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November 27, 1987     The Message
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November 27, 1987

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' Faith Today Supplement, The Memqle, Catholic  of E November 27, 19/ The birth of self-esteem By Father Herbert Weber NC News Service l was having dinner at a friend's house when Jeff, the 11-year-old son, spoke ' up: "We had a class in self- esteem in school today." Then he confidently added that although some of the other fifth- graders still haven't figured out that they hve personal worth he had discovered that in the second grade. A few years ago, one rarely would have heard adults, much less children, speaking about self- esteem and personal worth. Now those terms are heard often and readily used. And they are com- mon in religious circles as well, with posters and banners that in- dicate something like, "I am me. I am good  'cause God don't make junk." The truth is that a healthy sense of self-esteem is at the heart of the Christian faith. Because God chose to become human it becomes clear that God places great value on our existence. Each year the church spends weeks prel3aring for the celebration of the event of Christmas which gives worth to all humans because God is among us. The living out of that mystery, however, requires a personal ap- plication. Otherwise it is difficult to take God's love to heart. A college student told me how embarrassing it was for her to ad- mit that she felt her parents would stop loving her if her grades dropped. She knew better at least in her head, but she had st) often heard her parents say they were happy when she did her work well that she concluded they were not happy (translated, they did not love her) when she was not so successful. Her self- worth, then, was not based on who she was but on what she did. It was not surprising for me to discover that this same student could not really believe that God would forgive her if she failed. The Christmas season is a time for acknowledging God's love for an unsuccessful people. And that love is the source of human worth and self-esteem. Often people learn self-esteem through their relationships with others. This is why a church that can offer positive and personal group opportunities is so valuable. The experience of acceptance and belonging allows people to realize that they are not invisible, as one person put it. Their existence mat- ters and their presence is noted. Often people can be overlooked for no intentional reason. Eric was a young man who doubted that he was noticed by the members of the Bible study group he attended at our church. He had received many put-downs in his life and truly believed that whatever it took to be respected had eluded him since birth. But the group took the time to listen to him when he talked. His shyness and inarticulate manner did not make this easy. Gradually Eric gained some self-confidence and felt accepted. He smiled more frequently and began trusting his instincts. When the group started to study the Advent readings about a birth of a Messiah, he felt that the birth already had taken place in his life, thanks to the gentleness of the group. Self-esteem is nourished when people start to value each other. Knowing that one is loved, by God and by others, allows the Christmas story to take on flesh. (Father Weber is pastor of St. Thomas More University Parish in Bowling Green, Ohio.) A prerequisite for Christian love By Nell Parent NC News Service T the TV spot was dramatic and effective. It was a well-crafted, 60-second message that left you pondering. In the opening scene, a small girl, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, ap- proaches the camera., looking up as if to an adult. Her face is open and innocent, with a trace of fear. A voice informs the viewer that children tend to believe what adults say. Then, the scene shifts to a close-up of an adult mouth which barks, "What's wrong with you? Can't you do anything right?" A second mouth sneers, "Why, you're good for nothing." These are followed by other mouths, each harshly criticizing the child. Finally, the scene shifts back to the little girl. Her head is bowed, .her shoulders stooped. The criticisms weigh heavily on her. ' Her fragile selfdmage lies severely wounded. Self-esteem is So crucial to a healthy, happy life that it is both surprising and disturbing that we do not affirm each other more in the effort to nurture it. This is especially true for children. Without self-esteem, we are in- secure and unable to use fully the gifts and talents God has given us. We doubt our own goodness and because we doubt we struggle to give and receive love.. Self-esteem also is important for our spiritual life. As people of faith we are called to shift the center of our existence from ourselves to God. For the Chris- tian this means allowing Christ to be the very center of what we do and how we think. But a shift of this nature re- quires that we have a healthy self-esteem. oSelf-esteem enables us to let go of the insecurities and self- doubting limitations dat prevent us from going outside ourselves. )But self-esteem is not a bloated ego which keeps us narrowly focused on ourselves. )Instead, self-esteem enables us to give of ourselves, to make in- creasing room in our lives for God. Seeking God as our center requires ego strength but denies egotism. In his best-selling book The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes, "The path to sainthood goes through adulthood. There are, no quick and easy shortcuts. Ego boun- daries must be hardened before they can be softenecl. An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find one's self before one can lose it." All the great spiritual writers have emphasized that love is essentially self-surrender. But we are not able effectively to seek this high goal unless we can value ourselves. We are able to risk ourselves in love when we are able to see ourselves as loved and valued. The Christian vocation is a call to people to become secure and yet humble enough to let everything go for the sake of the Gospel. In his letter to the Colossiansr (3:21), Paul encourages parents not to nag their children lest they lose heart. Paul understood that self-esteem is crucial if children are to become true disciples of Jesus. . We may not be able to give our children the best things life has to offer. However we can affirm them, with the hope of fostering the self-esteem that equips them to serve God and others generous- ly and passionately. And with that little else matters. (Parent is a staff assistant in the U.S. Catholic Conference Department of Education.) Now where,, do we turn? By Father John Castelot NC News Service uring the Exodus Moses had to conte) with the constant grumbling of his people. By dint of great effort he had led them from slavery to freedom, from cramped slave quarters to the vast expanses of the Sinai Peninsula. But over and over again they complained. Surviving in the desert was a formidable challenge. And the price of freedom was courage and initiative. But at times the Israelites found themselves unwill- ing to pay this price andoked back longingly to the former days when they were provided with food and shelter, 'Very quickly they forgot that their taskmasters had only fed them in order to maintain their strength so that' they could carry out inhuman demands. They had been treated as little more than beasts of burden. And they wanted to return to this? Evidently. One of theamost horrible things about slavery is its dehumanizing intent. Slavery does not nurture self-respect. ,, , , , "As their self-esteem im- proved, so did their ac- complishments. They had the courage and initiative to over- come all sorts of obstales and become a people with a strong sense of identity." ,a It is interesting to note the Change in the Israelites once their self-image improved: The), gradually came to realize the wonder of what God had done for them. God had rescued them from bondag e, sustained them in a hostile environment and led them to Mt. Sinai. 'There he had declared them his own speci'al People, entered into a covenant :relationship with them and even- tually formed them into a great nation. The Israelites could conclude .that God considered, them worth- while. They were. not: just chat- tel, doomed to an animal ex- lstence.:They were free human be- ings, beloved of G0di made in his image. As their self-esteemiimproved, so did their accomplishments.