In Defense of Self Esteem and Other Self-Help Needs

I am currently reading one of those books that people read in secret. You know, those books that would make us look bad and weak and inadequate if people saw them on our shelves? The title of the book does little to help my ego: How to Win Friends and Influence People. You are probably already drawing inferences about why I could be reading such a book — and that, right there, is my point.

I have often sat with among friends and spoke ill of self-help books and the people who read them. It is already tempting to start justifying why I am reading and agreeing with Dale Carnegie in How to Win friends and Influence People. I feel that I should at least explain why I am reading a book with such a “self-helpish” title, but I will not do it, because to do that would be to go against the point of this post. So I put my reputation at your mercy.

Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid - Maslow's Theory IllustratedWell, I said that in order to say this: I think the whole notion of “self-esteem” has received an unfairly bad rap from Christians who want to remain faithful to the Bible. Numerous articles and blog posts and even books have been written to explain why “self-esteem” is an unbiblical concept and an unholy pursuit. I, too, have written my share of tweets and Facebook status updates in the past to that effect. But allow me to play the devil’s advocate and tease out something that I think is important about the idea of “self-esteem”. Allow me to defend self-esteem and, hopefully, still remain faithful to God’s Word.

Why would anyone want to read a book about improving your self-esteem and feeling better about yourself? Why would Joel Osteen sell millions of copies for titles such as Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You? Well, the easy answer is that Osteen and other writers like Myles Munroe or Rhonda Byrne (of The Secret ) are responding to a real need in the world.

People are searching for significance, we want to know and feel and believe that we matter. We crave recognition and we cringe at the notion of being forgettable or dispensable. We yearn to know that we count, and we will do anything and go to any length to attain this significance, and that is why for many of us, the first and easiest step would be to bury our faces in a How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (also by Carnegie).

I hear someone like Victoria Osteen advising people to worship God “for yourself”, and I have to admit that I get her. I can see where she is coming from and what she is trying to get at. I don’t know where her heart is, but my best guess is that she genuinely wants to help people. Many of the people who write self-help books also want to help people — and they do it the best way they know how.

Whether or not they also want to make money and become rich is another matter altogether.Just because I want to make money and be rich through journalism doesn’t make my other motives in pursuing this career (e.g. to speak truth to power and keep the government accountable) any less noble.

So, to the extent that there is a real need for personal edification and validation in the world, to the extent that there is a real need to succeed and win and avoid failure in life, to the extent that we are hardwired to want to be respected and “esteemed”, I fully support the notion of self-esteem. You see, the problem is not self-esteem, or our longing for it, the crux of the matter is HOW we go about satisfying this goal.

What’s even more disturbing is when we begin to speak as if the need does not exist, or worse, as if it should not exist. It is one thing to say that self-esteem should not be our ultimate goal or even a primary objective in life. But it is an entirely different thing to say that it doesn’t matter or that it is a wrong goal. There are many things we yearn and long for in this life, and most of these things cannot be attained by directly pursuing them. Things like contentment, or peace.

There are people who pursue contentment by acquiring things, because they think when they have enough things and enough relationships, they will finally be content. I believe the psychological term for this ultimate end is self-actualisation. They will finally be self-satisfied. Such people are pursuing a noble goal, but they are pursuing a misunderstood goal using the wrong means. To help such people, we should not disparage their goals and longings, instead, we should re-route and re-wire how they think about such longings.

I-can-do-this

This is where and how the Word of God helps us. The Bible does not just provide us with principles to apply when we want to achieve our personal goals. The Bible is more radical, it gives us new goals and new ways to think about old goals. The Word of God sets us right by renewing our thinking, and eventually our lives, to God’s will (His means and ends).

So, is self-esteem evil and is it wrong for a Christian to want self-esteem? I would respond by saying those are wrong questions. The questions assume that we are settled on who a Christian is in the first place. We may discover that if we stepped back from the question and explored what it means to be a Christian, we will discover a message that renders the question of self-esteem moot or irrelevant.

That message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is the message that should define our posture as we explore all subjects regarding human needs and wants and longings in this world. The Word of God is a good place to begin. In fact, it is the only place to begin. And if we trust in the God who authored this word and revealed it to us, we may also discover that this Word is also a good place to stop. Because it is the only place worth staying in.

For the fame of His name

Cornell

PS: This will be among my last posts on Alien Citizens. No, I will not quit blogging, but I am planning to take a slightly different road, which begins by closing shop over here. I will update you all on the great migration. Have a blessed day, friends.

