15 December 2017

Identity & Self-esteem.

Identity and self-esteem; are they important or even relevant, for Christians? I believe they are, and contend that perhaps one of the greatest needs of those of us in the Body of Christ is to understand who we are in Christ, and to fully live out of that understanding.

This, however, is not a new insight; it seems this has always been the case as Paul’s prayer, recorded in Ephesians 3:14-21, would suggest. In this passage, Paul prays for all Believers that we, “being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Why did Paul feel it was important to pray in this way? Perhaps he recognised that only a revelation of the Father’s love in our hearts, not just an intellectual or even theological knowledge of Him, inspires and strengthens us to live out our lives filled with the fullness of God in His power. It is this fullness of God, borne out of revelation (the truth of God made vibrantly real in our hearts) which produces a spiritual life infused with the divine nature as manifested in the life of Jesus. Such a life seeks to be continually transformed into His likeness, fully participating in all the resources, wisdom and power of His Kingdom, and is completely abandoned to Him and His good purposes, for His glory.

Paul knew for certain that being rooted and established in Him (the source of his identity), and living out of this identity (the source of his self-esteem), was critical for all believers and for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. So in light of this, let’s consider the importance of our identity and our selfesteem, as they are intrinsically linked.

Before we begin to concentrate on these two areas of identity and self-esteem, it is worthwhile, particularly for those with no background in the faith, to think about God’s original intentions for us, His people. We are currently living in an age where we are on the wrong side of Genesis 3; the world we now live in is a fallen world where everything is distorted and disrupted and, in a sense, ‘upside down’ because of the entry of sin through the first rebellion against God. We need to understand something here; it was never God’s intention that we would be living with these distortions and disruptions in our lives. His plan was that we would always live in His presence, in perfect harmony with Him, creation, ourselves and each other. What we now experience as a result of ‘the Fall’ in our everyday lives is very far removed from His original intention. In fact, all of what takes place from the beginning of Genesis, throughout Scripture, to Revelation conveys God’s heart and plan to redeem this rebellion and restore this perfect harmony, by His initiative and action through Jesus who was the fulfillment of His redemption plan.

Eugene Peterson describes this wonderfully in Romans 8: 29-30, “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.” This is fundamental to our understanding of the nature of God and His heart toward us, His children; He desires to be with us purely because of His limitless and unfailing love of us. In Eph 1:4, Paul tells us, “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love.” (The Message) Quite simply, God intentionally loved us into being; He is ‘for’ us and we are, and always will be the focus of His love.

So, in light of understanding God’s intentions for us, how does this shape our identity?

Identity relates to who we are and comprises the characteristics by which we are recognised or known. God’s Word has much to say about our identity as believers. Eph 1:11, in the Message states, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” Our identity then is secured by Jesus fulfilling His Father’s plan of redemption for you and me. In Romans 8:16-17 Paul also tells us, “God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us— an unbelievable inheritance.” This is an inexpressible gift of God’s grace to us; God, by His Spirit touches our spirit and adopts us as His children, in this way revealing and securing the truth of God as our Abba Father. This ensures that we no longer need to live as we once did, but are free to live out of this new identity as His true sons and daughters, just like Jesus. John himself could not quite take this in as he records and exclaims in 1 John 3:7 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” This is tremendous news and it completely settles our identity; we are part of God’s family, and have a Heavenly Father who wants us to feel rooted and established as His children in His lavish, limitless, unfailing love for all eternity.

Earlier I suggested that identity and self esteem are intrinsically linked, and so what exactly is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is how we define or view ourselves. Specifically the dictionary tells us that self- esteem is the opinion we have about ourselves or evaluation we make of ourselves, and this opinion or evaluation is usually evident in two separate but connected areas; (1) our ‘inner selves’ in terms of our mind (thinking) and heart (our emotions or feelings) and (2) our ‘outer selves’ in terms of our appearance, role and personality.

We can have good self-esteem or low self-esteem, and Dr Sturt defines them as follows: “Good’’ self-esteem is when we “are comfortable with ourselves. We accept ourselves, including our shortcomings… We are able to have a balanced estimate of ourselves (Romans 12:3)… and we are fully in touch with our emotions but not controlled by them. (This is a crucial point). ‘Low’ self-esteem is when we “feel badly about ourselves and see ourselves as inferior and of little worth.” This happens when what we think of ourselves and what we feel about ourselves are both negative.

Why is self-esteem so important?

It is very important because our lives tend to reflect the opinion or evaluation we have of ourselves! This happens because we often transmit this opinion of ourselves and our abilities into the relationships and opportunities in our everyday lives, thus influencing the choices and decisions we make. Our selfesteem can ultimately determine, or even change, the direction of our lives.

What are typical projections or expressions of good and low selfesteem?

When we have ‘good’ or healthy selfesteem we positively relate to ourselves and others; we respect ourselves and others; we can accept differences and enjoy relationships which are lasting and satisfying. ‘Low’ self-esteem, however, manifests itself in many different ways and there are usually accompanying negative thoughts and attitudes, feelings and behaviours; it can also be evidenced by difficulty in forming and sustaining satisfying relationships.

Most of us have struggled with low selfesteem at some point in our lives, and there are many reasons for this. There may have been difficulties in our lives as children, or perhaps a relationship breakdown or a major life event which irrevocably changed the landscape of our lives; whatever the reason we may have exhibited some of the following expressions.

Some examples of these expressions of low self-esteem are as follows:-

Negative thoughts:-

Little nagging thoughts of doubt, the ‘what if’s’ or the scenarios we conjure up giving expression to our internal fears which never come to pass.

The argumentative, suspicious, angry, bitter or resentful thoughts that ultimately can lead to destructive behaviours and actions.

The persistent thoughts of ‘I will never change’ or ‘I can’t help it.’

Thought habits such as continual day dreams or fantasies to escape reality.

Negative feelings:-

Feelings of isolation and lack of confidence, usually accompanied by an inability to accept compliments.

Over-sensitivity and easily offended.

Anxiety or fear, particularly in relation to failure or future uncertainty.

Anger, depression, jealousy etc.

Low motivation or perhaps a drive for perfection etc.

Self-hatred.

Negative behaviours are:-

Being critical, demanding, irrational, unforgiving, moody etc.

Difficulty in forming and sustaining satisfying and positive relationships.

Self-harming – this has many guises, including the myriad of addictions such as alcohol and substance abuse. Other forms of self harm are the many eating disorders, promiscuity, cutting etc.

Violence.

It is not too hard to recognise times when we may have thought or felt or behaved in some of these ways, and encouragingly, that is the key to beginning the journey of nurturing a healthy self-esteem; it all begins with self awareness and a desire to live a life that is transformed and free from these expressions, for the glory of the Lord.

So, to date, we have considered our identity as Christians and explored what self-esteem is, in general, along with some pointers to its existence in our lives. In the next edition of Rejoice Always we will look at self-esteem as Christians and why, in light of our God-given identity, so many of us still struggle with low self-esteem. In particular, we will be identifying some hindrances to nurturing healthy self-esteem as well as discovering some helpful truths and responses that will help us continue on this journey into living out of His fullness, which was always God’s intention.

WORDS Agnes Hamilton

Pastoral Care Assistant Belfast Bible College