Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Hollow Ring of Self-Esteem

"Good job!" is a phrase we teasingly, mockingly throw around our house, most often provoked by those things that are specifically questionable! It is thanks to the well-meaning team mother of Tim's baseball team a couple of years ago, who lavished this praise on every undeserving team player who might have been daydreaming, unskilled, or just had an off moment. A player would come off the field after striking out pitifully, maybe hardly even trying to hit the ball, maybe thinking more about the snacks after practice than about the task at hand. While I might be ready to console him with something like, "Maybe you'll do better next time," I couldn't blurt it before I'd hear, "Good job!" Startled, I'd look around to see who it was that she had addressed. What? What did she see that I didn't?
She was the benevolent bestower of self-esteem, and her intent was that no child should spend a second feeling the pain of doubt or inadequacy or failure. She thought she was doing them a favor, that pain was always bad and comfort was always good. If she was helping them do anything, she was helping them stay where they were, to stagnate, to remain in their inadequacy and never be dissatisfied with their present state so that they might pursue improvement.
That dissatisfaction with self is a good thing, not an evil; it gives a person a desire to improve; it's a motivator, painful though it may be. Disguising inadequacy is no favor, yet it's the trend of recent years to help children have self-esteem that is in no way earned nor deserved. A parent who gives a child false assurance is doing him harm rather than a favor, and a parent who withholds it is doing him good.
Today at the grocery store, Tim was looking at some huge chocolate rabbits, amazed at their size. I assure you, he never received one so large, though he has probably received them that were as heavy. Those he was looking at, though, soon earned his disgust: "They're hollow!" He suddenly lost interest and turned away. Better to know the reality of one's own lack and need, rather than trust in something that is not solid but hollow. Given false assurance of how adequate one is in childhood, a person will only hit confusion and failure, something like finding that huge empty bubble inside a chocolate rabbit, when in real adult life where no one cares about his self-esteem so much as his performance and substance.
My growing up years were marked by inadequacy (my ignorant version of awareness of my sin), and that inadequacy, that gnawing emptiness, did me a great benefit: It pointed to my need for Christ, for a Savior. Praise God that no one was telling me I was good enough! I wasn't. No one is good enough apart from Christ; everyone needs to know the truth of their own lack and their own sin, and at the same time, trust in Christ's sufficiency and grace, His forgiveness, His great sacrifice that will bring wholeness and healing to every person who will just trust in Him.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Colossians 2:8

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