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"I like me! I like me! I like me!" said Maisey as she marched around the kitchen with the sort of confidence only a two-year-old possesses. We laughed as we watched her dancing around singing such a happy song. "Mommy, I like me," she said once more before skipping off into the next room. I don't know where this statement came from, but it was sweet to hear what a great self-image our little girl had.
But how long would it last? In the summer, our little Maisey wanders round the garden splashing in the paddling pool and playing with her dolls. Her little bottom wobbles as she contentedly skips around without a care in the world. But what if one day she looks down and suddenly doesn't like what she sees? What if she stops "liking me" and wants to start "changing me"?
WHERE DOES YOUR WORTH COME FROM?
Recently we went to a friend's baby dedication. Levi Jesse Johnson was only 10 days old. He lay in his stroller blissfully unaware of all the attention he was getting. I looked across at him and smiled. He was a blank piece of paper, a clean slate. Although his character, gifts and abilities had already been formed in the womb, his experiences from that day on would determine who he was and how he felt about himself.
I was pretty sure his life experiences were going to be good. Levi is blessed to have two amazing parents who love God and are kind, generous and fair. He also has two sisters and a brother who I know will love and protect him. His extended family is vast and overflowing with decent, godly people. I think he will turn out just fine.
Yet not everyone is as blessed as Levi. We don't choose the families we are born into. Even if our moms and dads are nice people, successful in life, or church leaders, that does not guarantee they will make good parents. Whether or not you realize it, the experiences you've had at home and with your parents will determine how you feel about yourself today. Someone who has received affirmation and encouragement from his or her family will be sure to have a healthy self-image and a strong sense of security, confidence and emotional stability. Mary Pytches says in her book Who Am I?:
No family is perfect but a properly functional family is characterised by parental availability, good communication and uninterrupted loving. The results for the child of such a stable and safe childhood will be a healthy perception of the world and, most importantly, a healthy self-image. It is impossible to overstress the value of two parents who stay together, who commit to one another, who love their children, talk to them, have fun with them, discipline them and are there for them day and night. These experiences are more precious in a child's life than a nice car, expensive holidays and having the best toys.
That is the ideal. But what if that upbringing has not been your experience? You may have parents who were constantly arguing and fighting. Your mom may have criticized you and put you down in front of others. Your dad may have been absent. Some parents create such high standards for their children that many will have a huge fear of failure and live with a sense of not being good enough. Good grades equal pleasure and praise. Failure equals anger and rejection. Competition and comparisons may exist among siblings, and in such an environment, feelings of worthlessness may arise.
These are just a few of the harsh atmospheres that girls are growing up in today. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more suffer from the bitter effects of divorce, bereavement, alcoholism, abuse and violence. Growing up in a home where you felt unsafe, unloved or unwanted will have a strong negative effect on how you relate to others.
Personally, my upbringing was a violent and rocky one. I have experienced difficulties and pain with each member of my family, which made me think that if my own family couldn't love me, why would anyone else? If even they rejected me, then I must be awful. This belief affected so many areas of my life, including my ability to make friends and feel secure in relationships. I thought that if my parents were to divorce, it would be a dream come true rather than a nightmare. However, when it actually happened, feelings of grief and the pain of having to choose between them caused me deep agony. My home was where I was hurt, but that's not how God intended it to be. Home should be where we receive lots of love and encouragement. If, like me, this was not your experience, you may have a negative picture of yourself. Without God's affirmation you will continue to feel unsure about who you are and what you can achieve. Unless you are helped to receive healing and hear God's truth, a low self-esteem can result, which can lead to all sorts of problems, including attention seeking, insecurity, clinginess, lying, eating disorders, depression, self-harm, addiction and a loveless void that leads many young girls to use their sexuality as a way to gain love and attention.
Big Sister: Mary Pytches Five words changed my life forever!
As long as I can remember, I had a private identity tag, which had put limitations on me. I was one of those happy "mistakes" born after my mother had finished-so she thought-having babies. Although I was loved by my family, I had always felt like an inconvenience, until I read these five words: "Therefore, as God's chosen people" (Col. 3:12). Suddenly it dawned on me-I may have been a mistake as far as my parents were concerned, but not to God. He had planned and purposed for me to be born.
EXAMINE YOUR SELF-WORTH UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Take a look at the following questions:
1. Do you find it hard to receive a compliment?
2. Do you regularly compare yourself to others?
3. Do you become easily jealous of others?
4. Is there more than one thing you wish you could change about your body?
5. Are you continually putting yourself down?
If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, it is likely that you have a negative picture of yourself and are suffering from low self-esteem. How can you feel good about yourself again? Where should your sense of worth come from? I can still choose to live out of the old identity if I like, but from the day I was given an alternative, I began to choose it.
THE WORLD ASKS IF YOU MAKE THE GRADE
The lines grow long for the latest reality TV show. Girls practice for ages and shop for hours to achieve the perfect look. They give it all they've got and proudly show off what they believe is their God-given talent. But the judges aren't impressed. "Sorry, you're too fat," they say. "Who told you that you could sing? If I were you, I'd have stayed in bed, love."
