Christian Self-Esteem: Yes, God Wants You To Love Yourself

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

I was told that for a Christian, self-esteem is sin.

When I came into the church at 16 years old, I was broken and frail from an unkind world. I had no self-esteem, and was quickly taught that was just fine, that a Christian should not have self-esteem, that we need to esteem God alone, and that any attempt at self-love was sin. I have since come to see this for what it is: a toxic and dangerous teaching.


A wise friend suggested recently that I write an affirmation, a statement of self love, on my bedroom mirror so that I can speak these words to myself every day.  When I tried, I found myself tied in emotional knots.  I wrote out words such as “I am worthy of love” on little yellow sticky notes.  And then I tore the papers up.

In my fundamentalist church beginnings, or my abusive family of origin, or the combination of these two, I got the idea that it was wrong to believe that I am lovable.

And this has played no small part in my life.  It’s been the refrain at the end of every marital dispute, every drunken fiasco, every season of despair.  Every cry for help or emotional shit storm in 20 years of addiction and mental illness and chaos has ended with me curled up in a literal or figurative ditch asking anyone who will listen “How can you love me?”

So this thing, this question, is it a sin to love myself?  It’s important.  It’s life changing.

There are people reading this who don’t understand the struggle.   They don’t have to go through mental gymnastics in order to read a self-affirmation. They intuitively know that they are loved and lovable and easily bask in the love God has for them. This post is not for them.

This post is for the Christian who struggles to stand in the mirror and speak the words “I deserve to be loved.”

Learning a New Narrative about Christian Self-esteem.

In my teenage years I ventured from a childhood that punished anything less than excellence with mockery,  emotional neglect, and occasional physical abuse into a conservative, fundamentalist church culture. And in that mix, the narrative I learned was that I deserve hell and death and nothing else.  That for the Christian, self-esteem is a lie and that God is to be esteemed and we are but dust.  That any sentence that starts with “I deserve”, or “I have a right”, should end in death and hell and nothing else.   Because as a sinner, my righteousness is as soiled rags.

And there is something to this.  I believe is theologically sound to suggest that we are all hell deserving sinners.   All of us.  The grace of God applied at the cross is the only balm that can heal this disastrous state of our soul. But that’s not the whole story.

We were designed to be loved. 

And by that alone we are deserving of love.  Not because of who we are or what we’ve done but because of who has designed us and why.

I am not lovable because I’ve done something to make myself worthy of love, I am lovable in the very intrinsic nature of my being.  I am lovable because Christ bore all of my unlovableness on the cross.

Friend. I believe that God wants you to love yourself.  Christian friend, I believe God wants you to know self-esteem. The bible tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and the assumption is that we love ourselves. Scripture is beckoning us to seek to see and respect that sacred virtue in each human being that is made in the very image of God. Us included.

Loving our Neighbours Well Requires Self-Esteem.

Does the Bible condemn lovers of selves?  Yes, too much concern for ourselves is dangerous.  A biblical love of self is tempered by an equal love of our neighbour.  We are not to devote ourselves to our own interests.  But I am learning that I can love my neighbour a lot more honestly and unconditionally when I can first bask in the love of my creator and accept His love for me.  As long as I am still striving to be lovable, I cannot love my neighbour well.  It is from the resting place of knowing that I am accepted that I can truly accept another person. 

You and I are deserving of love.  We have an intrinsic value that is not changed by our failings, today or ever.

In my youth I came to believe that I was soiled dust, broken and failed and ruined, but this is not how my God feels about me.

My truth, and your truth, the narrative that God has written for us, is that we exist on purpose.  He knew us before we even existed.  We are wanted. He has numbered the hairs on our heads, and He delights in us.  We are treasured and loved.

So I’m choosing to believe my maker.   I am worthy of Love.   He delights in me.
Friends, I am not suggesting that we close our eyes to who we really are and esteem ourselves as if we have not fallen short of the glory of God.   Not at all.  I am inviting us to see ourselves as God sees us.  As an object of his love and delight, treasured and valued.  As worthy of love.

Let’s scrawl these things on our mirrors and hearts and come to believe them.

I was created to be loved.

I am lovable.

My God delights in me.

I have worth.

I am remarkably and wonderfully made.

Friend, you are worthy of love.  Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who has made you.

May that truth come to permeate every area of our lives.

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