Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Self Esteem

How I got through a stressful week

I had a difficult week last week. It was one of the more stressful weeks I’ve had in a long time. But I got through it because of the support of good friends.

Humanity is not meant to live alone. But you wouldn’t know that from living in our culture where the so-called freedom of the individual is thought to be more important than the collective good.

There were two events during the week that brought that home for me. One was the Federal Budget, with its annual bribe of tax cuts and “what’s in it for me?” items. On one of the news sites the next day, there was a very long, thoughtfully set-out article on how the budget would affect you. In that long article there was nothing whatsoever about the annual decrease in our overseas aid budget. The overseas poor don’t vote, so they don’t count to many of our politicians when budget time comes around. And most of the media obligingly spreads their mantra.

As Josh Dowton said so well, the dominant narrative of tax cuts reflects a culture of individualism over the greater good.

The other thing that happened during the week was a talk I attended by a guy called Johann Hari on the human need for connection and relationship.

This guy, a self-declared atheist, is a secular prophet. Don’t let anyone tell you that non-Christians can’t speak God’s truth. All people are made in the image of God, so who are we to say that God wouldn’t speak through someone who doesn’t believe?

Here’s some of what Hari said in his talk:

– Only one other country in the world takes more anti-depressants than Australia. That’s Iceland. Every year for the last 40 years the rate of depression has increased.
– The Amish have very low levels of depression.
– Seven of the nine known causes of depression are not biological. The causes are in the way we’re living.
– Depression is not caused by low serotonin. Anti-depressants are not useless but they don’t solve the problem.
– We need belonging, meaning, a future that makes sense. Our culture is getting less and less good at meeting these needs.
– We are the loneliest culture that has ever lived. We are the first humans ever to try to disband our tribes, to try to live alone.
– In our culture we are all homeless. Home is when people notice you’re not there. Too many of us are lonely. Home is not your four walls.
– Our epidemic of depression, anxiety and addiction are signals that are telling us that something is wrong in our culture.
– We have an individualistic belief about what it is to be happy, whereas other cultures have a collective view of what it is to be happy. In an experiment done in the US, Russia, China and Japan, they asked people that if they tried to be happy for two hours a day, what would they do. In the US, people did something for themselves, while in the other three countries they instinctually did something for someone else. The people in the US were the only ones for whom the people didn’t become happy in the experiment.
– In the UK, the average child spends less time outside than maximum security prisoners, who have to spend 70 minutes a day outside.

Johann Hari might not realise it, but he was echoing the sentiments of Jesus 2,000 years ago. What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self? Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. And in response to the Good Samaritan who was a neighbour to the one in need, we are told to go and do likewise.

At church each week, we say grace before lunch by going around the group and each of us saying what we’re thankful for. Today I said I’m thankful for the support of friends.

We were never meant to do life alone. We simply cannot live without each other. I’m thankful for the people who’ve had my back this week. The ones who said I could call them anytime if I wanted to chat, who showed their care for me, who gave me sensible and wise guidance, who asked me what support I was getting. It’s that care and concern that gave me what I need this week, not being bribed with another tax cut.

Whose is that face staring back at me?


“Anyone who needs 50,000 people a night to tell them they’re OK has to have a bit missing. And I do mean that in terms of your sense of self” – Bono

“Everybody’s famous here but nobody’s known.” – U2, Lucifer’s Hands

We live in a society where more and more people don’t know what it is to feel loved just for who they are. When people don’t feel loved unconditionally, they seek affirmation from external sources.

There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but when it becomes our primary way of feeling that we are ok, it becomes a serious problem and we become narcissistic.

Recently I visited my former workplace to see a few people and to do some writing. As I was sitting in the cafe typing away, a stream of people walked past over the next hour and stopped to chat and just ask how I’m going. I’ve never been so glad to be interrupted! It’s nice to feel that affirmation and warmth from old friends. Continue reading

Finding love by loving others


This is a really good piece. I particularly love this quote:

“Because we do not usually understand and internalize the nature of our foundational sin, we usually think our job as Christians is to embrace a moral system, live by it, and thus to be good people in contrast to all those who are evil. In fact, God’s goal for us is much more profound and much more beautiful than merely being good: it is to do the will of God by being loving, just as God is loving.”

