In my ministry to young adults I often find them struggling with self esteem. It can be a challenge to help instill within them a healthy self esteem because there is a fine line between a proper self esteem and arrogance. Our society often tells young people they are special just "because" but psychologists such as Jean Twenge tell us that is actually not helpful. Basing self esteem on simple existence is not helpful because deep inside we all know that makes no sense. Instinctively, humans feel that we must DO something special in order to BE special. Twenge, and other psychologists, say that those who work with young people must help them find something they do well, and then build a great self esteem on that. It does not matter what it is, just something that is done well. That makes sense to me. But it does not change the reality that we have a whole generation of young people who have been told they are great, but deep inside they still struggle with self esteem.
Perhaps the problem is that we have ignored the theological perspective of self esteem. The theological perspective includes the reality that we are all sinners. Even non-religious people know we have all made our fair share of mistakes. Some of those mistakes are significant enough to cause real pain in our lives and in the lives of those around us. How do we build a healthy self esteem based on things we are good at while also dealing with the reality of sin in our lives? How many good behaviors do we have to do in order to balance out the bad behaviors we do so easily?
The other day I was reading Psalm 103:14, which says, "For God knows what we are made of, He remembers that we are dust." Some may ask how that relates to the issue of self esteem. It relates because it reminds us that God knows mankind was formed in the beginning from simple dust. And one day, we will return to dust. To be blunt, what can God really expect from dirt? God knows we will sin. God has provided a way for us to be forgiven from sin through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We will make a lot of mistakes in life. We may feel those mistakes far outweigh the good things we have done. We may not amount to much in other people's eyes or even in our own. But God thinks enough of the little pile of dirt we call a body that He sent His Son to pay the price for our sin so we can be forgiven. Forgiveness means forgetting. God "forgets" about our sin when we ask for forgiveness. Repentance is turning away from our sin and doing our best to walk the way Jesus walked. Though we will still make mistakes in life, God understands that when are doing the best we can. God knows where we came from and He knows where we are headed. God sees us from a perspective that we cannot grasp ourselves. And God loves us anyway, and that makes us special.
Part of having a healthy self esteem is understanding who we are in Christ. Knowing we are special enough for Him to die for us should make us feel good about ourselves. But also remembering we are dirt keeps us from getting too conceited. Let us all try to be the best dirt we can be.