I wanted to write this article to share with you something that I recently discovered, which I feel can make a huge difference in our lives no matter how old we are. But I wish I had learned what I am about to share with you earlier in my life, as it could have saved me a lot of despair.
For a large part of my life I have suffered from low self-esteem. I constantly felt unworthy of being loved, and unworthy of other people's attention, love, or care. I felt that the only reason people liked me was because I was smart, or pretty, or talented, but they didn't really like "me" - they only liked what I could do for them. I felt like I was inconveniencing anyone when I needed their time or energy, even when I was paying for their service, because I didn't feel worthy of their effort. I felt like a burden on my husband when I was not earning money, when I caused him some inconvenience, when I did not keep up on the house chores. All of this subtly built up over the years and has been one contributing factor which led to me having frequent suicidal thoughts. Even though I had been a Christian since I was a child, and had been told over and over that "Jesus loves you", it never made any difference to how I felt about myself, and I felt bad that I didn't feel as joyful as it seemed Christians were expected to be.
Then finally after coming home from a counselling session where the issue of self-esteem was brought up, I sat down and thought hard about what makes someone worthy of being loved. Was it my intelligence, or my physical appearance, my abilities and talents, or even my personality traits? Was it my race or my position in society, or how much money I had? Was it how many friends I had or how popular I was? Was it how big of a house I had, or how many nice clothes I owned? Was it that I was loved by my family and husband? Finally, I had a breakthrough...
I realized that all these others things that I might base my self-esteem on are ultimately fragile and transient. For example, if I base my self-worth on my intelligence, what happens if I get in a car accident and suffer severe brain damage and can never again study and write or work? If I base my self-worth on my appearance, then as I age or if I become physically disfigured due to an accident or disease then my self-worth could be destroyed. If I base my self-worth on the love of my family and friends, then what happens if they abandon me or resent me? Therefore, to be secure in my self-worth, I need a basis for my self-esteem which cannot be taken away by a change in my external circumstances, my abilities, or even the approval of others.
Even the often-repeated Christian suggestion to feel worthy of love simply because we are humans made in the image of God, or are "children of God", did not work for me. I didn't understand how I could be worthy of love just for existing and being human. It seemed like too simple of an answer, and it didn't make me feel more loved or worthy, so I needed something else.
The only solid basis for my self-esteem is Jesus' death on the cross
Therefore, I concluded that the only solid basis for my self-esteem is that God loves me, as shown by how Jesus died on the cross for my sins. God loves me so much that he sent his one and only precious Son to come live on earth as a human and to die a painful death, even experiencing the separation from God that my sins deserve, in order to allow me to have a relationship with God. This means that God, the creator of the universe, the most powerful, intelligent being of all - the creator of the infinite number of stars and galaxies, cared so much for me that he would rather experience suffering and death than to not have relationship with me. This means I am the most precious thing in the universe to God! There is nothing that he loves more than me. What better basis for my self-esteem can there be than this?
If God loves me, I should love myself
Also, if God loves me this much, then it only makes sense that he would want me to love myself also. This is not meant as an excuse to become narcissistic and self-absorbed. But it does mean that God would want me to stop putting myself down, to stop criticizing myself for not being good enough, and to stop feeling unworthy of the love, care, and attention of other people. If God has said that I am worthy of his love, then who am I to disagree? If God loves me, I should not hate myself, as this would be an insult to God, since it is wrong to hate something that God has declared worthy of his love.
God's love for me is permanent and stable enough to base my self-worth on
Even better, I know that because I did nothing to earn God's love, then his love does not depend on anything about me, my effort, or my achievements. God's love for me is not based on how many good works I do, how "holy" I act, how many times I go to church or bible study, how much money I give to charity, or anything else. He loved me first while I was a sinner and had done nothing worthy of being loved for (Romans 5:8). If I cannot earn God's love, then there is also nothing I can do to lose God's love. Also, because Jesus' death has paid for all sin (Hebrews 10:12), I do not lose God's love each time I sin - it has already been covered. In fact, no matter how much I sin or how badly I sin, it is still covered by Jesus, so God still loves me.
Now this is not an excuse to sin, because if we truly love God for the love he has shown us, we will try to not sin, as sin makes God sad and angry. For example, if you are married, you will try to do what you can to please your spouse and not hurt them intentionally. You would not say "Oh, well I know my spouse still loves me, so I can do whatever I want", as this would show that you really did not love them at all and were just taking advantage of their love. So as Christians, we try to not sin out of love for God and gratitude for what Jesus did for us, but we will still mess up and sin since we are not yet perfect, but God still loves us anyways since our sins have been dealt with once and for all by Jesus.
