The Gospel and Self-Esteem

As I write this, I am fighting off feelings of anxiety and depression. For those who don’t know me, I have pretty bad social anxiety. Basically, I hate social situations and I often do whatever I can to avoid interacting with people I don’t know. There are a ton of psychological and spiritual reasons behind this, but to explain it as simply as I can: I just want to be alone. Unfortunately for me, I had to go to a wedding yesterday, which is like the textbook example of a social event. Whenever I am in a large group of people, I am constantly thinking about what others may be thinking/saying about me, to the point that I get physically uncomfortable. I try my best to go unnoticed by strangers, but I can’t help but think that all those aforementioned strangers have noticed and are silently judging me all night long. Thankfully, a few of my close friends were at this wedding yesterday, so I had a little bit of a comfort zone to stay in. But as soon as they would scatter to talk to other people or go to the bathroom, I immediately hit the panic button. I’m sitting here, alone, surrounded by people I don’t know, who all seem perfectly comfortable here. They must think I’m a loser who has no friends. That may sound like an absurd overreaction, probably because it is, but those are the types of thoughts that are constantly running through my head whenever I am around people that I don’t know (at least not well enough to feel comfortable around them). Social anxiety makes things like eating lunch in a school cafeteria, walking into a classroom full of people, or making new friends seem nearly impossible.

If I am ever forced to enter a social situation like I was yesterday, I often spend the next 24-48 hours afterward feeling absolutely exhausted — mentally, emotionally, and physically. I have no interest in basically anything, and interacting with anyone (even family) becomes a chore that I would do anything to avoid. Now, as a Christian, these are difficult feelings to process and analyze. God loves me, so I should feel comfortable in my own skin and be happy all the time, right? Well, partly yes to the former and mostly no to the latter. So, as I was thinking about all of this stuff today, I decided to take a step back and compare the way I view myself to the way that the Bible says that God views me. I’m wondering, from a biblical perspective, should I have high self-esteem? And how do I get over my many anxieties? Well, first, here are a few neatly organized points about how I often feel about myself:

I’m a weird person who is uncomfortable and awkward around other people.

Regarding the first point, I am an unashamedly weird person. My sense of humor and taste in music attest to that, and I am proud of how different I am from most people. However, my weirdness that is expressed in my personal interests/hobbies is different from my lack of confidence when interacting with strangers. I say “lack of confidence,” rather than “lack of social skills” (which I originally typed) because I think I am often pretty decent at faking those. I know how to imitate the stuff that most “normal” people do when meeting new people. I can smile, shake someone’s hand, and introduce myself in a mind-blowingly normal manner. But before you let your mind get prematurely blown, I have to admit that on the inside, I am an absolute wreck. My heart is pounding and my mind is racing as I try to make a decent first impression on this person, and the fact that I have no idea what they actually think of me is driving me insane. So with that in mind, I would much prefer to just not meet any new people, because then I don’t have to worry about anything. (Except then I start worrying about if I will ever make another new friend or find a girlfriend/wife or get a good job or be successful or happy at all in my life, and that’s really not any better than actually talking to people.)

No one cares about what I have to say.

If I am surrounded by people that I feel completely comfortable around (and there are only about five or six of them), then all of my social anxiety gets thrown out the window and I am often eager to speak my mind or make dumb jokes or whatever. But if you add even one person with whom I do not feel comfortable (I’m really inconsistent with my preposition usage; I’m sorry about this), I will either leave the room, or if that’s not a possibility, just remain completely silent. If a person doesn’t know me, I can’t imagine that they have any interest in hearing anything that I have to say. Now at this point, my dear reader, you may be asking yourself, How can someone who genuinely feels this way have a blog, where he literally just says stuff that’s on his mind and puts it out for the world to read? And to that I say, “That’s a good question! That is a good question!” To be honest, I don’t know why I have this blog. I never post anything on social media for all of the reasons that I am explaining in this post, and I really don’t want anyone that I know to read anything that I write here. In fact, I created an Instagram account for this blog (with my actual real legal name attached to it) a couple of weeks ago. When I created the account, the app told me I should connect to Facebook, so I did. What I was not aware of, was that in doing so, I was telling every single one of my Facebook friends that I created an Instagram account, and even worse, that I have a blog where I write messy, rambling posts about things that only I care about. To my horror, I instantly gained five new followers. So I made my account private. Then I got 10 new follower requests from people that I knew in middle and high school (they’re great, but they sit firmly in the category of “people I don’t feel comfortable around,” or “people around whom I don’t feel comfortable”) in the next two minutes, and I rushed to disconnect the accounts as fast as I could. If you’re one of those people who happened to see my blog and follow it in those few minutes, I would like to say hello and that I am very embarrassed that you are reading this right now. So yeah, all of that to say, I am writing these blog posts as a way to get things off my mind, and while I have chosen to make it available to the public (again, why? I don’t know.), I really don’t want anyone reading the things that I write. Part of the reason for that is that I feel like no one cares. But on the other hand,

Maybe everyone cares way too much about what I have to say and will think I’m weird or dumb or something.

