Okay, I get it. What in the heck is a man doing writing about a woman’s self-esteem? The answer: taking a very large chance at being laughed off the face of the earth. But since nobody much reads these thoughts anyway, I’m going for it. And here’s why: a little experience I had with my granddaughter Macey Jo while visiting my daughter Kristen and her family in Texas last week.
Years ago I read a statement by entertainer Dinah Shore (people my age and older will know who she is; younger folks can Google her). She said, “A woman’s self-esteem depends, in any given moment, on how she thinks she looks.” And I thought men were shallow! (Just kidding, ladies.) In 35 years of marriage I've learned that Dinah spoke a lot of truth in that statement. That was brought home to me once again through my youngest granddaughter Macey Jo a few days ago.
Macey Jo is almost three. She’s the small one in the accompanying picture. Notice what she’s wearing. Kristen usually picks out the clothes Macey Jo wears each day, but she decided she’d let Macey’s big sister Hallie (the big one in the picture, almost five, really likes pink) pick out Macey’s clothes that day. As you can see, Hallie dressed Macey Jo in red capri pants, an orange t-shirt, and a gray hooded-sweater. Macey Jo herself chose the leopard print multi-colored rain boots to complete the ensemble. (All this is in 100 degree Texas heat, by the way.) Anyway, once the ensemble was complete, Macey Jo considered her little fashion statement and said, “I look awesome”—which sounded more like “awethome.” Now Macey spends all summer at T-BAR-M Camp Travis, a Christian camp for teenagers, so she probably hears the word awesome about 100 times a day, but Kristen had never heard Macey say it even once. “I look awethome.” Macey Jo’s self-esteem was soaring. Dinah Shore would be proud.
I’ll try not to get on my soapbox about the self-esteem cult in our culture—this whole idea that life is essentially about the self, that we must do everything we can to love self, exalt self, protect self, assert self, express self, satisfy self, promote self, talk about self, and feel good about self. Even though Protagoras was a 5th century BC Greek philosopher, he summed up the spirit of today’s American culture when he said, “Man is the center of all things.” We Americans have sharpened that up a bit however: “Self is the center of all things.” As a result we’ve become so concerned about a kid’s self-esteem that many parents cater to them, neglect to discipline them, bail them out of their troubles, and forget to teach them that they are also sinners in need of salvation and redemption and transformation. We enforce this false teaching that they are essentially good and that life is all about them and their happiness. It’s unfortunate, and it results in undisciplined, spoiled, self-centered kids (and later adults) who see everything through the lens of self. What small lives such people live! “I look awethome.”
It’s okay to feel good about oneself. And when rooted in Christ’s love and mercy in our lives, self-esteem allows us to be at peace with the self and okay with self without becoming self-absorbed or self-centered. Christ-centered self-esteem allows us look at ourselves objectively, recognizing both our strengths and our sins. Christ-centered self-esteem helps us not to take ourselves too seriously. And it helps us remember that Christ, not self, is the center of all things. That means we can be at peace with ourselves, feel okay about ourselves, and still value others more highly than we value ourselves.
Which brings me to another Macey Jo story from last week. The camp where my son-in-law and daughter serve makes a big deal of July 4. One of the events is a whiffle ball game between the camp coaches. They put on the dog. They serve hot dogs and popcorn and cotton candy. They hang up American flags. The “President” throws out the first pitch. Announcers call the game. And a “celebrity” sings the National Anthem. My daughter was that “celebrity.” Since they want this to be over-the-top, she wore a Cinderella princess-type dress for the singing—akin to a pink bridal dress with a hooping skirt that extended all the way to the floor. It was gaudy. It was supposed to be. But as my daughter Kristen put on the dress and was readying her hair for the big event, Macey Jo approached her, put her hands on that big pink dress, looked up at her mom, and said, “You look wunnerful, Mama!” It was a great moment. I get to see so few of those moments with my grandkids, I’m thankful I got to see that one. “You look wunnerful, Mama!”
And there you go—healthy self-esteem for every woman (and for every man). She can say, “I look awethome!” And she can turn around and say to another, “You look wunnerful!”—an honest, if merciful, appraisal of self, and the capacity to compliment others without any “self” in the comment. None of this “You look wonderful” while thinking, “But I look better.” None of this, “You look wonderful” but meaning “I’m so jealous and I really wish you didn’t look so wonderful because it makes me look worse.” It was an honest, selfless compliment: “You look wunnerful, Mama.”
Thanks, Macey Jo, for teaching me a little bit about healthy self-esteem. Art Linkletter was right: “Kids say the darnedest things.” And as often as not, they teach us the truth in the process.