How do you see yourself? Pause for a moment and think about it. What thoughts have you had about yourself today?
So many of us find ourselves basing our self-worth on how others see us and on our accomplishments, feeling shame from our past, defining our value based on our looks, or setting unrealistic standards for ourselves.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If only we could see ourselves as God sees us!
I want to look with you at three thought patterns that can act as roadblocks to thinking — and living — the way God desires. These destructive thought patterns were identified by psychologist Albert Ellis (1973). We will contrast these ideas with what 1 Peter 1 tells us about how we can “prepare our minds for action.” Adjusting our thinking to Scripture is the foundation of being holy in all we do (1 Peter 1:15).
1. I must be loved or approved by virtually every other person in my life.
If we are living to make sure that others love us, we give them permission to evaluate us based on what we do — we give people the power to determine our self-worth.
When we leave home, many of us have “internalized parents” who are now voices in our head that tell us what we should do, what is important, and how we should do things. Have you ever been in a situation where you have to make a decision and you can hear your parents saying, “That’s not responsible…” or “I told you that would happen?”
Many of us are so concerned about being loved that we give the opposite sex permission to evaluate our self-worth. As adolescents, we might sacrifice our own identity to get attention and acceptance, even to the extent of pretending not to be bright or kind because we think the opposite sex won’t be impressed. Or we might deny ourselves food to lose weight to try to fit in with the body images portrayed in magazines. Even as adults, we buy into the beauty myth, thinking that our appearance is our number one asset, and that it will bring us acceptance and approval from a spouse. Eating disorders abound — anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, to name a few.
We may even feel pressure from our church community to measure ourselves according to certain stereotypes — women are supposed to be nurturing, quiet and gentle, raise well-behaved children, and maybe even do crafts. And men should be competent spiritual leaders, provide for and protect their families, be a “manly man,” and be in touch with their sensitive side, too. If we live to please our church community, we may find ourselves negating the interests or gifts that God has given us.
Our identity is found in Jesus Christ. It is rooted in his freedom-giving mercy. Our identity is that of a child of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. Our spiritual inheritance is one of forgiveness, an intimate relationship with Jesus, and hope of spending all eternity enjoying fellowship with God (see Ephesians 1). These truths assure us of God’s unconditional love, and of the intimacy, security, and hope we find in him. None of this is based on what we do; rather, it is grounded in what God has already accomplished through Christ.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you. 1 Peter 1:3-4
2. My past history is an all-important determiner of my present behavior; because something once strongly affected my life, it should definitely continue to do so.
You may feel controlled by a secret. You may have had something happen to you that you have revealed to no-one, or perhaps to only a few people. Perhaps you feel shame about certain aspects of the family you grew up in, or maybe you have sinful habits you feel embarrassed about, such as gossip, lust, pornography, or a critical spirit. Maybe you are ashamed of some things you have done in the past. Or maybe you feel ashamed of something that has been done to you.
If we don’t deal with issues in our past, they will continue to control us in some way in our present. But they don’t have to. We can deal with past sin, our family histories, as well as past violations to our bodies and minds.
It is important to identify whether our feelings in these situations are destructive shame or healthy conviction. Healthy conviction always separates our identity from our behavior. Shame links these two, so wrong behavior taints our image of ourselves. Healthy conviction alerts us to the fact that we have done something that goes against our internalized values.
Biblical conviction is a God-given emotion that “red flags” a behavior and tells us it is an act of rebellion against God. It spurs us to confess our sin and experience the love and forgiveness that God has provided for us through Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Any feelings of guilt that come after we’ve confessed our sin are not from God, but may be from ourselves or from the evil one. We still have to live with the consequences of our sin, but God does not punish us for our sin. God disciplines us to get us back on track so we can continue to experience God’s love and plan for our lives. Our struggles can bring us closer to God and heighten our faith as we experience his faithfulness in forgiving us and drawing us closer to himself (see Hebrews 12.4-13).
In this you greatly rejoice, though for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7).
3. I should be thoroughly competent, adequate, and successful in all possible respects in order to consider myself worthwhile.
Ten percent of people will struggle with some form of clinical depression in their lifetime. Depression can be biological or situational, and often can be the result of both. However, one of the leading causes of depression is setting your standards so high that you cannot possibly live up to them. You are constantly striving for a standard that is unattainable, but you wear yourself out trying anyway. One of the messages that can play over and over in our minds is that we have to “be perfect.”
We often fall into the trap of feeling responsible not just for ourselves, but for the lives of others, whether our co-workers, friends, children, or spouses. We take on the weight of everyone’s world!
Read Tia’s story of facing depression.
It is often difficult for us to separate our identity from our behavior. We feel if we don’t measure up, it reflects on who we are as individuals.
God’s grace, charis, is a gift. In and through his grace, God heals us and brings us freedom to live a new life. Sometimes grace does not come easily to us. We have to work at changing our thinking. We need to humble ourselves to accept God’s grace and extend grace to ourselves when we don’t measure up, knowing that God already sees us as the perfect reflections of Christ that we will be in eternity (1 John 3:1-3).
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care. 1 Peter 1:10
Once we extend grace to ourselves, we will be able to extend grace to those around us, both those in the church community and those outside. We need to cease trying to live up to these distorted beliefs and learn to line our thinking up with the way God views us. Instead of being so focused on ourselves and our failures, we will be able to extend a helping hand to those around us and be God’s vessel of grace to those we come into contact with wherever we go.
Here are some practical steps to take to gain a true picture of yourself:
1. Eradicate the roadblocks
- Identify which roadblock to seeing yourself as God sees you affects you most.
- Think of new ways to look at that situation and embrace a new thought pattern that would be more helpful to you.
- Whenever you recognize that old pattern of thinking or behaving, interrupt it and substitute your new way of thinking and behaving.
2. Align your view of yourself to God’s view
God uses various metaphors to describe his love and care for us — a nursing mother, a loving father, a shepherd, etc. Here are some verses to meditate on:
Do you struggle with low self-esteem? Sometimes, it helps to talk about it. Fill out the mentor form in the connect tab to talk with a compassionate Christian about your struggle.