“I’m too fat; I’m too tall. I sing off-key and I don’t fit at all.”
So runs a rhyme I made up as a seven-year-old with a crippling case of self-doubt.
For several years, I chanted this merciless mantra under my breath whenever I did something wrong, couldn’t find friends to play with, or “messed up” in one way or another. Why I enjoyed replaying this negative self-talk remains a mystery. What I do know is that replacing it with Biblical truths about who I am as God’s created treasure I and many others struggle with to this day. Almost every day, the underlying currents of self-doubt—Am I beautiful? Am I lovable? Am I good enough? simmer in the back of my mind.
The North American consumer culture capitalizes on self-doubt. Advertisers design their commercials to make us feel not enough: not rich enough, not successful enough, not good-looking enough. The hope is that we will buy their products and services in the wild goose chase of becoming “enough.” Societal influences like pornography and misuse of social media platforms, which laud “perfect” and often unrealistic images, become key ingredients in recipes for self-destructive thoughts, harsh self-criticism, and depression. The discontentment that runs rampant in the adult world filters too easily into the teenage sphere: high school students can fall prey to the comparison game as they vie for good grades, brand name clothing, athletic ability, looks and popularity.
What hope is there for those who battle with self-doubt? Here are three tools which have helped me in the past and which I am still learning to use:
1. Look to the Word.
God’s Word alone has the power to lift people from a spiral of mantras borne of fear, shame and guilt. Romans 12:3 reads, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” According to John Piper, Paul says through this verse that our pride is found in our valuing of Christ Jesus and therefore in our “faith.” Thinking of ourselves with “sober judgment,” we avoid both becoming puffed up with an inflated self-image and beating ourselves up with unnecessary criticism. Instead, we can learn to “look away from ourselves to Christ as our truth and treasure.”
2. Look to the Lord.
Praise the Lord that, when we look to the Word, we discover that “it is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is…the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The fact is, when it comes to salvation, everyone misses the mark. No one is good or smart or beautiful enough to win their own salvation—if we were, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die on the cross. Writer Andy Stanley sums up the gospel this way: “The good news is that good people don’t go to heaven—forgiven people do.” Thank God that Christ came not to save the healthy and righteous, and but the sick and the sinners.
Where we are not enough, His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). It’s funny how “I”-focussed my childhood rhyme was and how obsessed I was (and still am, sometimes) with my perceived shortcomings. When we take our eyes off our many limitations and shift our focus to Him, we go from saying “I can’t do this” to “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Our attitude turns from one of self-pity and fear to one of gratitude and worship.
3. Look to the world.
Shifting our focus to the Creator demands shifting our focus to His created. As a high school teacher, my focus is conveniently forced outward. Juggling students’ questions, reactions and needs, I have very little time to spare for berating myself on a less-than-ideal lesson and wondering if I can really teach (although, granted, there are days when that’s all I waste time thinking about!) Instead I can choose to wonder, What can I do better to help them now/next class/the next time we do this activity?
Sometimes looking to the world may take the form of intentional acts like:
-Encouraging someone else—a classmate, a colleague, a stranger
-Doing a good deed for a family member or a friend
-Enjoying nature—garden, hike or play with a pet—and thanking the One who gives us these good gifts
How do we look to the Lord, the Word and the world to combat self-doubt? How do we replace the doubts niggling at the backs of our minds with words of thanks and worship:
“For you created my inmost being, You knit me together in my mother’s womb;
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)