I have a toddler. That means I am inundated with products aimed at kids, and I’ve noticed a troubling trend. Everybody wants my kid to feel good about himself, sometimes in spite of the facts.
Self-esteem is only good if it’s true. No matter how good he feels about himself, it only really matters how good he actually is. And the Bible is troubling on that count: “No one is good. Not even one.” So for me to tell my child that he should feel good about himself without giving him any reason to believe it, I am encouraging psychosis.
He’s not a snowflake, he’s not special (because if everybody is special, then nobody is special. That’s what the word means.), and he can’t be whatever he wants to be when he grows up. No matter how hard he tries, given his mother’s and my foot-speed, he’s never going to make it as a professional running back in the NFL. And he’s got about a 10,000,000 (that’s ten million) to 1 chance of becoming President of the United States. To tell him he can be “whatever he sets his mind to” is setting him up for a good counselor at about age 25.
Here’s the difference between Christianity and every other worldview (and especially the therapeutic hoo-ha that passes for “Christian kids programming” all too often.) If your kid’s programming gives him the impression that God is impressed when he is a good little boy, that’s paganism. Christianity alone has the capacity to be honest about the depth and horror of sin, because Christianity alone actually has a solution for sin.
Christianity says that God lavishes gifts on his children freely, not because they are “special.”
Any attempt to make my child feel good about himself apart from Christ is actually a barrier to the gospel taking root in his heart.
What if I could share with my child that, in spite of his terrible record of obedience, there is one who was perfectly obedient and offered His record in exchange for my child’s? What if I could share how he should never look to himself to find esteem, but instead look to Christ?
Christ is special. Christ is a snowflake. Christ could have been whatever he wanted when he grew up. And he laid it all aside, and
“did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2: 6b-8.
If our children take hold of that fact, by faith, we can then afford to be honest with them about all kinds of stuff, from what they want to be when they grow up to how they aren’t really all that special, but that they are loved by the God of the universe.
Pagan performance-based encouragement or vague sentimentality about being “special” will lead to distorted anthropology, arrogance, and baseless “self-esteem.” Biblical encouragement, on the other hand, will lead to healthy self-awareness (I am worse off than I thought) and joy (but God has provided a new record in Christ!).