contentment fulfillment

Dear Teenage Girl: I Don't Want You Building Self-Esteem

9:55 PMHeather

This may sound crazy, but it's true. I don't want you building self-esteem. I really don't. I know the messages about self-esteem are coming at you from all over, competing with the critical voices of social media and culture.

But, building self-esteem will never get you where I think you want to go. Being the protagonist of your own story can never bring you the happily ever after that you seek. 

To find the joy, peace, abundance, freedom, and satisfaction that you want out of life, you will have to let God be the protagonist. God alone is worthy of the position, in every scenario, in every chapter, in every line. When he is elevated to his rightful place in your heart, again and again, then you will find what your soul is starving for. There, you will begin to find and embrace what you were made to do -- which is build a relationship with the One who created you for such relationship.  

Image courtesy of Cooper Enright

Instead of building self-esteem, my dream for you is to build God-esteem. As you build a healthier God-esteem, the deepest fulfillment of your need for worth and value are satisfied. The truth is you cannot grasp the magnitude and miracle of being loved by the God of all creation until you begin to understand the magnitude and majesty of God himself.

Trust me on this. I've tried it all sorts of ways. I've sat in church pews my whole life, trying to be the good Jesus girl, seeking God in all the ways I knew to do, striving and earning my place. I ran to him in my deepest pain and I've beat against his chest through suffering. I've thrown all the questions toward him, and I've determined that I will choose him, every time, no matter what.

I've given myself a lot of credit. In this life long pursuit to follow Jesus.

The trouble is that to give myself a lot of credit means I'm not giving him all the credit. To concentrate on building my esteem of self is a subtle way to make an idol of myself. It's not so obvious, really. Our ears are tickled continually with this mix of Christianity through the lens of self-love. 

Don't get me wrong, sweet girl. I'm in no way saying to not love yourself or to deny any value in self. You can trust me on this one, too. Because self-loathing has been a part of my path, as well. 

Again, the stumbling block is with that focus on self. It's pride at the root of it. Every attempt and effort made so that we feel better about ourselves -- it steals our attention away from trying to think better about God. This radical idea of thinking the truest thoughts of God and preaching them to my soul, elevating him continually with thoughts turned to his excellencies -- it's changing my life.

I want to spare you the decades I've wasted dividing my heart with the pursuit to gain self-esteem -- never once considering if I was building my God-esteem.

The world says you are enough. The gospel says you can never be enough. But Jesus is. This is the point of our redemption through his rescue.

Any "gospel" message where you are the central protagonist rather than the Lord is dangerous. Be cautious if anyone but him is elevated and esteemed through the message, book, or sermon. Jesus modeled denying himself and his agenda or comfort, with eyes and heart fixed on bowing to the great I AM.

A proper awe of God comes only when we realize our desperate ongoing need of him. 

We must actually fully release our need to be enough in order to fully grasp the wonder that Jesus is enough. 

Here in my middle age, I've begun asking God to help me think the truest thoughts of him, making that my focus rather than self. It's funny how that settles most issues that I wrestle with. Because when I consider all the ways that God is who he says he is, then I find footing to know he's handling my concerns.

I'm coming to realize that the root of my anxiety is the sin of unbelief, so I'm praying that he would help my unbelief and increase my faith. 

These repeated practices are building my God-esteem.

Properly ordering my affections with God alone at the top means that I finally realize my true identity as one he dares to invite to feast on his grace. Humbled, bowed, and adored. At the foot of the cross. That's where I'm finally realizing the freedom and fulfillment as a child of God. 


“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; 

it is thinking of yourself less.”

― Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?


Moving our focus in our thought life from self to God is how we make room within our souls to let the Lord fill us completely. This practice won't leave us empty. Quite the contrary. When we seek to make building a stronger and healthier God-esteem our priority, we will find ourselves more fully alive than ever before.

Shaking off the crutches of self-esteem and self-focus and self-worth, I'm beginning to pick up speed to run on the unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:28-31, MSG).

That is what I want for you. This is the most delightful, satisfying way to live. Fully running my race for the kingdom because I finally understand my place in the kingdom. It's face down, prostrate, awed by God who loves me. Here, I'm realizing that I am fully known and fully loved, as I unravel the ropes of self to be unrestrained in my esteem of God.

Dearest girl, I want you to know that what is more powerful, more freeing, more peaceful than building a strong self-esteem is building a strong God-esteem. Preach the truest thoughts of God to yourself all the live long day. Quit looking in the mirror to see yourself, and start looking in the love letters from your Heavenly Father within his Word, over and again.

It'll be life changing. I promise.

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