This article is going to be a little different. It is going to be an interactive reading. So grab some paper, a pen, and your Bible, get comfortable and be honest. We’re going to dig out some yucky stuff today!
It all started in the 1960’s with the feminist movement. Women were told that they could have it all and should have it all: the job, the house, the children, and the husband. We needed to be June Cleaver, Margaret Thatcher and Marilyn Monroe all rolled into one. And women have tried to get it right ever since. However, all we have achieved is letting Satan destroy our self-esteem through three different avenues.
1. We have been destroyed by our externals.
Sometimes I wish I lived in the past when pale skin and curves were considered beautiful. I would have been a knockout! But the standard has changed; tan and thin is in. Holding on to a few pounds after having babies is no longer cool. It seems that every new mom in Hollywood has lost all of her baby weight three months after giving birth. And none of us meet the standard that our society has determined as being “worthy” of admiration and esteem. I’m too tall. You’re too short. You’re too smart. I’m too dumb. If only our house was larger. If only your car was newer. And it goes on and on. If you just change your externals, you will like yourself better. So we diet and exercise. We get plastic surgery. We go into debt. Satan laughs at us, and God weeps for us. And everyone is miserable, even those who attain the “standard.”
God never placed this burden on us; we have chosen it for ourselves. In fact God doesn’t care much at all for what you bring to the table. In 1 Samuel 16:7 God reveals how he views you, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ (ESV)” What God finds beautiful and successful is a heart that is humble, loves Him, and loves others. Solomon called focusing on external things to be “vanity” and “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). Unfortunately, these views are not taught or truly believed by most people, even Christians.
I want you to write down on your piece of paper all the ways you don’t meet the external standard of the world in which we live: things about yourself or your life that have always bothered you. Height? Weight? Hair? Eyes? Intelligence? Income? Body type? Now open your Bible and copy Ecclesiastes 1:14 or 1 Samuel 16:7 in large letters over your list. The things on your list are worthless in God’s eyes.
2. We are destroyed by others.
While meeting an external standard doesn’t matter to God, unfortunately, it does matter to some people. Women especially have no problem being vocal about how you aren’t living up to a certain standard as a wife, mother, or even a Christian. There is an old saying from elementary school, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This is one of the biggest lies ever spread on the playground. Words hurt. Words destroy. Words can be full of deadly poison (James 3:8). Ladies, it is hard enough to battle Satan and his intent to destroy our lives without being co-conspirators! We all need a group of women we can ask for constructive advice about being wives, mothers, and Christians, but unsolicited advice is damaging. I always tell my husband I don’t need anyone to point out my shortcomings to me about my role as wife, mother, and Christian; I have no problem seeing them on my own! Women need other women to encourage and lift them up. I had a woman from church a few months ago comment on my Facebook page that she was very impressed with how well I handled my three children while my husband preaches. I couldn’t believe it! I feel like I fall so short in that area, but that bit of encouragement was a balm for my soul.
Why do I feel so defeated most of the time? Because I look at other families, other marriages, other housekeepers, other homeschoolers, other preachers’ wives, other Christians and I fall so very short of how they appear compared to me. I’m assuming a lot of you feel that way as well. We just aren’t enough when compared to some self-imposed standard. God’s standard is much less restrictive. As a wife, God expects me to respect (Ephesians 5:33) and submit (Ephesians 5:22) to my husband. How that is played out depends upon my marriage. As a mother, God expects me to teach my children about Him and His word (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). How that plays out depends upon my family. As a Christian, God expects me to obey His commands (John 14:15) and teach the lost (Matthew 28:19-20). How that plays out depends upon my God-given abilities and talents. God never holds you up for comparison to someone else. He compares you to His word. That should be a freeing thought!
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I want you to write down all of the ways you feel you fail as a wife, mother, and Christian. Some of these may be valid things that you need to work on, but most of them are probably in your own mind. Now write across this list Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” God will supply you the strength to meet His standard, but not anyone else’s.
3. We are destroyed by sin.
This is probably an obvious one. Of course we are destroyed by sin; that’s why we need Jesus! But I’ve met people and have been someone who has been destroyed by sin continually because I won’t or can’t let it go. I’ve been forgiven, but I don’t feel like it. I’ve been forgiven, but I don’t feel worthy. Notice all the emphasis on “feelings”; we talked about how destructive those are! There are two ways sin can destroy our self-esteem: as victims or as sinners. There are a lot of victims in the church. Far more than many of us realize. They are generally silent and in pain. They are victims of trauma like gossip, bullying, prejudice, physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, emotional abuse, neglect, etc. Satan loves to use our victimization to destroy our self-esteem. He loves to tell us that because of our past we will never be acceptable to God or others (shame). He plants seeds of doubt in our mind, causing us to second guess everything about who we are and what we do (self-hatred). There are a lot of forgiven, but living in bondage Christians in the church as well. People who logically know that God has forgiven them, but cannot accept that forgiveness because their sin was so “bad.” They just know that God cannot use them or be pleased with them. They have done such terrible things.
God does not hold victims or sinners in contempt. In fact, Isaiah 61:1-4 describes why God sent Jesus to earth:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. (ESV)
Now, take out your piece of paper and list all the ways you might have been a victim of sin and any of your sins that you feel you just cannot throw off. It might be a long list or a very short one. Either way, I want you to choose some of the phrases from the above passage and write them across your list. God wants to use you and build up His kingdom through you. That is why He sacrificed His Son. Do not let Satan determine your effectiveness!
I know that this has been a bit of a depressing article, but I really wanted us to see the ways our self-esteem is destroyed. However, I want to leave things on a positive, uplifting note. God has called us to be lights to the world (Matthew 5:14-16). When our self-esteem is too much or too little, it turns inward, not outward. But chasing after self-esteem through external things, unbiblical standards, or under Satan’s heel are not things God can use to light up the world. Imagine for a moment that you have two large ceramic flower pots, the terra cotta colored ones. One of the flower pots is in perfect condition not a scratch or a chink anywhere. The other one has definitely seen better days. There are chunks missing out of the sides, cracks running around the top; it is not a pretty pot! Now you place a candle inside of each and turn off the lights. Which pot will give off more light? That’s right; the damaged one. The perfect pot will only shine light straight up which will not be much use for lighting up a room. The broken pot will let the light blaze forth through its brokenness and damage to illuminate every corner. The same is true for us. When we try to make ourselves “perfect” to bolster our self-esteem, we become useless to God. He needs our imperfections, our brokenness, and our dependence on Him, not things of this world to shine forth.
One of my favorite passages in the entire Bible is found in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Satan comes to attack the apostle Paul. He gives Paul a “thorn in the flesh.” We aren’t told what it is, but you can tell it is really doing a number on Paul’s self-esteem and his usefulness to the kingdom. In fact, he asks God three times to take it away. Have you ever asked God repeatedly to fix something that you think is wrong with you? Paul tells us God’s answer, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (verse 9a).” I hope you hear what God is telling Paul and us. Those things you dislike about yourself, your circumstances, the failings you feel as a wife, mother, or Christian, the shadow of your past– those are the things that God can use. You are just right for God just the way you are!
Next week we will study how we find our self-esteem and purpose in God.
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By Chelli Guthrie
Chelli and her husband, Luke, work with the Abell St. church of Christ in Wharton, Texas, where Luke is the pulpit minister. Chelli teaches the Jr. High class on Sunday mornings and leads the Children’s Bible Hour program on Sunday nights. She is a full-time mom who homeschools their three children: Grace (8), Sophia (4), and Levi (2). Her blog is ThePlantedTrees.com.