trying to remove the nest with tools that only temporarily deconstruct it. Then we are back to square one again, needing our dose of confidence that will carry us over to the next moment of insecurity and self-doubt.
I want to briefly look at two ways of dealing with this feeling of low self-esteem. I have seen both used within the evangelical community and want to point out why I think one is more helpful, and most importantly, more biblical than the other.
The first approach to this problem is grounded in the idea that we forget our worth and have too low a view of ourselves. We often experience feelings of insecurity because we forget how special and worthy we are in the eyes of the only One whose opinion really matters—God. If only we could remember that we are created for a purpose and believe in ourselves and our capabilities and talents, we would not be so hard on ourselves and learn to love who God created us to be.
If we can convince ourselves that we are truly beautiful, then we will begin to live and act in a way that reflects that. This message is used widely in both Christian and non-Christian circles. This doesn’t mean that a message is necessarily wrong, but when the world’s message and our message mirror one another, we should be cautious and reassess our thinking.
A second approach comes from a completely different angle. It begins with switching our focus from ourselves and our perceived inadequacies to looking at the One who is truly good. Ironically, despite the numerous books I read as a teen about insecurity and self-confidence, the most helpful book I read pertaining to this issue was actually The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. This broadened my view of God and suddenly put the obsession with myself in its rightful place. By gazing at God, I saw myself and my sin more accurately and how desperately dependent I am on him for anything good in me.
Author Jen Wilkin puts it well, saying,
“Awe yields self-forgetfulness. When we emphasize self-awareness to the omission of self-forgetfulness, we have missed the mark. You can tell me that I am a royal daughter of the King. You can assure me that I am God’s poem or his masterpiece. You can tell me that I stir the heart of God, that I am sung over and delighted in, that I am beautiful in his eyes, that I am set apart for a sacred purpose. You can tell me these things, and you should. But I beg you: Don’t tell me who I am until you have caused me to gaze in awe at “I Am.” Though all of these statements are precious truths, their preciousness cannot be properly perceived until framed in the brilliance of his utter holiness. There can be no true self-awareness apart from right, reverent awe of God.”
Psalm 139 is a helpful passage when considering how to counsel ourselves the next time a wave of self-consuming thoughts arises. We typically approach this Psalm as a quick medicine for our self-esteem problems because we see it is a long list of truths about ourselves. But I think that sells the passage short and misses the point. I would challenge you to consider the number of truths about God contained here in contrast to the number of truths about man. In verses 13-14, David says,
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
These verses are speaking of David, but they are about God. The focus is still on him and his extraordinary works. David had nothing to do with the fact that he is “fearfully and wonderfully made”—it is a work of God! This clearly portrays the fact that our lives are only meant to point to our Creator. He is the source of all good, including any good found in us.
So much of our self-esteem problems come from an obsession with ourselves and a misplaced focus. The answer is not becoming prettier, skinnier, more skilled, or anything else. None of these pursuits or self-help mantras will really help us feel more adequate in the end, nor should they. Even worse is when we attain these things that we are seeking.
When we do become more ______, we relish in what we think we have gained and inwardly praise ourselves for what we’ve become. Regardless of which end of the spectrum we are on—whether we feel we are lacking a particular quality or feel we have attained whatever we were missing—the focus is still misplaced. This is the most foundational element in addressing the problem of self-esteem and insecurity.
There is much more to be said moving forward, but if this is an area of great struggle for you, I pray the Lord would grant you grace to see and behold him, and then see yourself in light of that. Only then can we begin to deconstruct the nests we’ve built.
For more on this topic, I would recommend the following resources that have been particularly helpful to me:
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
“Women, Trade Self-Worth for Awe and Wonder” by Jen Wilkin
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller
True Beauty by Carolyn Mahaney
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