My worst nightmare is for this blog post to make its way around to everyone I’ve ever met. If that were to happen, I would surely receive some positive and encouraging responses, and maybe a few condescending and judgmental ones. But most people would never get back to me on it, and I would have to live with the knowledge that everyone I’ve ever met is laughing about how weird I am. If I reveal my true personality to people who don’t really know me, whether that’s in an online setting or in real life (IRL, as I like to say), I have absolutely no idea how they will react, and that is terrifying to me. Because while I am afraid that people might have negative thoughts about me,

I am equally worried that people will think I am a good person, because I am fully aware of my many flaws.

When I was in high school (at the small Christian school from which I graduated; I won’t go into my nightmare of a freshman year at a giant public school, which is the number one thing that gave me social anxiety in the first place), I received the “Christian Character Award” all three years I was there. There are a few different reasons for this. First of all, I genuinely do try my best to be Christlike and show God’s love to people however I can. I’m not always great at it, but I want to be a godly example that people can look up to. However, I also gained this reputation by posting Bible verses on social media, listening to Christian music, and just being quiet (I guess in some people’s minds, quiet = respectful = Christlike? I don’t know). I knew that God was calling me into ministry, and other people knew that too. So I wanted to make sure that people viewed me as an upstanding Christian kid. When I was alone however, I was not nearly as consistent. Sure, I had my good days of Bible study and prayer, but I had just as many bad days of struggling with pornography and hating myself for it. So of course, I couldn’t let anyone know that I was dealing with this sin, because then they would know that I’m not perfect! But the fact that most people did think I was a nearly-perfect Christian who always obeys God every second of every day without fail made me feel even worse, because while I wished that were true of me, it just wasn’t. I will probably write another post soon about battling sin (lust, in particular), but for now I will just say that hiding it is the worst possible thing to do. Confessing it to other people doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be free from it, but it makes a huge difference. But I digress; I really will write about this soon, because I have a lot of thoughts on it.

So, looking at those points about how I view myself, what is the unifying theme? I am only thinking about myself, when I should be looking to Christ. If I’m being completely honest, I have probably spent the vast majority of my time on earth thus far thinking about myself — who I am on the inside, and how other people view me on the outside. This is not a healthy pattern of thinking, and nothing good will ever come of it. So with that in mind, let’s now take a look at what the Bible says about believers:

Apart from Christ, we are utterly sinful people with nothing good to offer to God.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
(Romans 3:23 ESV)

It is important to understand that I myself have nothing good in me. If it were not for the grace of God, I would be living in unrepentant sin for my entire life. And when I spend all of my time focusing on myself and not on Christ, I find myself slipping back into this sort of lifestyle. But it’s not really “slipping;” it’s more like “diving.” Passively having no thoughts whatsoever about God is the same as actively rebelling against Him, and we should not be surprised to find ourselves returning to old sinful habits when this is our mindset. When I sin, it is because I am looking to myself, a sinful person. But when I am walking in righteousness, it is because I am looking to Christ and letting Him live through me. There is nothing good about me, but “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Christ lives in me, so it makes no sense to ignore Him and only think about my old self, which is actually dead.

In Christ, we are completely forgiven and loved.

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(1 John 1:9 ESV)

When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He took all of my sins with Him. He paid the price that I deserve to pay; He took the wrath of God that I deserve. He is perfectly holy, and yet He suffered as if He were the worst of sinners. And He did this because He loves us; because He is love (1 John 4:8). In doing this, He washed away all of our sins and removed all guilt and condemnation that we have earned for ourselves (Rom. 8:1). But not only does God forgive us and wipe our slate clean,

He sees us as perfectly righteous.

 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

This is my absolute favorite Bible verse. God has used that verse to get me through a whole lot of doubt and self-loathing over the years. It is just amazing to think about. Jesus, who is perfectly righteous and holy, was treated as if He had committed every sin that every believer would ever commit, so that believers, who are utterly sinful, could then be treated by God as if we had lived the perfect life of Christ. Because I have put my faith in Christ, God no longer sees a disgusting sinner when He looks at me; He sees the righteousness of Christ. That means, even though I have messed up a billion times in the past, and I continue to mess up way too often, I am perfect in the sight of God; not because of anything that I have ever done, but through the purifying blood of Christ. That’s incredible, and as I am thinking and writing about this glorious truth right now, it makes me wonder why I ever stop thinking about it. When I look to myself, of course I see a ton of flaws and imperfections, but that’s not who I really am anymore. I have been born again. My old, sinful self was crucified with Christ, and just as Christ rose from the dead, I have been set free to walk in newness of life, with the knowledge that all of my sins have been completely paid for and I am covered in the perfect righteousness of Christ. Of course, just because God views me as perfect doesn’t mean that I am actually perfect right now. But, the good news for you and me is that

God is constantly working in us to make us more and more like Christ.

