Let’s face it, during your lifetime…
You will get older…
You will get hurt….
You will be overlooked…
You could lose your influence….
You could lose your security….
You could lose your passion…
When your sense of worth is dependent on your appearance and youth, your intellect, your strength, your significant other, you will find yourself wondering why you feel worthless.
Recently I was directed to a blog post written by an author named Sharon Hodde Miller. The blog referenced her book Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You. I read the book in one sitting and the overall message immediately affected me. And I have to keep reminding myself constantly about the premise. The author’s idea is that humans are naturally self-absorbed or self-focused, which, of course, is no surprise. Then she tells how her runaway “self” robbed her of her joy. “It affected my marriage,” she writes, “my calling, and even my relationship with God.” Miller states another obvious point: our self-images are “shaped by people, possessions, and profession”[i] which doesn’t surprise me either. However, her thesis goes farther than the obvious. She believes, as I do, that the tiniest voices around us speak the loudest, especially when it comes to self-worth. In her book, Miller says, “Think about how you feel when a friend receives more ‘likes’ or more comments on her photos than you. It’s easy to compare…”[ii] and conclude that you are unworthy. A few little thoughts like that can be blamed for a negative self-image. But low self-image isn’t the problem. It is “self -preoccupation.” The only way to feel inferior is to focus on how you measure up to other people. The fight against self-preoccupation is continual. “There will always be more commercials identifying new flaws, more online tutorials teaching us how to improve [ourselves].”[iii]
A book from which Miller drew some of her conclusions, is written by Tim Keller. In his little book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Keller follows the trend of self-preoccupation:
Up until the twentieth century, the traditional cultures (and this is still true of most cultures in the world) always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all the evil in the world. What is the reason for most of the crime and violence in the world? Why are people cruel? Why do people do the bad things they do? Traditionally, the answer was hubris – the Greek word meaning pride or too high a view of yourself…But in our modern western culture, we have developed an utterly opposite cultural consensus. [iv]
Now we call it low self-esteem and so we try to make everybody feel good about themselves. That would fix the world’s problems, if we just felt worthy, right? Of course, we know this isn’t working either. Self-absorption is more rampant than ever. So, what do we do?
As Christians, we are encouraged to embrace and practice selflessness. Two gospel writers record Jesus as saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (NIV Mark 8:34 and Matthew 16:24). That, of course, is what is required of us in salvation. Surrender. But once we’ve done that, does that help us find our true value in everyday life? I believe it does. C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Self (whether it’s disguised as hubris or inner loathing) is about focus. And focus leads to fascination, to fixation, to obsession, then to passion. And what happens when passion gets involved? It becomes driven and totally out of control! Many authors have addressed these issues, many of them Christians, but often these well-meaning self-help writings fall short of their goals because of focus. When the focus is on self, it will always miss the point. Again as Hebrews 12:1-2 states “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.” (CSB)
Oftentimes it’s the difference between commitment and surrender. Our human spiritual DNA says to commit, not surrender. We are not taught or encouraged to surrender because it is sign of weakness. As women, we’re urged to be strong, not vulnerable; to take charge, not submit; to fight and never back down. And for Christian women, the message is the same. In many ways this is welcome and accurate and biblical, except in one area. Putting our “dukes” up when it comes to God, is counterproductive. God wants us to see ourselves in a way that He sees us, but we can’t if we’re constantly looking at our imperfections. In fact, one of the greatest paradoxes in the Bible is when Paul, the Apostle, writes that he had asked God to relieve him of a defect three different times. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” (CSB 2 Corinthians 12:9). So in that one arena our greatest weakness, when surrendered to Christ’s power, becomes our greatest strength.
“When the majority of messages for women are about our beauty and self-worth, we gradually get the idea that Jesus came to earth and died simply to help us like ourselves.”[v]
In fact, I believe that Jesus came to earth to save us from ourselves.
“That’s why God calls us into a bigger story: to live for him, instead of ourselves. When we shift our focus off ourselves—our fears, our appearance, our success, our self-doubt—and fix our gaze on Christ alone, we encounter the freedom we were created to have. We finally learn to be free of me.”[vi]
Yes, the same Bible that says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…(Ephesians 2:10, NASB), also says “For [God] knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust. (Psalm 103: 14, CSB).
In 1 John 3:1, (CSB,) we read, “ See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” (Romans 8:17) “…and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ.” (CSB) But in James 4:10 we are reminded to, “Humble yourselves before the Lord….”(CSB)
Which is correct? Are we His children or not? Ephesians 6:6 and 1 Peter 2:18 refer to us as “slaves of Christ.” But Jesus Himself (recorded in John 15:15) says that we’re not servants, but friends. Is it possible to be all of these things? I think so—if we start to look at these references in context of who God is and then what role we play in His plan.
Who is God? Well, He is called Yahweh in the Bible. That word essentially means “Self-existent One” and that means that no one created Him or gave birth to Him. He just WAS. Our minds can’t grab that idea very easily, but it’s possible only in an attitude of faith. Once we accept that fact, the rest is easier to grasp.
Not only is He Self-existent, but He is the Creator of all things. Universes, galaxies, animals, plants, micro-organism, human beings. Everything that is created, He created it.
Another thing about God that might be a concept hard to grasp is the Trinity, the Three-in-One. In other words, He is the invisible, all -powerful, all-knowing, ever present Father, but He is the Spirit and the Man, Jesus. And though each of these entities has its own function, they are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. Look at Colossians 1: 15-20[NA1] .
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (NASB)
So, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are the same, but different. The thing that sets Jesus apart is that He was fully God and fully man. And He came to earth to die, yes to give up His life so that we could be united with God, the Father. In Old Testament context, a blood sacrifice, from an animal was necessary to cleanse the sinners of their transgressions. This practice is, of course, no longer used, because Jesus’ blood took the place of this practice. But a little Bible history lesson might help to explain why we talk about being “washed in the blood” or “cleansed by the blood.”
In Hebrews 9, blood sacrifice is reviewed. In verses 19-22, it says,
When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
STOP: Think. Are you focused on yourself much of the time? Is it difficult to see others because of your obsession with self?
LIE: If I don’t love myself no one will.
TRUTH: “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.”(Matthew 16:24)
[i] Miller, Sharon Hodde Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You Baker EBooks 2017
[iv] Keller, Tim The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller, 2012.
[vi] Miller, Sharon Hodde Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You Baker EBooks 2017
[NA1]Colossians 1: 15-20