Finding the life we’re after by being loving goes against what much of the church says. We are often taught that loving ourselves first is the way to loving others. But that is not biblical. We find life by loving others, by “losing our life” for the sake of others. That is what loving God is. Of course it does matter hugely that we accept that we are loved. But that is different from trying to build our self-esteem at the expense of others.

It is actually about realising that we are already loved; we don’t need to do anything to feel loved. Our identity comes from knowing that we are already loved and then loving others out of that freedom. It is in the giving of loving others that we find identity and the fulfilment that we are constantly searching for.

It is a huge relief to realise that we don’t need to be “needy” and desperately search for love. If we do that we end up using and manipulating others. Love is infinitely greater than fear.

Love and self-esteem

Today’s daily reading from Richard Rohr is another classic. It looks at the question of why Jesus commands us to love and tells us to look beyond ourselves for our own good.  Here is some more of what Rohr says:

We must learn to move beyond ourselves, to set limits on our own needs and somehow to meet other peoples’ needs. We actually need to do this for our own good!  That’s why Jesus commanded us to love—to get us started.  So love is not a feeling, but a decision, yet a decision that increases our inner freedom each time we do it.  You will know this only after you act on love.

Jesus didn’t say when you get healed, love; when you grow up, love; when you get it together and have dealt with all your wounds, then love. No, the commandment for all of us is quite simply, “Love!” Once we know it is not a feeling, but a grace empowered decision, we can all do it. And each time it is a growth in freedom—and flow.

As I read this I thought of the issue of how many many Christians, including Christian counselors, bring across the unbiblical message that you cannot love others until you love yourself. I wrote about this in an article a couple of years ago. The point that Rohr makes and which I didn’t make in my article, is that love is a grace-empowered decision. We are only able to love because of God working in us. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Those Christians who say you can’t love others until you love yourself take grace out of the equation, take God out of the equation by assuming that love has to be done in our power and that we need to get ourselves together before we are able to love others. I believe this is such a serious issue in the Christian church as to be a heresy. As I read elsewhere recently, the gospel of Jesus is about self-denial, not self-fulfillment. The Way of Jesus is only by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following him.

The Christian message and self-esteem

When talking about proper love of self and how God loves all of us, many Christians strongly hold the view that you cannot love others until you love yourself. This view is not biblical and is therefore a heresy. If you do not agree with me, then I challenge you to find one verse or passage anywhere in the Bible that says that you cannot love others until you love yourself. To respond to this, most Christians who hold to this popular view quote Jesus’ saying in Mark 12:28-31 that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself. So, clearly we have to love ourselves so that we can love others. After all, you cannot give something that you haven’t got.

The problem with this view is that Jesus still says that we are to love God and love our neighbour. Sure, He says that we are to do it ‘as you love yourself’ but the emphasis is on loving God and neighbour. It is about giving. This also follows in what is classically called the golden rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. In a particular situation, think about what you would most want that person to do for you if you were in their position, and do it for them. Jesus’ point was that we are to think of others before ourselves. People would argue that if you don’t love yourself, then you would not want people to love you. If you hate yourself, then you have such a low view of yourself that you want people to harm you. While this is tragically true for many people, all of us still ultimately want the best for ourselves. Randy Alcorn, an American evangelical who, while being a bit too conservative for my liking, has made the excellent point that even a suicidal person has their best interests at heart – “I’d be better off dead”. Randy has written a great piece on how Christians are preaching this self-esteem heresy. Click here to access it.

The fact is that, as I mentioned above, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbour. The emphasis is on others. He did not tell us to go and do a self-help course or take up some hobby or do something else to improve our self-image, and then once we feel good enough about ourselves, then and only then will we be able to love others. Not that I’m against having a hobby – having a hobby is very healthy, but if it or anything else that is designed purely to improve your self-image detracts from your following Jesus, then it is detrimental, both to yourself and to others. How often have we neglected other people’s needs in the process of trying to improve our self-image?

It is only when we ask the Holy Spirit to help us be more Christlike and that we ask Him to help us to be Jesus in our daily lives, as we live this out, that we become closer to God. And it is through this that we slowly find ourselves developing a healthy sense of self-worth. Jesus said, in Mark 8: 34-35, “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. It is then that we develop a healthy self-love, a healthy self esteem, a healthy sense of self-worth. It is in doing what is right that we come to love ourselves in the way that Jesus properly wants us to because it is then, as we seek to follow Him, that we become truly close to God.

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