Maggie has never had a problem with her self-image. She loves life and makes the best of every minute. She loves people and believes that they all love and accept her unconditionally. Maggie has never stared into a mirror and felt hopeless. She’s never even desired to look at herself in a mirror and make any kind of judgment. She is perfectly content with who she is, what she wears, the shape of her body, the color of her eyes, the size of her nose, and the shape of her ears. Maggie blindly trusts in her Creator. She is content to be who she is. You see, Maggie is our yellow Labrador Retriever.
There is a lesson in Maggie’s self-acceptance. Maggie is loved and accepted for who she is as a part of our family. She doesn’t need to perform for us. Does she always obey and not get into trouble? No. But her disobedience has never changed the fact that we love her, and she knows it. Neither has it changed how she sees herself. Maggie does not compare herself to the other dogs that wander into our yard. She’s never put herself on a diet because of a fear of losing her wonderful figure. She’s not even concerned about belching or the breath that comes from never brushing her teeth. Maggie is secure in just being a dog and knows her significance to our family.
Early in life children are quite similar. They can look in a mirror and see only good. Children believe what they’re told. If I tell my daughter 3 + 3 = 6, she’ll say, “Okay Daddy, 3 + 3 = 6.”
If her older brother tells her the next day that the sum of 4 + 2 = 6, she’ll disagree, because the day before she was told that 3 + 3 = 6. Your pre-school children think in a one-dimensional manner. They do not think abstractly. They cannot decipher truth. They only know what you tell them.
A child receives his self-image through how he perceives the adults in his life perceiving him. When I tell my daughter that she’s beautiful, she will believe that she is beautiful. You see, someone who is very important to her, someone she can trust, someone who is bigger, older, wiser and stronger told her something about herself, and she has no reason to not believe it.
Obviously, the opposite is true. If I, as a parent, tell my children they’re stupid, dumb, bad, worthless, or they have no value, they’ll believe those things and act accordingly. Today we would call this emotional abuse. Years ago it was simply punishment through shame or keeping children “in their place.”
The first stage of a child discovering his worth is through the eyes of those who are important to him. The second is similar but has more to do with performance.
It is not long until we as parents expect things from our children. We expect them to do their chores, keep their rooms clean, and finish their homework. When they do, we may reward them. When they don’t, we’re sure to let them know about it. Expectations are not wrong; chores are not wrong; rewards are not wrong; and words of correction are not wrong. What is wrong is if you develop within your child this formula: accomplishment + performance = approval/reward.
God has expectations of His children, but it is not our performances or our accomplishments that gain His approval. God is perfect, yet He is not into perfectionism. In our mere existence, He approves of us.
Let me illustrate. When you brought your newborn son or daughter home from the hospital, did you expect anything of him or her? Did you say, “Here’s the refrigerator; when you’re hungry go ahead and grab a bite to eat”? Of course you didn’t. You expected to do everything for this child without return. It was lots of hard work and sleepless nights. In this baby’s mere existence, you approved of him or her. You had no expectation of performance. That baby, without earning it, had your approval. Likewise, in your mere existence before God, you have His approval.
When your child begins to relate his or her performance to your approval, he begins to equate what he does as more important than who he is. Ask anyone who felt that he could not perform well enough to meet his parents’ standard, and he’ll tell you that he did not feel good about himself.
If we as parents are relating self-esteem to what our child accomplishes, we are wrong. God is not a harsh taskmaster who only gives His approval when we accomplish something for Him. Before Jesus began His earthly ministry, before performing one miracle, or sharing His first sermon, His Father said to Him, “…this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” What was He pleased with? What had Jesus accomplished? Even before Christ began His public ministry, His Father affirmed Him and spoke His unconditional love and acceptance to Him.
The answer to a child’s self-esteem is not a high-esteem. The answer is a God-esteem. Your love, acceptance, and approval of your child must eventually translate for him into knowing his heavenly Father’s love, acceptance, and approval.
How is this accomplished? I must correct and reward my children. It’s a part of life. However, I must differentiate that while reward and correction have to do with behavior, it is never a question that I love and accept their personhood. In their mere existence, they are important to me. I always approve of them as individuals. They can never do anything to not be my children. A verse in Colossians, chapter one, will help to explain this principle. Verse 21 tells us that we were at one time alienated from God—even in our minds, because of our evil behavior. “But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation…”
Can you grasp that you are “holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation”? Can you instill these words of truth in your child? This is an esteem not based upon performance or accomplishment but based upon what Christ has done. It’s a God-esteem!
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