The Beauty of Low Self-Esteem

By Ronnie Martin:

I’m just going to say it: I love me. Go ahead and say it to yourself a few times. I love me. I don’t know how it will make you feel, but I can guarantee that it won’t make you a liar. Look in the mirror. Not bad, huh? No? Well, whether you love or hate what you see, chances are you’ll keep on looking.

None of us has a problem with low self-esteem. Scripture tells us we were born with the opposite issue. We all think of ourselves as a little more pretty, a little more talented, a little more worthy, and a little more deserving of just about everything in this life. Far from having naturally broken hearts, our hearts are naturally bloated with the calories of self-consumption and filled with obscene levels of self-obsession. We’ve been taught that there’s nothing more valuable than how much we value ourselves. Sometimes we like to doll it up with introspective words like self-realization or self-fulfillment, but it’s all the same thing: egos the size of Kanye West performing with Jay Z on top of the Empire State Building. Yes, our esteem is that extreme.

Depths of Our Souls

The frightening thing about self esteem is the staggering lengths God goes to completely eradicate it from the depths of our souls, in order to produce depth in our souls. If the Lord loves a humble and contrite heart, it means that he equally abhors a prideful and defiant one. One of the prevailing themes of the Bible is how God makes nothing out of men by flipping the object of their esteem from themselves back to him. These stories play out like dark, epic, cinematic tragedies. We all hope our story doesn’t.

In Moses we see a rich, short-tempered prep school kid who got embroiled in a racial murder scandal. Fleeing the scene into exile and obscurity, he gets a blue-collar gig tending sheep for 40 years. God eventually steps back into the picture and assigns him the CEO position of the world’s largest relocation project. What he doesn’t tell him is that the relocation’s going to take another 40-plus years and that he’s going to die right before the final move-in date. God spent a lot of years breaking down Moses. His whole life, actually.

Then there’s Joseph, a spoiled, insensitive trust-fund baby, coddled by his Daddy until his brothers have finally had enough of his insufferable bragging and throw him in a hole while they discuss how to do away with him. They end up selling him into slavery instead, because you could do that back then. He lands a manager position for good behavior until he gets framed on rape charges. Dude ends up back in jail until a VP gig for the nation of Egypt opens up, and through some heartbreaking circumstances, he lands the job. God broke Joseph down during the prime years of his young adult life.

You see where I’m going here. God takes sometimes horrific, drastic measures to destroy our self-esteem. We’re not told much about the personal pain Moses and Joseph experienced. We’re not told of the sleepless nights spent in isolation, gripped by emotional despondency while grasping hopelessly in the dark, trying to fathom why God was doing this and whether he was even there. In hindsight, we tend to view these figures as emboldened, courageous, pillars of the faith, but it’s foolishness to think that their responses were any less weak and human than ours would be. But we see a God that uses very human experiences to change the hearts of human vessels. And it hurts.

Call to Brokenness

The call to brokenness is a call to openness. It’s an altered vision. It doesn’t mean that our lives enter into a continuous state of disrepair so that God can use what “working” functions we have left for his glory. Brokenness is the gentrification of our hearts. It means that the heart we had was condemned and the only way for God to make it fit for use was to demolish it and rebuild it from the ground up. Same body, new heart. The reason it hurts so bad is that we all love our old hearts. We love the familiar pulse and well-worn rhythm that our old hearts provided for us. They filled us with adrenaline, pumping the blood of self-indulgence through our veins . . . until we remember that they didn’t at all. We remember that they shut us into the cells of our own self-belief, closing us off from the liberation of godly self-denial.

The beauty of low self-esteem is that we finally have the hearts to highly esteem God. It’s not that we all turn into Debbie Downers and drench ourselves in self-loathing and self-pity. No, there’s no time for that when our eyes are fixed firmly on our Lord.

“You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’ (Psalm 27:8).

Help us, O Lord, to see only you.

