By Dan Blair, marriage therapist and family counselor
Religion can give the message that anything about the “self” is sin or bad, or at least selfish. Psychology promotes the need to care for the self (not to the exclusion of others) and this can be deemed as self-esteem, self-love, or self-worth. A common way to define self-worth is a good performance in exchange for good opinion about ourselves from somebody else. In other words, we do well and we are liked, accepted and loved.
Christianity is based on the opposite. We sin, hide, and in other words, do not perform well, yet we find from the very beginning to the end of the Bible God’s pursuit of us. When Adam and Eve first sinned and they hid in the garden, Who came after them? Time and time again when Israel rebelled, God never gave up. When the prodigal son took the money from his father and squandered it and disrespected his father, what did the father do when the son showed back up? While we were yet sinners, Christ took the initiative and died for us. No one had to qualify for this kind of love and we see how much God values us.
When it comes to self-worth, it sounds like the answer is perfect love that casts out fear. But instead it’s common to fear that we don’t qualify, we still have to earn it, and we’re not good enough. This is a lonely place to be. So we try to fill this empty place with accomplishments, pleasing others, excessive focus on self, or bubble baths. But is that really where self-worth comes from?
The Bible promotes love, including self-love. We should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We are to love our wives as ourselves. Proverb says to acquire wisdom is to love oneself. But how reliable is self-worth or self-love? Can we really depend on it? I think we can learn it, but it is fallible, and even fickle.
1 Corinthians 10:12 suggests to forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Instead, cultivate God-confidence. Galatians 2:18 refers to “trying to follow the law,” and finding self-worth as rebuilding the same old barn that Paul, the writer, had already tore down because of Christ. Paul said in that case he would have to go back to acting, a pretender. He goes on to say in verse 20 that my ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion. That is not where Paul found his worth. Colossians 2 suggests that we don’t be bullied by rules for importance.
I’m not saying that there aren’t contributions to self-worth from a sense of meaningful work, healthy relationships, the ability to enjoy things, and self-care. All of those are our responsibility. Much more can be said about that, but I’m thinking that self-worth comes from God’s love that we apply to ourself and others. At the very least, self-worth comes from love, not performance reviews.