Self-esteem, we all suffer from it.
My wife and I used to get back from social events and sigh as we would let the pressures of other peoples expectations roll off of us. One day my wife asked me “What?” when I had let out a particularly long sigh. After a moments thought I looked at her and said “Oh, I just want to be loved and respected by ALL”. We both laughed, but I suspect it is true of most people, and I think that is why we both laughed for as long and as hard as we did. It seems so simple of a desire yet it is so far removed from anything we will ever achieve it is monumentally fantastic.
I really want to be in possession of such a strong identity as to be both famous and respected so I scramble about trying to arrogate to myself everything worthy of praise, in my own strength. Because my own strength is something praiseworthy, right? I must be strong, hold the correct beliefs, have the right opinions, and command respect; anything less is failure. After I have accumulated enough things to be praiseworthy I then get to sit back and let the honors roll in. That’s the way its supposed to work right?
It’s a trap, a trap so old as to be mythical (as well as Biblical).
Lets start with the myth first:
In Greek mythology Narcissus was a man that had much to be proud of. He had physical beauty and was a success in everything he did. He was the veritable center of his universe and he knew it. He also had an ego to match which brought him enough fame to catch the attention of Nemesis (the Greek goddess of Divine Retribution) who had a penchant for handing out punishments for hubris. She arranged for Narcissus to come to a pool where he became fascinated by his own reflection, becoming so absorbed by it that he wasted away and died. So, like Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:21-24), Narcissus suffered a grim death for the sin of pride.
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. But the word of God grew and multiplied.
Oops, maybe being famous and wonderful isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Maybe we should consider His glory instead of our own, we know that His glory will not fade. HE alone is worthy of all praise:
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
In order to stay out of this trap we need to recognize that God alone is able to bear the responsibility of being the center of the universe. When mankind fully understood this it was good but it didn’t take us long to decide we’d prefer to make up our own minds.
And now to the Biblical:
Adam and Eve partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil with the false promise of the serpent:
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
Right away we can see that Eve made a grave error of making a value judgement apart from the clearly stated word of God. By listening to the serpent and then assessing the validity of his argument she was placing herself as the “proper” judge to decide what was good to eat, even before she ate of the tree! After she had enthroned her own valuation in this way, it was a small step to actually disobeying God and finishing in deed what she had already started in her mind. She stopped acknowledging God in all of her ways. When she partook of that fruit she and Adam were baptized into a whole new world where they made up their “own” rules, albeit under the dominion of Satan, condemnation, sin, and death. They made themselves subject to vanity and emptiness. They fell into the well of the first narcissist, Satan. They became fascinated with their own image, their own wisdom, their own opinion, their own work. They had to hide themselves from the glorious radiance of God whose very presence would shred the refuge of lies that they had assembled in their new selves stitched together of what they thought was important apart from God. They became the ones sitting by the side of the pool, like Narcissus, wasting away. Dead, just as God had declared they would be.
We inherited their condition. So how do we escape?
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?
So it is only by laying down our empty, hollow vessels that will never be filled and by taking up His Cross daily that we have a chance to escape from the fascination with self. So strong is our attraction that we must do this DAILY. Minute by minute, laying down our own way and taking up His, hearing His voice and moving in the lasting work that He has made us for. The rest is vanishing. We will never get the praise we seek from our own works, giving mental assent to the “right” doctrine, holding the right opinions, having abundant knowledge, “manning-up”, or “picking ourselves up by our boot-straps”. We must hear His voice and do what He says, His words are not in vain.
We need to thank God when He reveals to us just how shallow the pool is, and when He sends us waves to break the fascination with ourselves. It is a mercy, not an affront to our self-esteem.
I thank my wife for pointing me to the song by Josh Wilson that follows below, the lyrics are especially appropriate to the theme of this article and the overall theme of this blog:
Thanks to PsaltyMovies on YouTube.