As I was driving home the other night, I heard a really silly conversation on the radio. A DJ at a local Austin station had a psychic on for a feature program during which callers could phone-in and receive answers to the questions they have been wanting to ask. One of the first people to call was a woman who asked, “When will I find myself in a truly loving, healthy, and satisfying relationship?” The psychic’s answer went something like this:
“This is going to sound a little cliche and it’s probably not something you want to hear from me, but you aren’t going to find anyone to love you until you start loving yourself. That’s what it all comes down to. You’re the type of woman who sees a pair of shoes in the store and thinks, ‘Oh those would look good on me!’ And you think that you are loving yourself by purchasing them. But then you start thinking about how expensive they are and how much they hurt your feet and you settle into this feeling of guilt. If that is where you are, don’t buy those shoes because you really aren’t loving yourself. You need to find something that makes you feel good and guiltless. Take a bubble bath. Get a manicure or a pedicure. Whatever it is, find something to treat yourself to so that you can begin to love yourself. Because you are not going to find yourself in a good relationship until you learn to love yourself the way you want others to love you. Then men, or women – I don’t want to discriminate – will see that and they will respond to it.”
If that seemed confusing to you, then you are not alone because I felt the same way. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the best this psychic could think to tell her caller was that getting a manicure will make her happy and will subsequently lead her into finding a fulfilling relationship with the man (or woman!) of her dreams. That seems like a completely logical philosophy for dating. Just be happy, love yourself and your soulmate will find you. As ridiculous as this conversation was, I could not help but realize that this is what our culture thinks today on both subtle and obvious levels. Everything is about us and what we deserve or what we have earned or what we are owed. We feel as though we are entitled to things simply because we are breathing. What it comes down to is that our purposeful pursuit in life is to feel good about ourselves in all that we do because we are entitled to do so – especially when it comes to relationships. So you give every kid a trophy when they play a sport because they are all winners and they need to feel good about themselves. You quit your job to find a new one because it just isn’t taking you where you want to go. You gain five pounds and start planning for liposuction because that extra weight is no worse than death itself. And who knows? Maybe you even voted for Barack Obama to convince yourself that you aren’t a racist.
This happens within Christianity too. You leave a church because you don’t like the pastor’s haircut; you don’t like the worship music (it’s boring, dull, too loud, too quiet); one of the people in the congregation smokes cigarettes – whatever the excuse. But where is the portion of Scripture that tells us that we were created to be happy? Morever, where in the Gospel do you find anything that says we are entitled, deserving, or owed ANYTHING, especially by God? Our culture plays up this idea of high self-esteem being the end-all for contentment, but it is such a dangerous perspective to have. The focus is placed on ourselves as being deserving of comfort. Therefore, when we are put in difficult and painful situations that do not turn out the way we expected we blame God because He failed to give us what we wanted.
And that is so far from the God we see in the Gospel. He does not care about our self-esteem or whether or not we view ourselves as capable because he does not want us to rely on ourselves at all. Let me give a few examples of this. In Exodus 4:10-12, Moses cries out to God telling Him that he is not up to the task of approaching the pharoah of Egypt and telling him to release the Israelites. Moses’ reasoning is, “I am not eloquent…but I am slow of speech.” What is God’s response in verse 11?
“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
Notice that he did not say “Oh, Moses. You cut out that nonsensical talk about yourself. You are a great speaker and I know you can do it buddy!” No. He affirmed the fact that Moses could not speak well and reminded him that He created him that way and that He will be faithful to guide his words in order to fulfill the purpose laid before him. Similarly, in Isaiah God responds to the faithlessness of the Israelites not in boosting their self-esteem, but in the harsh reality of the Truth by saying
“Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”
Again, no self-esteem boost there. Lastly, I am reminded of Paul’s account of the “thorn” in his side in 2 Corinthians 12. Described as something that hinders him in the flesh, it says that Paul “pleaded” with the Lord three times to take away this thorn. Before we see God’s response, bear in mind that this is already a perfect example of our culture’s perspective. We hurt so we cry out to God to take it away because we do not want the pain and we think we are deserving of the fulfillment of this desire. But God responds to Paul with a resounding NO. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
How do you react in these situations? When you hurt or have doubts, what is your mind telling you? That God needs to give more to you? Or that it is about time you give more to Him? And when God denies your requests for comfort, do you grow embittered towards Him? Because Paul did not and God used him as a glorious vessel for the expansion of His Kingdom in Heaven. Our culture tells us that we are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But we deserve nothing. We were not created to be happy. Rather, we were created to come to know the Lord for all that He is and all that He has done for us and that knowledge redefines our hearts in such a way that our lives conform to Him and not ourselves. This is true joy. This is true happiness. If either of those are missing in your life, you will not find them in a self-esteem boost because that is not the problem. The problem is that you are overlooking a crucial piece of the sovereign Word of God.
This story is not about you. It is about Him. But you won’t hear our world tell you that.