Much has been said over the years of the necessity of building up a child’s self-esteem. It sounds right. Help children think they are good enough, smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people like them. Focus on their confidence and happiness, and they will soar through life. Get them to believe in themselves, and they can do anything.
But what if this is dangerous?
First, self-esteem is prefixed with the word “self.” For those of us grateful for the gospel of Jesus, any use of “self” (except for the denial of it) is anti-gospel (Luke 9:23-24). Kids who are growing in grace and being sent with gospel don’t need an esteem defined by or rooted in their belief in themselves. If anything, this would be counter-productive to following Jesus and living on mission to make disciples with Him, for a belief in self compels us on a quest to feel lovable, while a belief in the God of the gospel compels us on mission to love as we have been loved.
Next, self-esteem doesn’t move someone to rely on God’s goodness. Rather, it moves someone to think of themselves as good enough. The problem with this is that we are relying on a worth-standard that changes with how we feel about ourselves and with how well or poorly we behave. This is also anti-gospel. We are not to trust Jesus then try to be good. We are to trust Jesus because He is good (even good to me even though I am not good to Him). Gratefulness for His goodness moves me toward demonstrating His goodness in my everyday relationships.
Finally, self-esteem offers false hope. “Believe in yourself and you can do anything” is a lie. Yes, there are some folks who have through internal fortitude accomplished some amazing things. However, at some point, this principle that undergirds the dangerous notion that self-esteem is right and good – this principle of believe in yourself and you can do anything – this principle breaks down. Failure to “do anything” you set your mind to happens, and self-esteem is shot.
Praise God that His declaration of love and value over us has nothing to do with us. It has all to do with His Son. Self-esteem is a deceptive tool of the evil one. Jesus-esteem is a gospel-based ideal.
How are you cultivating for Jesus-esteem in your kids? Do you yourself have Jesus-esteem? Do you consider building up self-esteem to be dangerous?