After having received much positive feedback from some of the men who attended the conference this past weekend, I have decided it would be appropriate to share with others what God laid on my heart to teach. My focus will always be the family, and self-esteem is a topic that befuddles parents, as their children seem to have less and less from grade school through high school. Adults, young and old, can struggle with self-esteem issues. The concern will be what to do with that esteem level and whose blueprint are you willing to follow…man’s or God’s?
As I prepared my lesson for the weekend, I searched the writings of a rather worldly and secular man to see what he has to say about men in general. My eye was drawn to an article entitled, “Where Have All the Gentlemen Gone?” I was intrigued and read the article. Basically it focused on the reasons men cheat. But I have for my say that based on the reason he gives, it’s probably the same reason men will gamble, drink, do drugs, and anything else that is unholy. Now, I do have to say that the Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a well-meaning individual and has a rather conservative view of what makes a man. He has been endorsed by Oprah and has appeared on her daily show several times. But conservative or not, he has a relatively worldly view of what a man should be and what a man has to do to get there.
In his article he basically says, “…the principal reason men womanize is to shore up their broken egos. There are so many damaged husbands who think that a nurturing stranger will be a salve to his painfully low self-esteem. No matter how much [his wife] huffs and puffs, she cannot inflate his perforated ego.” He believes that the motivation behind cheating, and I’ll add the aforementioned other vices, is to make us feel better about ourselves. But why do we need to feel better about ourselves? Why do we have painfully low self-esteems to begin with?
He continues, “One of the prime reasons we all suffer from low self-esteem these days is that we are not the people we want to be.” What does he mean by that? Who do we want to be? When I was growing up I wanted to be Dr. Marc Craig from the television show St. Elsewhere. I wanted to have the glory and fame and attention that he had. I wanted to save lives and get all of the accolades that came with it. I wanted the house, the trophy wife, the trophy car, and the gold money clip. Anything short of that would be a major disappointment to me. Maybe other men want to be a famous athlete or some huge entertainer, or even their neighbor. No matter what it is, if we aspire to be someone else and can’t achieve that goal, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and discontent and that, the rabbi says, will lead to low self-esteem.
But think on this…why do we want to be anyone but ourselves? The rabbi has a theory. Basically paraphrasing him, he says that great men get great accolades while those who quietly go about doing good and righteous things never get recognized. Ever hear the saying, “Well behaved women rarely make history?” It’s the same principle. Again, we crave the accolades. When I was in college, I was guilty of this. I went out for the lead role in a play. Having never acted before, I would have been better off getting my feet wet with a small part, but that never interested me. I went out for the lead and got it. All it did was feed my ego for a brief period of time until the reality of what I got myself into began to sink in. Too many lines…too much time on stage…too much responsibility…too much stress. I didn’t learn, because I insisted on being class president all three years in nursing school. Again…tons of stress for what…a smidgen of accolades and attention.
Accolades and attention feed our pride. In turn, our pride makes us feel better about ourselves thereby garnering a healthy self-esteem. To the rabbi’s credit, he does warn us that the only true way to have healthy self-esteem is to strive to be the type of men that do the right thing. He suggests we be the type of man that raises good children and puts his family ahead of making a fortune in this world. He suggests putting ourselves aside and “behave righteously even when we are in pain.” But that’s the view of the worldly rabbi taking terms from secular psychology like “pain,” and “ego,” and “damaged husbands.” How about a Christian perspective…
Dr. James Dobson is considered by many in the field of Christian counseling and Christian psychology to be the self-esteem guru. He is the founder of the Focus on the Family® ministries. He is another well-meaning individual who strives to teach from a Christian position with much of what he teaches to be Biblically sound. He believes low self-esteem is a universal feeling that can be present through all ages of life. He echoes what I said in the opening, that not only could children experience low self-esteem issues, but adults as well. Now Dr. Dobson has identified five aspects of low self-esteem:
1. Feelings of inadequacy
2. Feelings of inferiority
3. Feelings of self-doubt
4. Feelings of low self-acceptance
5. Feelings of low self-worth
But let’s look at this from a Christian perspective. Can we really feel inadequate when God has equipped us with at least one Spiritual gift to use to His glory (1st Corinthians 12:27-31)? We are saved individuals who are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17); can we really feel inferior to others…especially the unsaved? God promises to complete us for the task to which He has called us (1st Thessalonians 5:24); can we really doubt ourselves? God made us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27); should we really have a hard time accepting ourselves the way we are? Lastly, God sent His Son to die for us (Romans 5:8); so can we look at that fact and still not find self-worth?
Now, even though Dr. Dobson wraps this self-esteem issue in a thin veneer of Christianity, there are problems with buying into this philosophy. I’ll give you four reasons:
1. I read a quote in one of the books written by Martin and Diedre Bobgans, “Because psychological theories deal with the non-physical aspects of the person, they intrude upon the very essence of Biblical doctrines of man, including his fallen condition, salvation, sanctification, and relationship of love and obedience to God.” Along those same lines, psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed religion to be a cause of neuroses and he did not believe in God. Therefore, any theory that is based on any reason other than the depravity of man is flawed from the start. Dr. Dobson pulls some of his writings from the likes of Alfred Adler, another classical theorist.
