“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
FEW THINGS ARE GIVEN ANY MORE ATTENTION IN OUR CULTURE THAN THE QUESTION OF SELF-IMAGE. We use a variety of terms to discuss it — self-esteem, self-worth, self-respect, etc. — but our basic point is usually the same: a person ought to be able to view himself or herself in a positive way. We believe this to be very important, and there can be little doubt that it is. But at this point our thinking often jumps the track, with unfortunate results: significant corrections that need to be made in our lives don’t get made.
The truth that we ought to help every human being grasp is that no matter who we are, we are each of great and equal inherent worth as creatures of God. Our external circumstances may be horribly demeaning, and our own conduct may have been seriously dysfunctional — but even so, we are still the creatures of a God who has conferred great worth upon us by making us in His image. And no matter how we’ve marred His making of us, we are still of such value to God that He was willing to sacrifice His Son to redeem us. That’s the truth of the gospel, and we should spare no effort to help others be uplifted by its hope.
But despite our equal inherent value as God’s creatures, it is also true that people differ widely in the value of their chosen character and conduct. Much of our self-esteem talk seems to imply that no matter how irresponsible one’s actions, there should still be nothing negative in his self-image. We often sound as if we believed that behavior has nothing to do with self-respect. But in truth, it has a great deal to do with it. A positive self-image doesn’t come from being stroked by the affirmations of others, or even from talking positively to ourselves. It comes from doing our duty.
But what if we have to admit that we’ve not done our duty? Is it impossible for us ever again to enjoy this solid kind of self-respect? No, it’s not impossible. We can at any moment begin to be the person we always should have been. We can — starting right now — choose to deal with reality in an honorable way.
“[Self-respect] comes to us when we are alone, in quiet moments, in quiet places, when we suddenly realize that, knowing the good, we have done it; knowing the beautiful, we have served it; knowing the truth, we have spoken it” (Whitney Griswold).