Ronnie Martin is a writer, speaker, recording artist, and worship leader at Ashland (OH) Grace Brethren Church. He also co-hosts The Reformatory, a radio talk show with Ted Kluck. You can visit his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

6 thoughts on “The Beauty of Low Self-Esteem

  1. Yes this is very helpful and challenging.
    Have you seen the damaging effects of low self-esteem too:
    lack of confidence
    inability to pray in public or contribute to meetings
    paralysis of action
    unfulfilled gifting?

  2. I find myself profoundly disturbed by this post. I understand what Mr Martin is trying to say, but I think he is confusing self esteem and pride. A dangerous error.

    As the mother of two adopted boys, who suffered neglect and who find it hard to understand that they are of worth, I see the immense damage that low self esteem can do. We are working, day by day, to help them to understand that they are worth loving. Their healing will take years. Slowly things are changing. My eldest son no longer hides his face if I tell him I love him.

    Real humility, as demonstrated by Jesus, is actually only possible if we have a good sense of self worth. Self esteem. Jesus knew who He was. That made humility possible. He willing laid down His majesty and walked among us. He never had any need to laud it over anyone. He had nothing to prove.

    Us broken, fallen humans, however, often struggle to understand our worth. Whilst there are some people with a truly inflated sense of their own worth, there are many more who are genuinely crippled by low self esteem. Poor self esteem often breeds pride. We become proud and stubborn in an effort to hide from ourselves and from others. We don’t let God shine the light of His truth and holiness into our lives, because we are afraid. We know that our ‘deeds are evil’ and we struggle to believe that God could possibly love us.

    Good, healthy, self esteem gives us the courage to look at ourselves honestly. It enables us to be humble. To prefer others and recognise that God is God. To love our neighbours as ourselves. Interestingly, Jesus didn’t say “loathe yourself and love your neighbour”. I think there is a reason for that. People with poor self esteem struggle to esteem others. If they end up as leaders, they can be incredibly dangerous, putting up barriers to prevent others getting close and not daring to listen to criticism lest their fragile egos are dealt a death blow. Striving for ‘success’ sometimes at any cost, to prove to themselves and others that they have worth.

    So how can I have holy self esteem? By recognising that my worth comes from the fact that I am created by a good God, in His image and that He chose to send His only begotten Son to die on my behalf. I can have good self esteem because God esteems me. Not because of anything I have done. but because I am loved passionately by God. My worth comes from being created, loved and redeemed by God. I can do nothing to increase my worth or to decrease it. I am surrounded by other human beings of exactly the same enormous worth and I am called to recognise their worth in God’s eyes just as I recognise my own.

    Those of us who are parents know a little of what it is to love someone just because they exist. Those of us who had loving, competent parents know a little of what it is to be loved in this way. This gives us a little glimpse of what it is to be loved and esteemed by God.

    What about those people who God has allowed or caused to go through difficult times in order to deal with their pride? Joseph and Moses for example? Do they have low self esteem at the end of it? Bucket loads of humility, yes. Poor self esteem? I don’t think so. By the end of their journeys, both Moses and Joseph were supremely confident men who believed that God would speak with them and listen to them. Men with very healthy self esteem. Men able to lead nations and stand confidently before Pharaohs.

    Low self esteem is not holy. It is destructive and ungodly. Let’s not allow people to live with it through some misguided fear of the current vogue for self-improvement.

  3. This is quite different. Just to share, well, I have had troubles with self-esteem, only with certain aspects about myself, but not entirely who I am. But the point makes sense – the low self esteem thing has its beauty because we shed light into our weaknesses, we allow God’s grace to flow into them, because when we are weak, God is strong.

    And come to think of it, most humans don’t like that idea, they keep on telling others to be strong, to stand strong and be tough and overcome but God wants us to do the opposite, which is to admit that we are weak and come to Him because apart from Him we are nothing. =D

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