“I’m bad and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me”
Sometimes we criticize animated films because they always seem to have the same message: self-esteem. Be yourself. Accept yourself for who you are. You’ll find happiness when you do. “Nonsense!” we cry, “We don’t find our worth in ourselves. There’s nothing worthy in myself. Christ gives us worth.”
But perhaps we should be a bit more nuanced about ‘self-esteem’ (for lack of a better term) . The fact remains that, even after the Gospel, I am still me. That is, my affections change from the world to Christ and from sin to personal holiness, but my basic personality remains intact. Martyn Lloyd Jones writes this about our personalities (or temperaments in his words):
“Temperament…does make a very great difference in the actual experience in the Christian life…For the fact of the matter is that though we are all Christian together, we are all different, and the problems and the difficulties, the perplexities and the trials that we are likely to meet are in large measure determined by the difference of temperament and of type. We are all in the same fight, of course, as we share the same common salvation, and have the same common central need. But the manifestation of the trouble vary from case to case and from person to person. There is nothing more futile…than to act on the assumption that all Christians are identical in every respect. They are not, and they are not even meant to be.”
The truth is we all have to learn to live with ourselves–our personalities and their particular strengths and weaknesses. Circumstances will come and go, but no matter what, you will always be you. So, if you struggle to understand and accept your own personality, it’s going to be a constant battle and source of discouragement. You cannot escape yourself. You cannot escape your insecurities, and the particular weaknesses your personality is prone to.
As we think about ‘self-esteem’, we should distinguish that there are neutral aspects of our personality, and then there are sins closely tied with our personalities–that is, our personalities make us more prone to certain kinds of sin than others. The latter we must learn to put to death but the former we can learn to accept. God has made us uniquely in his image. Moreover, when he saved us, he didn’t put our personality into a holy cookie-cutter mold; he is making our particular temperament more like Christ. The glory of the Gospel is that many different types of people all choose to love God and find him worthy of praise despite their differences.
For myself, I’ve always struggled with insecurity about these neutral aspects of my personality. I’m more quiet and reserved. I don’t have a boisterous personality or a particularly sharp sense of humor. I’m uncomfortable in large groups. Because of these characteristics, I often feel as if I can never truly belong because I’m not funny, memorable, or outgoing enough to carve out a lasting space in people’s lives. I often feel like I’ll never be truly useful in ministry because I don’t always have a ton to say or I can’t easily connect with people.
This insecurity leads to recurring sins, most notably, self-focus and unthankfulness. Fear of my own inadequacy directs my attention constantly inward. There could be great things happening all around me but instead of enjoying them, I’m thinking to myself: what does this person think of me? Am I fitting in? Why am I weak in this way? This, in turn, leads to unthankfulness. Whatever good thing is eclipsed by the discontent I feel about myself.
I need to be extra diligent in recognizing these sins and rooting them out of my life. Why? Because they’re so closely tied to my temperament, if I’m not careful, they easily become part of the daily routine how I act, think, and feel. Sadly, I’ve had entire seasons of life and ministry be characterized by this self-focus and unthankfulness. If I’m not careful, these sins can rob me both of my joy and my usefulness in ministry.
Here are a few thoughts about learning to come to terms with my own temperament and its limitations.
1. Learning to be Thankful
Here is where I’d probably depart from animated films. Pixar, Dreamworks, and Disney will tell you: those worries that you have about your inadequacies? They don’t really exist. You’re perfectly lovable just the way you are. Just believe in yourself!
But I don’t think that’s true, even if we’re talking strictly about the neutral aspects of our personality. Our insecurities aren’t completely unfounded. We feel them because there is some truth to them. Now I’m not saying we don’t blow them way out of proportion. I know I sure do. I know oftentimes when I hear people talk about their weaknesses and flaws, I’m often confused because I don’t see them at all. And I’m sure my insecurities would seem the same way to other people. We should labor to be as realistic about ourselves as possible.
But my weaknesses do exist. As a whole, I can look at my life and know that I am loved by close friends and family and that God uses me in ministry, but that doesn’t take away the sting of disappointments in everyday life when I feel alone or helpless.
Instead of ignoring our limitations, perhaps the best way to come to terms with them, is to acknowledge they exist, but to learn to be thankful for them. It’s true that if I were more outgoing, then I would struggle less with feeling accepted. If I had a better sense of humor, I would be more useful in ministry than I am now. But if I could magically fix everything I didn’t like about myself, I would also lose something crucial to my sanctification.
We often forget in the pain of weakness that weaknesses is crucial to our growth. Do you remember what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9?
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)
Now, I don’t know what Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was, but limitations of temperament can fit the bill in my life. They are constant. They seem like they’re always with me reminding me of my weakness. Yet, God has used them to teach me the most important lesson of all: I am weak so I need to depend on him. I am weak all the time and so I need his strength all the time. In every conversation, every meeting, every second of every day.
Where would I be if I could hide all the weaknesses of my temperament? Perhaps I could be more popular and more useful, without sacrificing the lowliness that comes with weakness. But more likely, I would trust in myself. I would become conceited, self-sufficient, and would boast in my own abilities.
2. Learning not to Compare
I’m writing this post sandwiched in between two fantastic ministry opportunities. Earlier this summer, I was privileged to go to China (You can read it about it here!). This next week, I will have the privilege to minister to high school students at Chinese Bible Mission (or CBM as it’s more commonly known).
I am blessed beyond belief to be able to participate in Gospel ministries like these. At the same time, I know how easy it is to waste these opportunities by comparing myself to others instead of serving joyfully. It’s easy to become discouraged because the other counselors are more useful than me. Or to feel that because I’m more reserved, I can never fit in with the team or the other counselors as well as others can.
How sad it is to waste such precious time in envy, wanting what others have instead of being floored that God allows me to serve at all. If you and I are ever going to put to death insecurity, we must put to death our sinful tendency to compare ourselves to others.
3. Learning to Serve
When I struggle with own insecurity, my tendency is to want to retreat. To retreat from fellowship. To retreat from leadership. To retreat from taking initiative and being intentional with others. To retreat from being bold and taking risks for Christ. But this is a wrong reaction. This is essentially saying, because I can’t serve in the selfish way I want to serve or be useful in the way I want to be useful, I won’t serve.
But God has gifted me in many ways. He has gift me with many opportunities. Should I not use the personality, the talents, and the strengths God has given me to bless the church? Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-20:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-20 ESV)
I may not be a mouth, or a nose, or the eyes. Perhaps I may be something small in the body of Christ. But the church has diverse needs, and God has created a diverse body to meet those needs. The church needs outgoing people and quiet people. The church needs introverts and extroverts. People who can bring laughter to large groups and people who can listen well to the newcomer who still hasn’t quite fit in. Part of learning to be me is to learn how God has gifted me to serve the church and to use those gifts with joy and zeal.
4. Learning to be Loved
Because of our weaknesses we often feel inadequate. We feel inadequate to measure up to the expectations of the people we care about. We feel inadequate to be useful in the ministries and service opportunities that God has placed us in. And our fears are right; we are inadequate. We have limitations in the neutral aspects of our personality. We are disqualified because of the sinful aspects of our personality. If people knew us as we really are, who would judge us as worthy? No one.
God knows everything about us. He knows our weaknesses and sins better than we know them ourselves. Yet, God still loves us. He loves us so much that he sent his own Son to die on the Cross to purchase us. And if that weren’t enough, He still uses us to do his work. He employs broken jars of clay so that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. Praise God for weakness because it brings us to treasure the gracious God who shows us grace.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1 Corinthians 1:26-27 ESV)