My husband teaches high school health, and in looking at a textbook of his, I came across the statement that people who suffer from low self-esteem should focus on the things they are good at and things that they like about themselves in order to boost their self-worth. Obviously, such a practice is positive in that it helps students focus on what they like about themselves, when so many high school students are caught up in negative self-talk and self-hatred.
However, such an exercise is limited in that it encourages students to think about their worth in terms of what they look like and what they do. While both our appearance and abilities contribute to our overall make-up, we feel better about ourselves not when we merely focus on ourselves — our external qualities — or even by looking internally as an end to itself. We feel better about ourselves when we understand that our worth doesn’t come from ourselves but from God. And we can have a better self-image when we understand who God has made us to be and how much He loves us.
To Feel Better About Ourselves, We Have to Know Who We Are
A year ago, as I was writing a project on self-worth and looking up some passages in Genesis, I came across an idea in this same vein in the commentary I read: To know ourselves we must know God. This idea may seem illogical at first glance. But the truth is that we come to know and love ourselves more when we seek God. This happens because as we come to know Him — we, in turn, become more aware of who we are and how much value we have. This happens for the reason that as we grow to know Him, we better understand how loved we are. And believing we are loved or un-loved is at the heart of our worth issues.
Pastor Mike Riches says in Living Free that we are made to love and be loved by a God of love. As he says, people thrive in an environment of love and respect. Such experiences set in each person value, worth, significance, and security.
Conversely, according to Riches, those who do not live in such an environment will lack a sense of value and will live with feelings of insignificance and insecurity. Understandably, a person who has experienced “malicious rejection, injustices, or abuses” will be “severely damaged at the very core of his or her being.”
You may be reading this and be able to recall in your own life specific experiences that hurt you so badly that you questioned your worth as a result. And perhaps you have struggled with those feelings of unworthiness ever since. Or perhaps you are facing a painful rejection right now. Maybe an important relationship in your life has ended or there is a situation at work where you have being mistreated.
As Riches argues, these rejections or abuses can create in us wounds of “love-deprivation.” These are places that can become open doors for Satan to gain access into our lives, if we are not careful. From the time we are young, according to Riches, Satan attempts to get us to believe lies of rejection, abandonment, and fear. If he can do that, he can get a foothold, or territory, in our lives. If we believe we are unloved and unimportant, this absence of love creates the perfect environment for the enemy’s schemes.
You may wonder how it is that the enemy can gain territory in your life if you belong to Christ. While Satan cannot possess a believer who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit, he can certainly oppress a believer, if given access. Ephesians 4:26 says, “ ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Satan can gain a foothold in our lives through our wrong responses to the injustices and wounds that occur to us. If he can get us bogged down in wrong thinking and sinful responses to the injustices done to us, he can make us ineffective Christians tormented by wrong thoughts and sinful behavior patterns — and possibly even get us to turn our back on God.
What are some wrong thoughts and responses? They can vary, according to Riches, but they can include bitterness, resentment, and negative thoughts about ourselves and others. Perhaps if we experience rejection in a relationship, we begin to allow an unhealthy script to play in our head such as, “No one could ever love me. I am different than everyone else. I will just have to be alone for the rest of my life.” Or the script could read, “If God really loved me, He wouldn’t have allowed this to happen. He must hate me.” These are all lies that directly contradict what it says in the Bible about our worth and how much God loves us.
In addition, these feelings can lead to a desire for revenge or retaliation against the person who has hurt us. As Ephesians declares, we are not to sin in our anger. Anger in and of itself is not sinful, but anger that is left unchecked that we nurse and allow to grow can turn into not only wrong thinking, but wrong behavior toward a person. In our anger, we might gossip about a person that has hurt us or attempt to make the person look bad in front of others or lash out at the person. All of these are unbiblical responses that can give Satan a foothold in our lives — and may even, as I discuss further in my next section, be a place where we develop a stronghold in our thoughts or behavior.
Why It’s Important That We Understand How Much Worth We Have
Clearly, as Riches notes, it’s “a biblical and valid concern for us to address the need for human beings to realize their significance, worth, and value” so that we can understand how to react correctly to rejection and abuse and not allow the enemy to gain territory in our lives. However, even if we have reacted wrongly to injustices, we can recover what the enemy has stolen from us and embrace how much God loves us.
