How do you see yourself? Pause for a moment and think about it. What thoughts have you had about yourself today?
As women, so many of us find ourselves:
- basing our self-worth on how others see us and on our accomplishments
- feeling shame from our past
- defining our value based on our looks
- setting unrealistic standards for ourselves
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If only we could see ourselves as God sees us!
I want to look with you at three thought patterns that can act as roadblocks to thinking– and living- the way God desires for us. These destructive thought patterns were identified by prominent psychologist, Albert Ellis (1973). We will contrast these ideas with what 1 Peter 1 tells us about how we can “prepare our minds for action.” Adjusting our thinking to Scripture is the foundation for “be[ing] holy in all we do.” (1 Peter 1:15b)
1. “I must be loved or approved by virtually every significant other person in my life.”
If we are living to make sure that others love us, we give them permission to evaluate us based what we do – we give people the power to determine our self-worth.
Living to please our parents
Even when we leave home, we have “internalized parents” who are now voices in our heads that tell us what we should do, what is important and how we should do things. Have you ever been in a situation where you have to make a decision and you can hear your parents saying, “That’s not responsible… or “I told you that would happen?”
Living to be loved by a man
Many of us are so concerned that we are loved by a man, that we give the opposite sex permission to evaluate our self-worth. As adolescents, girls might sacrifice their own identity to get the attention and acceptance of guys, even to the extent of pretending not to be bright or athletic, because they think guys won’t like it. Or, they might deny themselves food to lose weight to try to fit in with the body image that seems to be portrayed in women’s magazines. Even as adults, we buy the beauty myth, thinking that our appearance is our number one asset, and what will bring us acceptance and approval from our spouse. Eating disorders abound — anorexia, bulimia, and the number one eating disorder today, binge eating.
Living to please our church community
We may even feel pressure from our church community to measure ourselves according to a certain image — to be nurturing, quiet and gentile, to raise well-behaved children, and maybe even do crafts. If we live to please our church community, we may find ourselves negating interests or even gifts that God has given us.
Our identity is found in Jesus Christ. It is rooted in the freedom-giving mercy of Jesus Christ. Our identity is that of a child of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. Our spiritual inheritance is one of forgiveness, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and hope of spending all eternity enjoying fellowship with God. It is this truth that gives us unconditional love, intimacy, security and hope. And it is not based on our identity, but on what God has already accomplished at the cross of Jesus Christ.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4)
2. “My past history is an all-important determiner of my present behavior and because something once strongly affected my life, it should definitely continue to do so.”
You may have had something happen to you which you have not told anyone, or only a few people. Perhaps you feel shame about certain aspects of the family you grew up in, or maybe you have sinful habits which you feel embarrassed about, such as gossiping, lusting, pornography or criticizing others. Maybe you have done some things in your past you are ashamed of (an abortion, an affair). Or maybe something has been done to you that you feel ashamed of (sexual assault, emotional abuse). Approximately 30-40% of women experience some kind of sexual assault in their life; 30% experience physical abuse.
If we don’t deal with issues in our past, they will continue to control us in some way in our present. But they don’t have to. We can deal with past sin, our family histories, as well as past violations to our bodies and minds.
It is important to identify whether what we are feeling in these situations is destructive shame or healthy guilt. Healthy guilt always separates our identity and our behavior. Shame links these two, so wrong behavior taints our image of ourselves. Healthy guilt alerts us to the fact that we have done something against our internalized values.
Biblical guilt is a God-given emotion that “red flags” a behavior and tells us it is an act of rebellion against God. It spurs us to confess our sin and experience the love and forgiveness that God has provided for us through Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” After we’ve confessed our sin, feelings of guilt are not from God, but may be from ourselves or from the Evil One. Now, we still have to live with the consequences of our sin, but God does not punish us for our sin. God disciplines us to get us back on track so we can continue to experience God’s love and plan for our lives. Our struggles can bring us closer to God and heighten our faith as we experience His faithfulness in forgiving us and drawing us closer to Himself.
“In this you greatly rejoice, though for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
3. “I should be thoroughly competent, adequate and achieving in all possible respects in order to consider myself worthwhile.”
One quarter of women will struggle with clinical depression in their lifetime. Depression can be biological or situational, and often can be the result of both. However, one of the leading causes of depression is having your standards so high that you cannot live up to them. You are constantly striving for a standard that is unattainable, but you wear yourself out trying anyway. One of the messages that can play over and over in our minds is that we have to “be perfect.”
As women, we often fall into the trap of feeling responsible not just for ourselves, but the lives of others, whether our co-workers, friends, children, or husband. We take on the weight of everyone’s world!
It is often difficult for us to separate our identity from our behavior. We feel if we don’t measure up, it reflects on who we are as individuals.
God’s grace, “charis,” is a gift. It is through God’s grace that He heals us and brings freedom to live a new life. Sometimes grace does not come easily to us. We have to work at changing our thinking to cut ourselves some slack. We need to humble ourselves to accept God’s grace and give grace to ourselves when we don’t measure up.
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care” (1 Peter 1:10).
Removing the roadblocks
- Identify which roadblock affects you most.
- Think of new ways to look at that situation and thought pattern that would be more helpful to you.
- Whenever you recognize that pattern of thinking or behaving, interrupt it and substitute your new way of thinking and behaving.
We need to try to begin to align our view of ourselves with God’s view of us. God uses various metaphors to describe His love and care for us, that of a nursing mother, a nurturing mother, a loving father, a shepherd, etc. Here are some verses to meditate on:
- Jeremiah 1:5
- Matthew 10:28-31
- 1 Peter 5:7
Once we extend grace to ourselves, we will be able to live a life of extending grace to those around us, both those in the church community and those outside. We need to take our lives back from trying to live up to these distorted beliefs and line our thinking up with the way God views us. Instead of being so focused on ourselves and our own failure, we will be able to extend a helping hand to those around us and be God’s vessel of grace to those we come into contact with wherever we go.