Do Children Need a High Self-Esteem?
- Friday, August 29, 2008
Contrast this to the Bible's call to humility and emphasis upon God: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23); "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11); But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Corinthians 4:7); "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . .For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life" (Romans 5:8&10); "Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).
The Bible is packed with passages that point not to man's special condition, but to God's capacity to love those whose condition by nature is nothing less than detestable. After all, what could be more awful than one marked as an "enemy" of God (Romans 5:10)?
So, are parents called to treat their children as detestable sinners? Absolutely not! Christian parents especially are the extension of God's grace and love in a child's life. However, parents have a responsibility to educate their children in the knowledge that they (just as we) are by nature "enemies of God" deserving of justice or condemnation. Humanity screams rebellion and hatred towards God (Romans 3:10-12). As a matter of fact, according to the Bible, people left to themselves have become utterly "worthless" (Romans 3:12). These are the words of Paul, and they are starkly contrasted to the modern "I am special" mantra.
Informing children of their true condition without God lays the foundation for them to recognize their true need: the love and grace of Jesus. It also reinforces an attitude of gratitude in the fact they have been so blessed. Rather than saying, "Suzie, you are special" (in order to boost self-esteem), parents can say, "Suzie, left to ourselves, we are worthless, but in Jesus, we are so blessed. In Jesus, we are counted as righteous!" (in order to boost the goodness of God). In so doing, parents highlight to children their unique capacity and responsibility, among all of creation, to actively and willingly worship this God who has so blessed them with his grace.
Replace the message of "You are Special" with "You are unique"
Children, understanding the true nature of existence without God, have the opportunity to recognize their uniqueness in Creation as the only creatures with the capacity to consciously worship the Lord. Humans are indeed designed for this very purpose. Man has been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and with that comes the capacity to think, reason, learn, and believe. Lions, tigers, and bears are magnificent specimens of God's creativity, but none of them possess the capacity to read the text, "For God so loved the world. . .(John 3:16), and by God's grace come to a place of faith. That ability has been reserved for one segment of Creation alone.
And with this unique capacity also comes the profound responsibility to believe. Children who understand this unique ability among all Creation may then develop a sense of purpose for their existence that is summed up in Christ's own words to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). Loving God and others overrides their natural tendency (fostered by our narcissistic culture) to love "self" above all else. Life, from an early age, becomes shaped by the God-given gift to worship from the heart, and to live for someone much bigger than self. This development minimizes the "self-esteem" message, therefore diminishing a child's tendency to live in the fear of man. Instead he or she learns the power and wonder of what it means to live in the "fear of God" (Welch, 1997). However, these messages are quite counter-cultural, and parents must recognize that teaching these lessons in words alone will not do.
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