Why Love Trumps Self-Esteem

Why is it so hard for us to accept that we are loved?

We hear talk often of the need for greater self-esteem. For my generation, we’ve been spoon fed from early on by our culture and our school, to think better about ourselves, to see ourselves as winners and capable of anything.

But as we grow older, we realize that we aren’t actually that special in the pool of humanity—and we can’t actually do anything we set our minds to. So we’re left with an overly inflated view of ourselves, or in despair of what will become of our lives. So much for that self-esteem.

As Christians, we balk against this movement in large part, which is understandable. We tend to be much better at self-criticism than self-love. Self-love is sin, we maintain; it’s pride and must be cut out. The idea of loving ourselves or thinking well of ourselves is resisted. And so in our efforts of humility and seeing ourselves rightly, we can continue to erode our ability to see ourselves as loved. Although we can easily affirm “Jesus loves me,” does that awareness that he calls us Beloved actually sink deep into our souls, shaping the way we see ourselves?

Any sense of building confidence or lasting life change on a foundation of inflating myself and my own abilities is flawed, and it will eventually lead to disappointment and failure. I am well enough acquainted with my own weaknesses to know this. My sense of worth cannot arise from within myself. But when that worth is declared outside of me—when it’s bestowed on me, draped over my shoulders like a royal velvet robe—ah, then things can begin to change. The key, I think, to living in freedom and confidence is not in making ourselves feel better—it’s about learning ever more deeply that we are chosen, we are beloved, we are cherished.

This sort of confidence and assurance does not come from pride, and it is not self-inflated. It stares in the face of the mess we see in ourselves and the mess we see around us, and it says, “Yes, even still He has declared I am loved.” This realization has the power to change our lives. It has the power to enable us to extend grace to ourselves and to others.

Beloved. He calls you Beloved. This is your name. Do you believe this, friend?

I have a friend who for years has kept a line from a card I once wrote her. I didn’t realize how powerful it was at the time: You are chosen, called, radically and incredibly loved. For years, she has come back to this and now teaches it to others.

Do you see why this is so crucial? The self-esteem movement is on to something—we have a deep need to be loved. But the answer doesn’t come through loving ourselves, giving ourselves a break, or ignoring outside input. The answer comes from radical grace and incomprehensible love that break into our world from outside of us. When we walk in the light of his love, we are free to walk with confidence as his child. We are free to chase after holiness without being encumbered by performance. We are free to look beyond ourselves to those around us, also in desperate need of being loved.

This good news of God’s love for us goes beyond a simple children’s song. It’s the heartbeat of the Gospel—being loved in our unloveliness, being chosen in our unworthiness. We don’t graduate from this, friends. We just walk deeper into its reality.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.