This is Part 2 of the series titled, “Self-Esteem: A Well Groomed Lie.” In part one we went over the definition of self-esteem and covered the first three points of the definition in contrast to God’s word. If you haven’t listened to part one I highly recommend you listen to or read it before getting into part two, and with that recommendation, let’s get started on the fourth point of the definition of self-esteem.
Is Worldly Fulfillment Natural?
4. Self-esteem is also the experience that success, achievement, fulfillment – happiness – are right and natural for us.
I’m just going to address one thing on this list, because it is the most important. Worldly fulfillment. Is fulfillment right and natural for us?
There isn’t any specific verse that tells us, “God made you to desire Him, and if you don’t turn to Him, you will have an empty and miserable life, no matter what you do.” But we do see stories of famous people, people that have it all, committing suicide or overdosing on drugs they are taking to numb the painful emotions they feel. Worldly objects and worldly relationships just can’t fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts, can they? This reminds me of one of my favorite stories in the bible. Jesus is doing something He was always doing, looking for lost people that needed Him. He was at a Samaritan well, during the hottest part of the day, a big no-no at the time and in that culture, and he encounters a woman. Let’s go straight to the text in John 4:6-18:
“Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
Say Hello To Mrs. Thirsty
Meet Mrs. Thirsty, the shameful adulteress that had been married five times unsuccessfully. This woman was going to the well in the middle of the day because no one else wanted to be around her. She was an outcast. Please keep that in mind, Jesus loves the outcasts just as much as He loves everyone else. Jesus went after the outcasts of society during His ministry. Mrs. Thirsty is someone I can relate to in so many ways. If you read the verse after this, you will find out that Mrs. Thirsty knew about the Messiah that was coming (4:25). She was searching for something that would fulfill her!! But it didn’t come to her naturally, as Dr. Branden assures us it should in his definition of self-esteem. She had been through five marriages and now she was living with a man she wasn’t married to. This was not culturally accepted during this time, as it is today in the world. She was desperate for something to give her life meaning! At first she thinks Jesus is talking about special water that takes away your physical thirst, but at the end of this story we see that she gets the point. She leaves her water pot (4:28) to go tell everyone else about Jesus. Let me ask you a question. Do you think this woman, Mrs. Thirsty, the adulterer and outcast, left her water pot behind because she wasn’t thirsty anymore? She lived in the hot desert, ok? She was probably always thirsty, but now she wasn’t spiritually thirsty. She was spiritually fulfilled by Jesus Christ, the living water that causes us to thirst no more. And she was so excited about finding the answer to the question of spiritual fulfillment that she ran out and told everyone in town, all the people that hated and despised her so much that she couldn’t go to the well during the cool of the day, to tell them about Jesus. Her encounter with Jesus instantaneously gave her life meaning and took away all of her shame to the point where she became a bold evangelist for Jesus Christ!! There are so many other lessons we could learn from this story, but let’s focus on the issue of fulfillment. I believe this account of Jesus and Mrs. Thirsty at the well illustrates that we are not fulfilled by anything we can achieve in this world. Many women like Mrs. Thirsty and myself have sought fulfillment in romantic relationships that can in no way compare to our encounters with Jesus. I think I have made my point, but in case you are still skeptical, let me ask you a question. Are you really, truly fulfilled with anything in your life apart from Jesus? Maybe you are a mother, like me, and you think your children can validate your existence. Not only are you wrong, but raising your children in order to validate your existence is selfish and damaging to your children! They will never be good enough if that is their purpose in your eyes. Maybe you have an amazing boyfriend or husband. Guess what? They don’t know your heart the way Jesus does. They make mistakes and they will fail. God will never, never fail you. And in the end, even if you feel fulfilled, are you going to heaven or hell when you die? To me these are all important questions. And self-esteem doesn’t have any successful part in any of the answers to these questions. Search your heart. Are you fulfilled without God? I would argue that fulfillment is not natural for anyone who is living apart from God.
And just one more note on fulfillment. If we are looking at the example Jesus Christ set for us, we should ask ourselves, did Jesus seek fulfillment, success, or happiness for Himself? He was fulfilled in His Father, yes, but He did not seek after Himself. He humbled Himself to the point of suffering on the cross for us.
My Personal Struggle With Self-Esteem and Circular Reasoning
So now that I’ve explained the biblical problems with self-esteem as a concept, I want to tell you why this subject has been so significant in my testimony. Let’s start back in 1983, when I was just a cute little baby. All babies are cute, you know. As a young child I never had any inclination that I wasn’t ok. That there wasn’t something inherently wrong with me. The older I got, the more I struggled with others’ opinions of me. Looking back, I can be a bit more objective about this process. At that time I focused solely on the bad feedback I got, instead of looking at both the positive and negative feedback and weighing them against each other. I was told over and over again that my problem was that I had low self-esteem. Has anyone ever told you that? In response I rationalized with myself that if I could just figure out how to like myself more, life would be much better. But the glaring problem with this whole situation is that liking yourself more doesn’t make you actually worth more. Esteeming myself doesn’t make me a better or a worse person. Thinking I’m pretty enough or smart enough doesn’t actually make me smart or pretty. I’m not saying I’m ugly and stupid. I’m trying to make a point. Believing that I am the president doesn’t actually make me the president. This is a classic case of circular reasoning. Let’s go through this circle together, shall we? Some people have bad opinions about me – I listen to these opinions – Others tell me I have to have more self-esteem so I can have a better life – Maybe I start to like myself more – No matter what I have done to change myself people will still have opinions of me, and some of those opinions are going to be bad… then I find myself right back where I started, hearing I’m not good enough and trying to pump myself up until the cycle repeats itself all over again.
If I’m really being honest with myself, the problem wasn’t that I didn’t like myself enough, but that I wanted other people to appreciate me as much as I appreciated myself, and when that didn’t happen I agonized over it. The truth is that low self-esteem is just a nice way of saying that someone is prideful. Pride is a very destructive sin, and I had to learn that the hard way.
Please listen to what I am going to say very carefully. I am not saying you are worthless or that you are anything less than amazing. You are amazing. But the fact that you are amazing, beautiful, and gifted is not proven by you believing that you are amazing, beautiful, and gifted!! Self-esteem as a positive concept is a lie straight from the pit of hell! And yes, I can prove it.
Please tune in to part three as we finish this series up with the good news about where we actually find our value, but for now, let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you so much for opening our eyes to our need for You. Thank You that You came to us when we were outcasts in our sin and in need of Your saving grace. Please guard our hearts against the destructive sin of pride. Help us to be in this world, but not of it. God, let us shine our lights for You, and keep us in Your truth. Thank You, Father!
In Jesus’ name,