Nice! Scrutinized, ripped to shreds, put down and rejected. Your five minutes of fame are over. Programs like these have us glued to our seats. Three executives sit in judgment. The rest of us sit back and relax. We have become obsessed with finding the winners and losing the wannabes.
Fame is seductive, and we can't deny that we've all wanted it at some point. From the age of three, I was singing into my hairbrush and performing in front of my mirror. I was in bands and singing regularly from the age of 14; then at 18 I had my first showcase. A producer from a small record company came to hear us play. At the end of our set, he sat down with the manager and went through why we wouldn't make it. To start with, he said I needed to lose weight and that I wasn't pretty enough. The others got a similar critique, and we went home via the kebab shop-pretty depressed! To be told my dream was over because I basically was too fat and not pretty was horrible. The worst thing was that I had always thought those things about myself, but hearing a complete stranger say it was like a punch in the stomach.
If the requirement for fame is being superskinny, sexy and drop-dead gorgeous, then I don't think many of us will make it on our own. Beauty in the eyes of the world is so narrow that it comes as no surprise that the door to eating disorders and low self-esteem is wide open. As we flip through our magazines, the images we see are not teaching us anything good about ourselves. The girls look stunning and slim; they are great clotheshorses. But the more we look at them the more we feel unsatisfied with ourselves. Someone somewhere is projecting to us that this is what we should look like. What depressing pressure.
GOD SAYS THAT YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH
As Christians we have a refreshing alternative. When we follow God, we have the option to be content with who we are. When we look at Him and fix our eyes on Him, we start to think about "good" rather than "food." We get our value from something we already have-a heavenly Father who loves us-not from something we'll never have, like a pert bum and great boobs!
The Bible tells us we will not be scrutinized or rejected on the basis of our outward appearance:
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).
YOU HAVE A NEW IDENTITY IN CHRIST
Again and again our identity will be shaken unless we know, and can depend on, the indestructible, unchangeable truth of who we really are in the eyes of almighty God. As we seek to build up our identity on the truths of Scripture, we need the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to our hearts. Have you ever heard someone say that your identity is in Christ but not known what it meant? This is a fundamental truth in our Christian lives-without grabbing hold of it and fully understanding it, we are not complete. In the following verses, God reveals our unique inner beauty:
God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature." God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good! (Gen. 1:26,31, THE MESSAGE).
You formed me in my mother's womb.... Body and soul, I am marvelously made! (Ps. 139:13-14, THE MESSAGE).
God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are (Rom. 8:15, THE MESSAGE).
Your mom may say you were an accident and you may feel you wish you hadn't been born. Or it is easy to feel trapped in a sister's or friend's shadow. You may sometimes feel ugly and inadequate, asking, "What are my giftings? Am I actually good at anything?" God can answer these questions and resolve our feelings of inadequacy. We belong to Him and He loves us. We don't need to get on a downward spiral of despair. As girls of God, we have Jesus to intervene personally and rebuild us by speaking the truth to us.
If you still find this hard to believe, there are practical ways to remind yourself to receive His truth. When I am ill, the doctor prescribes the right medicine to get rid of my pain. I pop my pills as prescribed until my symptoms go away and I feel better. Similarly, if we are feeling low and insecure, we need to read the Bible till we feel better.
A while ago someone said something really awful and untrue about me. I was totally crushed, but I had to make a choice. I could have dwelled on what the person said and believed it, but instead I simply took a verse from the Bible that was relevant to my situation and spoke it over and over again throughout the day until the cloud lifted. It lifted because I believed and received God's truth. If you struggle with your self-image, try putting one or two verses above your mirror so that every time you are tempted to look and feel worthless, you instead will be reminded of what God says about you.
The Bible talks about being transformed by the renewing of your mind (see Rom. 12:2). If we let Him, God will mold us into His image, renew our minds and restore our self-image:
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).
I want to finish this chapter with another extract from Mary Pytches's excellent book Who Am I?:
Nothing can change who we are in Christ, nothing can change our position in Christ, nothing can change the way our Heavenly Father sees us, or the affection He has for us. At the same time our distinctiveness is guaranteed. God knows us. Our names are written on the palms of His hands. Our tears counted. Every hair of our head is numbered. He calls us to Himself one by one and He gifts us individually. As if this was not enough we can rest in the knowledge that we are of utmost value to Almighty God. Not because of our performance or other people's opinion of us, but because we have been made in the image of God. Feeble, frail, ordinary human beings bear the imprint of the everlasting, All-powerful, One and Only God. The closer we walk with Him the more like Him we become. At the same time God has sealed our value by sending His beloved Son to die in our place. How much more can a Father do to prove we are of utmost worth to Him? All this will add up to an identity which is beyond comparison and will outweigh and outshine any ordinary human construction.
Who am I then? I am a daughter, a sister, a student and a friend. I also am a precious, chosen, predestined, unique, loved and adored daughter of God.
Excerpted from SOUL SISTER by Beth Redman Copyright © 2004 by Beth Redman. Excerpted by permission.
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