Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Navel Gazing

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

Self-esteem has been a big buzzword in education for several years. Parents are concerned that their child be made to feel good about themselves. Teachers are warned not to do anything that might damage a child’s self-esteem. In our county’s public schools, the children even recited a mantra every morning several years ago, along with the pledge of allegiance. The chant was all about themselves, their value as people, and their uniqueness as individuals.

The problem with the idea of encouraging self-esteem is that the focus is all wrong. Coming from a Scriptural perspective, life is not about US at all. In the real estate market, a home’s value is the price someone is willing to pay for it. We have worth because God loves us and paid the highest price possible for us: the precious life of His Son. We were created in the image of God, which also gives us value. And we increase our value when we take on the characteristics of Jesus Christ, steadily whittling away the remains of our sin nature. John the Baptist said, “He must become greater, I must become less.” It is not about us.

I read an article this morning out of the St. Petersburg Times (March 2, 2008) written about Anita Renfroe, the Christian comedienne. In the interview she was asked about the “empowerment” that her organization promoted, urging women to “step into life and refuse to be defeated.” Wasn’t that just feminism?

Anita’s response is outstanding. This is what she said. “I think it depends on what you are empowering them toward. If it is just to believe in themselves more, then it’s pretty much like any other navel-gazing activity-- you know, the kind when you get a really clean navel but don’t really get anywhere. I heard someone say that it’s like trying to steer your ship by looking at the deck instead of the stars. I think the difference . . . is we are pointing women to a source of power outside themselves, toward a faith that has not only informed our lives but transformed them.”

Much of self-esteem instruction urges children toward “navel gazing.” This is a dangerous place to land. Last week I wrote about the sailing practice of finding a focal point on shore to fix your gaze upon while steering the boat. The boat is moving; the shore is not. Finding a stationary point keeps your perspective from getting out-of-wack. When life is about us, we quickly lose reality with such a limited inward focus.

Paul urged the Philippians to fix their gaze on a point outside of themselves. He really gave them two directions to look. The first was straight ahead. Not backwards at who we were before Jesus changed us. We are told to leave the past in the past and fix our eyes on the goal-- becoming more like Jesus Christ. The second place we are told to look is heavenward, toward the One who will empower us to finish the race. Not downwards at our own two feet and our own limitations.

When our gaze is fixed on the Lord, we have found a stationary Rock that will not move. He will remain consistent because that is who He is. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. . .We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Hebrews 6:19; 13:8

We do our children no favor when we encourage them to focus on themselves and their own capabilities. Instead, we should encourage them at an early age to look beyond themselves to serving One greater than them. We need to teach them about the power available to them instead of relying on their own inner strength (Philippians 4:13). Above all, we must teach them that they are loved and cherished by the same God who created the universe. Every detail in their lives matters to Him.

We will come to the end of our own power all too quickly. Empower your children with a fuel that is eternal. Equipping them with a godly perspective will supply a child with a life-long tool. Better than self-esteem any day.

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