“Believe it or not, I’m walking on air. I never thought I could be so free. Flying away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be? Believe it or not, it’s just me.” These are the words to one of my favorite songs. When I was a kid I loved “The Greatest American Hero,” and this was the show’s theme song. I don’t remember a lot of details about the show, but it was about a guy that was given a suit with superpowers. He promptly loses the instruction book, and hilarity ensues. A psychologist (or just anyone that knows me) could have a field day explaining why this show was important to me.
If I’m in the right mindset, I still get goosebumpy and teary-eyed when I hear this song. Sometimes when someone shares with me who much they enjoyed a sermon, or when a blog post gets popular, or when I get a letter from someone who’s life I shaped, I find myself wondering, who could it be? Believe it or not, it’s just me. I mean really? I’m the one that did that good thing? There are so many times in ministry that I’m simply flying away on a wing and a prayer. Is it possible to be at the same time supremely confident and terribly insecure?
At any given moment, I could be either of those things or both, but overall I find hope in self-esteem, because my self-esteem is paradoxically not all about me.
This week’s Journey to Hope about self-esteem asks a few very good questions. The first is, “Is your self-esteem formed from the outside in or the inside out?”
My answer is, “Yes.” Let me explain: It was when I discovered the true power of the love of God that I realized that I could love myself. Once I started to love myself, I could truly experience the love of God. I don’t think I can separate these two events, because it was a process of self-discovery that cannot be drawn out in a linear explanation.
During my middle school years I discovered two things. At about the same time I discovered that I was good at something, and I discovered that I didn’t need to be good at anything to be loved by God. The result was a confidence in self that was at the same time selfless. I cannot point to a day or time that I “met Jesus,” or was “born again.” I can point to a few people (Steve A, Heather H, Mrs. Schmidt, Mrs. Martin, Mr. Graba, and above all, my family) that loved me, appreciated my input, and encouraged me to be and do more than I ever thought possible.
My self-esteem comes from outside-in. It comes from the God that created me, and breathes life into me. It comes from the knowledge that no matter what, God is with me, empowering me and sustaining me. It comes from the knowledge that my talents, skills, and intellect are not enough to save the world, but I don’t have to do it on my own.
My self-esteem comes from the inside-out. It comes from the knowledge that my talents, skills, and intellect can be used to change the world for good. It comes from my experience, my failures, and my victories. It comes from the knowledge that today I can do something powerful.
Another question that is posed asks “How do you define yourself? Who defines you?”
I define myself as beloved child of God. Nothing more, nothing less. Everything else that describes me is a subset of my primary identity. I am a father, a son, a brother, a friend, and a pastor. I am educated, affluent, American, Irish, and Italian. I am strong, athletic, intelligent, and compassionate. I am forgetful, lazy, fearful, and overweight. These things are all descriptors. None are definitions. My hope does not rest on any of these characteristics.
My hope doesn’t rest on the power of a special suit, or on the hope that I might find the instruction book someday. It resides in the knowledge that I am a beloved child of God. I am created in the image of God. I am redeemed by the love of Jesus. I am sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit. This defines me. Nothing else.