The truth is that many of us don’t understand how our wrong responses to the rejection in our lives have put us in bondage. As Riches says, we go through life thinking that we are victims without taking responsibility for how we have reacted wrongly to the rejections. In addition, not only do we, in many cases, respond the wrong way to the rejection and abuses we face, we may also look to replace our feelings of unworthiness with a substitution that can’t give what only God can. As Riches observes, most people don’t even know they have issues with love-deprivation and employ coping mechanisms to compensate. They might become workaholics. Or they might turn to relationships or a substance to attempt to feel better about themselves. Whatever the case, these continued wrong responses and fleshly coping mechanisms become strongholds in the life of a believer.
What are strongholds? Strongholds are patterns in our thinking or actions that become refuges for us apart from God. According to Beth Moore in Breaking Free, strongholds in ancient times were high places near a city that governors could flee to when a city was under attack. The stronghold was high and heavily fortified so that it would be difficult for an enemy to penetrate. In a similar way, strongholds in our spiritual life are fortresses we erect, particularly in times of insecurity, to help us feel protected and safe. However, these strongholds that provide us so much comfort initially cannot save us and will become obstacles in our spiritual life.
As the Bible warns, the flesh profits nothing (John 6:63). When we rely on something else to feel better or base our worth on — whether that be a job, relationship, or talent, we will be disappointed when that thing crumbles. And we will crumble, too. Unfortunately, at times we will fail despite our best efforts. We might get fired. Other people will leave or disappoint us.
The Bible tells us that a wise man builds his house on a rock and the foolish man on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). A wise person builds his identity and sense of worth on that which can never be taken away: God and His love. Understanding that God loves us not because of anything we have done but because of who He is and understanding He chose us to be here and live out a special purpose gives us worth. As Riches emphasizes, when we understand God’s great love, we are made complete in our spiritual walk (Ephesians 3:18-20).
We can’t attain this love or God-given worth from a stellar education, high-paying job, prominent position, large social media following, attractive physical appearance, or romantic relationship. In addition, however ugly it sounds, fixing our attention on something other than God to be our refuge or salvation is idolatry. We begin looking to the job, relationship, material item, or hobby to fill us in a way only God can.
Former NFL player Tim Tebow had to learn this the hard way. For most of his life, he wanted to be a starting quarterback. He lived that dream all through college, but once he got in the NFL, his dreams shattered when he was told by his team that his services weren’t needed anymore. When his NFL team let him go, he struggled because so much of what he had considered part of his identity was gone.
He had to embrace the idea that his worth wasn’t found in a quarterback position or in his athletic ability — his worth was found in Jesus Christ alone. Note what he says in a devotional he wrote about the experience:
When life throws us curve balls or shatters into tiny bits before our eyes, it’s easy to doubt ourselves, God’s plan, even God Himself. But when we’re hurt, disappointed or frustrated by the negative side of thwarted plans, crushed dreams and painful losses, we can still hold on to God’s truth.
We can set the Lord continually before us. We can choose over and over to trust God and believe He’s still got a plan for our lives, even when we don’t have a clue what that is. We may feel shaken by emotions and circumstances, but we’ll always have Someone to hold on to. Someone who will never let us go.
Basing Our Identity on Christ Helps Us Get Through Life’s Injustices
As Christians we need to know that identity and worth come from God. We can find healing for our feelings of low-self-worth and wounds of rejection when we choose to believe what it says in Scripture about who we are in Christ and how much God loves us.
We are told in Genesis that we are made in the image of God and that He made us as the climax of His creation (Genesis 1:27, 28). No mistake on our part can take away the worth that has been bestowed on us by our Creator (Romans 8:38, 39). As followers of Jesus, we are adopted sons and daughters in the family of God (Galatians 3:26-29), co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), seated in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6), considered saints (1 Corinthians 1:2), forgiven and considered holy (Hebrews 10:10), and chosen to do God’s good works (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12, 13).
Therefore, when bad things happen, we have truths we can speak over ourselves to remind us of our position as Christ followers. However, if we have allowed certain rejections or injustices to give Satan a foothold in our life and establish a stronghold, we have the power through Jesus Christ to break those areas of control we have given Him and find freedom. We can repent of the ways we’ve raised up strongholds in our lives to “fix” our feelings of unworthiness and demolish those fortified places by replacing the lies we are believing with truth. We can also forgive others for the ways they have hurt us and ask them to forgive us for our wrong responses to their rejections and abuses.
Throughout the month, I’ll be talking more about healing from past rejections and the steps to break from a cycle of rejection. To learn more about how to heal from feelings of low self-worth and past rejections, check out my next few articles, and I will explain more in detail about how to see yourself as God sees you and heal from your rejections and injustices.
*Updated May 4, 2018.