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
(Hebrews 10:14 ESV)

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
(Philippians 1:6 ESV)

Hebrews 10:14 gives a perfect description of the Christian life, as it relates to positional and experiential holiness. When Jesus died on the cross, He “perfected” us “for all time.” “It is finished,” He said (John 19:30). The price for our sins has been paid, and we are secure in the blood of Christ. So then, how do we explain the fact that we still sin? If we have been “perfected,” shouldn’t we be perfect by now? Well, no, because that same verse tells us that we “are being sanctified.” This means that God is molding us more perfectly into the image of Christ over the course of our lives. We will never be truly perfect in this life; that will only happen when we receive our glorified bodies in Heaven. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are positionally held as righteous before God at this very second, and He is sanctifying us so that we grow more and more into that righteousness. It has been said that the Christian life — specifically in regard to sanctification — is all about “becoming what we already are in Christ.” That quote gets thrown around a lot, and I don’t know who said it first, but it is very true and very helpful. In Christ, I am holy, righteous, and perfect. And by the grace of God, I will grow to actually live like it.

God has called us to go out into the world and make disciples.

 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Judging by The Great Commission, it would seem that social anxiety is at complete odds with the mission to which God has called each and every one of His people. How am I supposed to go and make disciples if I’m too scared to even get out of bed in the morning? Now, I would like to add that there is nothing wrong with being introverted (which I obviously am). God has called us all to the same mission, but that mission looks different for every one of us. There are different parts of the Body of Christ with different strengths and weaknesses, and God is able to use all of those strengths and weaknesses for His glory. Introversion is a personality trait that one is born with; it’s just in my nature to be more on the quiet and reserved side. That doesn’t stop me from going and doing what God has called me to do. What does try to stop me, however, is my social anxiety, which is something that I developed over time based on various experiences and ways of thinking. This is something that I need to get past if I am going to be used by God as an effective minister of the Gospel. And He is really working in me to help me get past it. I teach a youth Sunday school class at church every week, and I also coach basketball in the children’s ministry there. In addition to that, I am a mentor to multiple high school students. All of these ministry opportunities force me to get out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, and I believe that God has been glorified both in and through me as a result. But I still have a very long way to go, as evidenced by the near panic attack I have at the mere thought of attending a party. So how am I supposed to put my social anxiety behind me in order to do God’s will in my life? By remembering His words in Matt. 28:20: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We can’t be a light (or do anything good) apart from Christ.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
(John 15:5 ESV)

It is downright foolish to think that I can make disciples, or live a righteous life at all, without relying completely on God. So let’s say I have an opportunity to go and preach the Gospel to someone, but my social anxiety is telling me that I should stay home and watch TV because people in the real world will laugh or get angry at me, while Troy and Abed just get me, you know? How do I respond to that thought my mind is throwing at me? Sometimes, I will say, “Okay, mind. I’ll get back in bed and watch ‘Remedial Chaos Theory’ for the 60th time (that’s not an exaggeration, by the way, or btw, as I like to say). I’ll just read my Bible or something later; that way I can still say I did something God-related today.” But I should say, “Shut up, mind! I’m supposed to make disciples and I have an actual opportunity to do that right now, and Community will still be here when I get back.” And then, in this hypothetical scenario, I would go out and have an actual interaction with this person/these people and share the Gospel with them. (For reference, this is basically my exact thought process almost every time I am about to leave to serve in any of the ministries that I am a part of.) If I would remember all of these things about my identity in Christ, and that God is with me as I venture out into the world, I would be so much more effective as a minister of God’s Word, and also as just a normal human being, and I don’t mean the Greendale kind (or do I?).

So, as a Christian, should I have high self-esteem?

Based on what the Bible says about me, I would say no. It is very important to have a real understanding of how weak and messed up I really am. But I am already really good at that part, so what do I do to feel more confident in my everyday life? Rather than feeling good about myself, I should hold Christ in high regard, realizing that He is perfect, that He loves me enough to die for me, and that I am covered in His righteousness. The fact that I am loved by the perfect, holy, all-powerful God of the universe should take away any fear I have of other people’s judgment. If they think negatively of me, who cares? First of all, I am far worse than they even know, and to promote a perfect image of myself is not glorifying to God, because it makes it seem like I am good, when only He is. And secondly, God loves me and views me as perfect, so it shouldn’t bother me that some random person thinks I’m weird.

John 3:30 says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I take that to mean that I should continually look to Christ in my private life and point others to Him in my public life. Anything that gets in the way of that needs to be done away with. Whether I think I am too good for someone, or too stupid and terrible to show my face in public, the problem is that I am only focused on myself. I am being prideful either way, and I must kill that pride and rest in Christ.

If anyone who is struggling with some of the things that I am dealing with happens to read this, I sincerely hope you found this helpful and encouraging in some way. It definitely helped me personally to type all this out and think it all through. To wrap this thing up, I would like to encourage you (and myself) to fix your eyes on Christ in times of anxiety or depression. This won’t automatically get rid of all your problems in the moment, or suddenly put you in a perfect mood, but it will provide you with enough hope to keep pressing forward for the glory of God.

 

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