When our granddaughter was about 2 years old, she had the delightful habit of talking herself to sleep.
One evening after she'd just been put to bed, I was standing in the kitchen with my daughter and her husband. Through the kitchen monitor we heard Julia talking gently as she drifted off to sleep. In quiet conversation with herself, she said, "Grammie Ellie loves Julia. Pop-Pop Joe loves Julia. Grammie Midge loves Julia. Pop-Pop Ed loves Julia – everybody loves Julia."
As I stood there so touched by this tender recognition of love, my daughter suddenly did a full pirouette and announced triumphantly, "Yes! I'm raising a daughter with good self-esteem!"
As Julia now approaches her teen years, I wonder about the issue of self-esteem, as young women of today enter what is referred to as America's "raunch culture." Following the controversy last December over Miss USA's inappropriate behavior, an article in this newspaper noted the "difficulties this generation of young women face in a culture awash in aggressive sexuality, self-indulgence, and bad-girl glam."
The article also quoted an observation by Harvard Medical School clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair that many young girls and women growing up today "get this message that, despite everything else that's wonderful and uniquely 'you,' power ... is still defined by raunchy behavior that's disrespectful to yourself" (Dec. 20, 2006).
How can we respond to trends that encourage young women to find their identity and sense of self-esteem in popular culture? We can pray. And prayer can include more than a petition to God for things to change. It can also include the affirmation of His all-embracing love as the source of an individual's unique spiritual identity. Understanding one's spiritual identity in relationship with God transcends societal trends and fosters self-respect, self-worth, and self-esteem.
The Bible and the teachings of Christian Science emphasize God's love for each of us. Isaiah the prophet, for example, heard God say, "Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee" (Isa. 43:4).
Those who pray to better understand this spiritual fact of God's love for His creation will be more able to help young women recognize that their self-confidence or self-esteem is not contingent on society, or on whether their behavior is acceptable in terms of worldly standards; rather, that it is based on the knowledge that they are inherently worthy of respect because God loves and values them.
To me this means God values each one of His children, and needs each to express the wisdom and intelligence of infinite Mind in all their actions and activities, as well as the kindness, grace, and appreciation that flow freely from divine Love. And the esteem that's born of one's value and worthiness to God as His expression is permanent. In the face of society's changing trends and expectations, each individual's spiritual identity remains unchanged, a continuing source of worth, self-respect, and self-esteem.
As I think about Julia and her generation, I remember how she felt so loved by her family as she grew up. I rest my prayers for her and other young women in the assurance that "happiness consists in being and in doing good; ... conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Message to The Mother Church for 1902," p. 17).
Striving for acceptance in a "raunch culture" won't mold young women's identities. But understanding that their Father-Mother God loves them will.
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.