I’m just going to say it: I love me. Go ahead and say it to yourself a few times. I love me. I don’t know how it will make you feel, but I can guarantee that it won’t make you a liar. Look in the mirror. Not bad, huh? No? Well, whether you love or hate what you see, chances are you’ll keep on looking.
None of us has a problem with low self-esteem. Scripture tells us we were born with the opposite issue. We all think of ourselves as a little more pretty, a little more talented, a little more worthy, and a little more deserving of just about everything in this life. Far from having naturally broken hearts, our hearts are naturally bloated with the calories of self-consumption and filled with obscene levels of self-obsession. We’ve been taught that there’s nothing more valuable than how much we value ourselves. Sometimes we like to doll it up with introspective words like self-realization or self-fulfillment, but it’s all the same thing: egos the size of Kanye West performing with Jay Z on top of the Empire State Building. Yes, our esteem is that extreme.
Depths of Our Souls
The frightening thing about self esteem is the staggering lengths God goes to completely eradicate it from the depths of our souls, in order to produce depth in our souls. If the Lord loves a humble and contrite heart, it means that he equally abhors a prideful and defiant one. One of the prevailing themes of the Bible is how God makes nothing out of men by flipping the object of their esteem from themselves back to him. These stories play out like dark, epic, cinematic tragedies. We all hope our story doesn’t.
In Moses we see a rich, short-tempered prep school kid who got embroiled in a racial murder scandal. Fleeing the scene into exile and obscurity, he gets a blue-collar gig tending sheep for 40 years. God eventually steps back into the picture and assigns him the CEO position of the world’s largest relocation project. What he doesn’t tell him is that the relocation’s going to take another 40-plus years and that he’s going to die right before the final move-in date. God spent a lot of years breaking down Moses. His whole life, actually.
Then there’s Joseph, a spoiled, insensitive trust-fund baby, coddled by his Daddy until his brothers have finally had enough of his insufferable bragging and throw him in a hole while they discuss how to do away with him. They end up selling him into slavery instead, because you could do that back then. He lands a manager position for good behavior until he gets framed on rape charges. Dude ends up back in jail until a VP gig for the nation of Egypt opens up, and through some heartbreaking circumstances, he lands the job. God broke Joseph down during the prime years of his young adult life.
You see where I’m going here. God takes sometimes horrific, drastic measures to destroy our self-esteem. We’re not told much about the personal pain Moses and Joseph experienced. We’re not told of the sleepless nights spent in isolation, gripped by emotional despondency while grasping hopelessly in the dark, trying to fathom why God was doing this and whether he was even there. In hindsight, we tend to view these figures as emboldened, courageous, pillars of the faith, but it’s foolishness to think that their responses were any less weak and human than ours would be. But we see a God that uses very human experiences to change the hearts of human vessels. And it hurts.
Call to Brokenness
The call to brokenness is a call to openness. It’s an altered vision. It doesn’t mean that our lives enter into a continuous state of disrepair so that God can use what “working” functions we have left for his glory. Brokenness is the gentrification of our hearts. It means that the heart we had was condemned and the only way for God to make it fit for use was to demolish it and rebuild it from the ground up. Same body, new heart. The reason it hurts so bad is that we all love our old hearts. We love the familiar pulse and well-worn rhythm that our old hearts provided for us. They filled us with adrenaline, pumping the blood of self-indulgence through our veins . . . until we remember that they didn’t at all. We remember that they shut us into the cells of our own self-belief, closing us off from the liberation of godly self-denial.
The beauty of low self-esteem is that we finally have the hearts to highly esteem God. It’s not that we all turn into Debbie Downers and drench ourselves in self-loathing and self-pity. No, there’s no time for that when our eyes are fixed firmly on our Lord.
“You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’ (Psalm 27:8).
Help us, O Lord, to see only you.