The Bible and self-esteem

Originally printed as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

When my friend Susan needs self-confidence, she opens up her Bible. "It speaks in such a gentle way," she says. "The Bible makes me feel special - like somebody loves me."

The "somebody" Susan is talking about is God. And she's right. The Bible's great news is that God loves all of us. He loves us equally - regardless of race, culture, economic bracket, or religion. He loves us eternally. Unconditionally. Without ever holding back.

The people who wrote the different books of the Bible often felt this love of God intensely. And they wanted their children and grandchildren to feel it, too. They wanted them to know how much God esteems His people. How He took care of them over the centuries - and always will. So these ancient Hebrew thinkers wrote down the history of God's love for them. They described how God brought them through unthinkable calamities - a devastating flood, epidemics, starvation, military defeats, political occupation, exile, slavery.

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Through all this, the Bible writers explained, God watched over His sons and daughters like a shepherd over his sheep, like a mother over her children. He esteemed them like a host would a distinguished guest. One Bible writer tells God, "You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows. Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house, Lord" (Ps. 23:5, 6).

Then, in the climactic fulfilling of prophecy in the New Testament, God's overwhelming love takes shape in the life-saving career of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught the spiritual basis of real self-esteem. "Ye are the light of the world," he told his followers. But they were to esteem their "neighbors," too. And even their enemies! Because all people are really God's children (see Matt. 5:14, 44, 45, 48).

Some contemporary studies are recognizing this crucial connection between esteem for others and one's own self-esteem. You can't feel your own self-worth, they say, unless you understand everyone else's. In his bestselling book on male depression, "I Don't Want to Talk about It," psychotherapist Terrence Real writes, "Healthy self-esteem presupposes that all men and women are created equal; that one's inherent worth can be neither greater nor lesser than another's."

And in her bestseller "Revolution from Within," feminist Gloria Steinem reverently quotes what an experienced professor once told a fledgling college teacher about self-esteem: "You won't go wrong if you remember two things. First, all the potential of the universe is inside you. Second, it's inside every other human being, too."

This "potential" comes from God, as the Bible consistently maintains. It's ours forever - despite failures and disappointments. Knowing this is the basis of real self-esteem. As we humbly pray to realize, even in the smallest way, our Parent/child connection with God, any lost self-esteem is restored. The truth snaps into focus: that we shine with God's light. And because His light will never go out, neither will ours.

God defends our right to reflect His glory. Our worth testifies to His worth. Mary Baker Eddy explains: "If God, who is Life, were parted for a moment from His reflection, man, during that moment there would be no divinity reflected.... But man cannot be separated for an instant from God, if man reflects God" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 306).

The Bible helped a young man I know understand his self-worth. He'd been sentenced to prison for drug-related crimes, and wanted to die. Another prisoner offered him a Bible, showing him passages he thought would help. Immediately, the young man began feeling a peace he'd never known. His relationship with the Bible - and with God - grew steadily. So did his self-esteem. He shared the light in his life with everyone. And he was released years ahead of schedule.

"Somebody" treasures you and me everlastingly. And the Bible is here to remind us of that fact.

National Bible Week is celebrated each year during Thanksgiving week.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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