So if God's love for me cannot be earned, then it also cannot be lost. God will not stop loving me if I lose my job, if I lose my abilities to serve him, if I become disabled, if I become poor, if I stop going to church, or anything else. Even if everyone I know hates me, if I lose all my abilities that make others appreciate me, or if I lose all my possessions and become homeless, God still loves me just as much as ever. Therefore, my self-worth can never be lost no matter what happens to me, if I base my self-worth on God's love for me. The parable of the two men, one who builds their house on the sand, and one who builds it on a solid rock (Matthew 7:24-27) could be used as an illustration. If one builds their self-esteem on a foundation of temporary things, then when you face hard times or if those things disappear, then your self-esteem will collapse. But if you build your self-esteem on the fact that God loves you so much that he died for you, then nothing can take away your self-esteem and it can stand up to anything you might face in life. God's love for me is a the solid rock that I can build my self-esteem upon and it will never be shaken or destroyed.
Therefore, there is nothing to fear in life
So if I know God loves me and has already taken care of all my sins through Jesus' death on the cross, then nothing can ultimately hurt me. This life is temporary, but I can be confident that when I die, God will give me eternal life forever with him where there will be no sickness, suffering, sadness, fear, pain, or death ever again. God will give me a new perfect body (1 Cor. 15:35-53) which will be stronger and more beautiful than this current one which is fragile and ugly in comparison. So no matter what happens to me in this life, since this life is only a tiny sliver compared to all eternity, nothing can ultimately hurt me. While I will experience hurt and suffering in this life, it cannot affect me permanently, and so its power over me is broken. With this hope for eternal life, and the confidence that I am loved by God no matter what I face in this life, nothing can take away my hope, and there is ultimately nothing to fear in life. I can be free from all fear of the future!
God's love as the basis for my self-esteem makes me truly free
Not only does having God's love for me as the basis for my self-esteem make me free to not worry about anything that might happen to me in the future, but I am free from anything I thought I needed to be worthy of love, so these things no longer have power over me to run my life. I do not have to feel worthless if I never become rich or successful, and so I don't have to seek after power or success. I do not have to feel less valuable as I lose my looks as I age, and so I do not feel pressure to do expensive beauty treatments or buy the fanciest face lotions. I do not need other people's approval and validation, because their opinions and judgements of me cannot take away God's love for me, so I can be free to be truly myself without needing to conform to their expectations. I do not need to have the nicest furniture, biggest house, fanciest clothes, or latest gadgets to feel worthwhile, which frees me to live a simpler and less materialistic lifestyle, and frees me from having to keep up with the neighbours. Nothing and no one has power over me to force me to feel unworthy of love! This is truly liberating!
Also, I am now free from living up to my own expectations. I had extremely high standards that I felt I must live up to or else I would see myself as a failure. My self-worth was partly based on how well I was achieving my own goals and living up to my own standards. But then whenever I felt like I wasn't achieving them, I would get depressed and feel like a horrible person. But if my self-worth is based on God's love for me, then it doesn't ultimately matter if I meet any of my goals or live up to my own standards. God loves me just as much whether I meet my goals and live up to my standards or not! Therefore, I am free even from having to meet my own expectations and perfectionist demands. This lets me have grace for myself when I fail and allows me to accept that I can be imperfect and still worthy of God's love. I am free from my own expectations!
God's love as the basis of our self-esteem also overcomes all discrimination toward others
However, this realization that the basis for my self-esteem is God's love for me also has a consequence for how I should see others. If God loves me so much that he would die for me to have relationship with me, and so I are the most precious thing to him, then this applies equally to every single other human being. Therefore, I should never feel superior to others, or look down on those that I disapprove of, because God loves them just as much as he loves me. They are infinitely precious to him too. So to God it does not matter if you are the President of the United States, or a homeless beggar on the streets of India - he loves both the exact same. You might be a famous, beautiful, and rich celebrity, or a Chinese peasant working in a sweatshop for pennies a day, and God loves you just the same. A mentally disabled person is loved by God just as much as a nuclear physicist is loved by God. Even the worst criminals on death-row are loved by God just as much as God loved Mother Theresa. God even loves the people we hate just as much as God loves us, because Jesus died for them too.
Therefore, we should try to love everyone else just as much as we love ourselves (Matthew 7:12), no matter what their position in society is or how much we might dislike them personally. While this is hard to do, since we are all sinful people and it is much easier for us to love those that are similar to us and hard to love those who are different from us, we should still aim for it. Try it out the next time you see someone that you would normally look down on - try to see them as infinitely precious to God, and see if that changes how you think about them and how you might act toward them.
If this is the first time you have heard about God's love for you as shown through Jesus Christ's death on the cross, you might be interested to learn more about God, Jesus, and how you can personally have faith in Jesus. If so, you can check out some of the articles I've written on this website, such as those under the "Basic Theology" section of the Q+A Categories tab, or talk to someone you know who is a Christian.