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Blog Break (08 May 13)

Here are some great links that I believe will be worth your while:

  1. WE ARE HYPOCRITES, Amy Henry: “According to a new Barna study, 51 percent of Christians have attitudes and actions more like those of the hypocritical, self-righteous Pharisees than of Jesus.”
  2. IS BAD DOCTRINE A SIN? Michael Patton: “I suppose that I want bad doctrine to always be sin. That way, it is easy for me to explain why people don’t agree with me. If we are not on the same page theologically, the answer is simple: they are in sinful rebellion to the truth. Next…”
  3. 60 RESOURCES FOR BATTLING PORN. I know that many of us would rather leave this sin unaddressed than lose sleep over it. But I encourage you not to give up the fight. I hope you will find these resources helpful.
  4. THE SACRED-SECULAR DIVIDE, “Over the years of laboring to press the gospel deeply into students of increasingly postmodern orientation and sensibilities, Matt has discovered that one of the most important topics to tackle with freshman collegiates and new believers is the so-called “sacred-secular divide.” We all participate in this to certain degrees, and the lessons are relevant far beyond the college campus and this perhaps strangest of life’s seasons.”
  5. Lastly, in MY GREATEST UNDOING, Serah Njambi cuts straight to the heart-chase with this one; “My greatest undoing, Is that I quote verses on these twitter streets, And are quick to condemn on Facebook walls, In exactly the same way Pharisees did in Bible times, I blog my prayers, And parade my righteousness for all to see.”

Enjoy and have a blessed day.

Blog Break (01 Apr 13)

Hi friends. I hope you had a blessed Easter. If you don’t know what’s so good about Easter Friday, check this out. And if you’re not so sure how the resurrection fits into your own salvation, this might help. Meanwhile, kick-start your week and month with these heart-searching reads:

  1. In WHAT SHAMES US, Tim Challies reflects on out uncanny obsession with killing sin without being equally bothered to put on holiness. “Here is something interesting I’ve noticed: While it is common for someone to ask how to put off a particular sin, it is rare for someone to ask for guidance in putting on a particular godly trait.”
  2. A WRITER’S CONFESSION. This writer’s confession is mine, and that of many other writers who idolize their craft; “One of the reasons I took a break from blogging for a while is because I was too consumed by checking statistics, subscriptions and comments. It started to become too much about me.”
  3. THE SENTENCE AGAINST GOD. “Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped one woman, ripping a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror… beatings… torture… death!”
  4. YOUNG LADIES’ REQUEST. This is beautiful, from Njeri’s heart: “HE prepared you all this time for me to be with, yes you are the one that makes my Heart beat a thousand and One, You are my chosen one my number two, Cause we should have the same number one.”
  5. Finally, DO NOT DISBELIEVE – BUT BELIEVE. Jon Bloom reminds us that “doubting” Thomas’ experience is our experience, and we too can believe in the resurrection of Jesus because Thomas did. Jesus can rescue us from our skepticism: “The resurrection is a fantastic claim. Jesus’ own disciples didn’t believe it at first. And Thomas struggled more than anyone with his skeptic side. And in his experience1 in particular there is hope for all of us stumbling doubters. Jesus knows how and when to reach us.”

There you go. That ought to keep your mind and heart pruned for a few days. Oh, yes, I almost forgot that today is “April Fool’s Day” In spite of what you may believe about this day, David Mathis reminds us (in Pity the Fool) that every day is Fool’s day for you if Jesus is not your wisdom. So beware.

Blog Break (6 Feb 13)

Here we go:

  1. HOW CAN I SELL A GODLY MESSAGE WITHOUT SELLING OUT? is an answer to my own prayer and question. I’d just put up the post on “My Blogging Idolatry” when I came across this post. Mark Driscoll responds to the concern of every Christian blogger who strives to remain faithful to God, relevant to his readers while at the same time resisting the temptation to create a buzz for the sake of a buzz. “Guard against false prophets in search of false profits.”
  2. ON THE LABEL ‘GAY CHRISTIAN’ by Wesley Hill: “Claiming the label “celibate gay Christian” means, for me, recognizing my homosexual orientation as a kind of “thorn in the flesh.” When the apostle Paul used that phrase in his correspondence with the Corinthian church, he made clear that his “thorn” was indeed an unwelcome source of pain.”
  3. How many times have you asked Jesus into your heart? Well, you need to stop. In STOP ASKING JESUS INTO YOUR HEART, J. D. Greear talks about his book by the same title: “I wrote this book to help people find assurance – to tell people like me who ask Jesus into their hearts over and over they can stop doing that and start resting in the promises of the gospel.”

Enjoy!

My Blogging Idolatry

“Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.”

– Tim Keller

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I’d rather keep this a secret, but experience has taught me better. I confess that I have found myself frequently (much too frequently) scanning the Stats page of this blog. At first, it was out of mere curiosity. I would casually scan through the numbers, graphs and maps and not think much about it. But before I knew it, I was hooked. Now it has become my first stop every time I log in. Keeping track of the number of views on my posts has become a private obsession. This has not been without consequences. I realized that I had even begun to sub-consciously craft topics that are more likely to attract attention and generate more traffic to the site. Yes, I know all about Search Engine Optimization and other technical-sounding marketing terms. I am also aware that the point of blogging publicly is to be read by the public, so anything that attracts more readers is essentially a positive thing, right? Continue reading My Blogging Idolatry