2. Much of the self-esteem philosophy is rooted in humanistic philosophies (as touched on above). 1st Timothy 4:1 states, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.” 2nd Timothy 4:3-4 repeats the warning that, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
3. If feelings of inferiority are indicators or causes of low self-esteem, is the answer to make ourselves superior to others? Remember that the bully in the playground always picked on others to make himself feel better about himself. But see the circular pattern that arises. The bully has a low self-esteem, so he will pick on the little guy, making the bully feel better about himself for a short time. But then he realizes deep down that he isn’t being the type of guy he wants to be so he feels bad about himself, lowering his self-esteem. To combat that lowering self-esteem, he seeks out artificial means to bolster his ego and so the cycle goes on and on and on…
4. If you notice, there is a lot of focus on the self. The more you focus on the self, the less you will focus on God. Not only that, but suppose you were able to gain a higher self-esteem because you were able to develop a “healthy” level of self-acceptance. That sounds great right? “I’m OK…you’re OK.” Consider two threads of thought. On the one side you have a Christian who reaches a high level of self-acceptance. “I’m OK the way I am,” he says. Tell me where the motivation to grow in the Lord is. It isn’t present. Why better yourself when you are “OK” with where you are. Take that one step further. What if an unsaved person reached the point where they said “I’m OK…you’re OK.” Perhaps that will lead to the thought that he doesn’t need God. Then where will that leave him once he dies? In this case, self-acceptance is a potentially damnable philosophy.
So much of Christianity and the Bible is paradoxical in nature to the worldly way of thinking, and I think I can show you here how this self-esteem movement can be turned upside down with Biblical reasoning. For example, focus on Christ to grant you the contentment you long for. If we are such unhappy people, according to the rabbi and Dr. Dobson, let’s focus on reaching the stage Paul was able to when he penned “…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content (Philippians 4:11). The same can be said for the promise that godliness with contentment is great gain (1st Timothy 6:6). Contentment and inner peace (Philippians 4:7) are what everyone is striving for, but can only be reached through God ordained ways which I will show you in a moment. Imagine, the Apostle Paul, having been shipwrecked, imprisoned, and no doubt scorned by the very people he once worked for persecuting Christians, can be content. He left a high position of power to be reduced (humanly speaking) and he was able to still be content…and he’s not alone.
Let’s look at Dr. Dobson’s five aspects of low self-esteem with biblical examples of people displaying such characteristics, and how it was just what God wanted:
1. Paul had feelings of inadequacy over his calling to be a missionary and church planter when he said, “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1st Timothy 1:15). How could Paul possibly be used of God with such a poor attitude of himself? But wait a minute! Perhaps Paul was displaying HUMILITY.
2. How about Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego? When they were sentenced to death in the fiery furnace as the result of false accusations, do you think they felt in their hearts anywhere that they were some kind of match for the torments that awaited them? Do you think they looked at the flames and looked at themselves and thought for a moment that they were superior to the fire? I don’t think so. But look at what they said in Daniel 3:17, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace…” Their inferiority led them to RELY ON GOD.
3. Moses was a classic case of someone who had self-doubt about what God was asking of him. God called Moses to be the leader and the speaker to the nation of Israel and that all God would tell Moses, he was to tell the people. Moses clamored with God over the fact that Moses was not the most eloquent of speakers (Exodus 4:10-12). But putting that self-doubt aside, Moses was able to be OBEDIENT.
4. As we saw earlier, self-acceptance is achieved when we reach a place where we are OK with the way we are. Well, study the Psalmist David for any period of time and you’ll see he was never satisfied with where he was relative to knowing about the Lord. Psalm 119 is filled with multiple pleas to God to help him grow in wisdom and knowledge and for God to make him into someone else. But he was asking God to make him into someone God could use thereby displaying an attitude of TEACHABILITY.
5. No one displayed a lower sense of self-worth than John the Baptist. As he was baptizing in the river, a multitude of priests, sent by the Pharisees, wanted to know what John was doing. He explained that there would be one soon to come to be baptized “whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (John 1:19-34). But did this act truly display a low sense of self-worth, or was it merely the fact that John the Baptist truly recognized who Jesus was and submitted to His LORDSHIP?
Put the pieces together now…if we practice humility God can help us (James 4:6). If we submit to His Lordship, we will allow God to teach us and mold us and make us into what He can use. Once we are equipped with the necessary tools for the job, and if we can learn to rely on God, we can be obedient and say “Yes, I’ll do what it is that You asked me to.” Then, we can be in God’s perfect will. This will give our lives meaning and purpose that will bring the contentment Paul enjoyed. If we are Christians, that should be the type of person we want to be. Remember the rabbi? Men cheat and so on because they are discontented because they are not the men they want to be.
The bottom line is this. To gain contentment that is the supposed by-product of a healthy self-esteem, one needs to feel inadequate, inferior, doubtful, having low levels of self-acceptance and self worth. This is embraced in the psalmist’s statement “What is man that thou art mindful of him…? (Psalm 8:4). That sentiment, as it stands, flies in the face of worldly self-esteem logic. Beware the doctrines of devils, as this doctrine reveals itself to be.