God Esteem vs Self Esteem — debunking a cultural icon.
I am old enough to remember that we suddenly shifted education and parenting over from loving and teaching kids well to affirming and building up a child’s self esteem. The idea was that children did not succeed because they had low self esteem. If they just felt more positively about themselves, they would do better.
However, statistics did not bear that out. In fact we saw just the opposite with things that could be objectively measured. In math for instance, American students ranked very highly in their math self esteem and yet scored among the lowest countries in the world on standardized tests. Conversely, Korean students ranked themselves very low in math esteem, but were second or third in the world in test scores.
Personally, I argued that the scripture does not support this rush to make sure that children felt good about themselves. To a certain extent, it is a self-defeating exercise. If parents try to find things a child can succeed in to feel a sense of self worth and value, as soon as their sons and daughters dove into this activity they discover that there are other children much better than themselves and they are crushed.
Building up self is not a biblical priority. Dying to self and denying one’s self are biblical priorities. Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)
Living dead to self and alive to Jesus is the goal: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) The source of my sense of self worth is found in the last few words — the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.
Our worth and value is anchored in several things: God loves us with an unchanging love proven in His death on the cross, God intimately designed each one of us to be the person whom He created us to be, He has a call for each and everyone of us, even our little children.
We help our children the most when we help them soak in these truths. It may not yet appear what their God-given talents are. Some, like I was as a child, may appear like ugly duckings compared to others. They may look around and see someone who runs faster, takes math quizzes better and faster, writes essays with ease, or sings better in choir. As parents we must train them to take their eyes off others, take their eyes off themselves, and fix their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith.
Memorize together Ephesians 2:1-10 or at the very least 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (ESV) From this entire passage, we learn that we were originally dead in sin and objects of wrath, But, God in His incomparable grace and mercy made us alive through faith in Jesus. But, even more, each believer is God’s workmanship. Each believer has been created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand. Our job as parents is to keep affirming this, train our children to be alert to the good work God has prepared for them to walk in each day.
I had low self esteem. I failed in most things in school. I was little and non-athletic, I was an average kid with two superstar brothers. I was mocked and called “Barnes where the pigs are” and these taunts would echo in my head years later. Then I came to Christ and started to read God’s view of me. I started to collect key Bible verses like the ones above. I started to believe that God could do anything He wanted to do through me. Notice: not that I could do anything I decided to do. (Common mantra today.)
God has a unique plan for each of your children. Rest in it and help your children rest in this.
Living for the glory of the One who equips us for every good work,