Do you ever browse through the “self-help” section of the bookstore? Assuming that you can find a bookstore you will notice a huge selection of possible titles, all of them purporting to accomplish the task of making you successful, handsome (beautiful), wealthy or powerful. And there are even more books telling you how to be proud to be yourself just the way you are, no changes or improvements necessary. Be yourself. Be proud. Learn to accept yourself as you are and be strong and bold in your self-confidence.
I don’t really object to self-confidence but I am perplexed by the persistent efforts to overwrite reality with a veneer of unjustified good feeling about myself. I don’t think it is emotionally or mentally healthy to beat yourself up all the time either, but I wonder about the lengths we go to in an effort to prove that we are all fine just the way we are, when everything we can observe about the way our lives go up and down would suggest that things are (at least, a little) messed up. And we are a mess! We let our friends down, though we usually don’t mean to do so; we hurt people we care about, though we usually don’t intend to hurt them; we get angry about dishonest business deals and selfish boards of corporations robbing the employees and stockholders to pay out extravagant “bonuses and incentives” but we don’t mind using the company’s copier and paper for our own personal needs. We complain bitterly about the political games being played out at our expense but we continue to vote for the people who promise us the most things on our list of “wants.”
There is a concept in Christian faith that calls the world “fallen” but I usually just say the world is “broken.” It isn’t working right. And the biggest reason it isn’t working right is because we all do pretty much whatever we want. And even when we try to get it right, we sometimes don’t succeed; it’s as if we are just smart enough to know there is a right way things should be, but not self-disciplined enough to do things that way every time. And there have been a lot of people trying to figure out how to do things right, so the broken world could work better. It just hasn’t worked. One reason we don’t do better is that we often won’t admit we are broken. We find it easier to justify what we have done than to admit we messed things up because we need to feel good about ourselves and confessing our broken pieces of our lives doesn’t make us feel so good. But there is a healing and a new life waiting for us when we are willing to confess how broken we are. Denial keeps us stuck in the mess but confession opens the door to new life.
There is another concept in Christian faith that we call redemption; it is the idea that God reaches out to us in love trying to persuade us to let him save us. And God redeems us because God thinks you and I are worth that much. God thinks we are valuable for more than what we can do. God values us just because he loves what he has made. God thinks you are worth more than the whole world. God sent his son to prove how much he values us.
Christians aren’t inherently “better” than anyone else; we’re flawed, broken people, too. But we are also people who have turned to God and found a power that is able to heal our broken lives and to create a new life that can learn to do better at caring for others and the world around us. God didn’t send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). And it seems to me that the world does need saving; it’s a broken mess. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Bruce Thweatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.