When Life Gets Tough, Self-Esteem Is Not the Answer

“Trust your heart. Believe in you.” Yet with the constant encouragement to pat ourselves on the back, the result isn’t all sunshine and cupcakes.

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I have two daughters in elementary school, which means my perspective of the world has taken on a drastically different viewpoint in comparison to how it used to see things pre-children. In fact, it might sound somewhat silly, but before I had kids, I had no idea who Daniel Tiger was. Can you believe that? I also didn’t know about the delightful Curious George Swings Into Spring movie special on PBS. Weird, huh?

Before I had kids, I would never have been so ridiculously excited for the Frozen 2 movie trailer.  And I never would have listened to multiple Sofia the Firstsoundtrack albums on repeat in my car. What a sheltered life I used to live.

But as a result of my consistent kid-themed entertainment intake, I’ve become well-versed in the repeated message it routinely drips with—namely, to be a good human, you need a robust self-esteem.

Why self-esteem can’t work

“Trust your heart. Love yourself. Be who you were always meant to be. Work hard because success is inside you. Believe in you,” our culture says today. And it’s coming from practically everywhere.

Yet with the constant encouragement to pat ourselves on the back, the result isn’t necessarily all sunshine and cupcakes. In fact, anxiety and depression are more rampant today than ever before. Around 40 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders. That’s almost 1 out of every 5 people in the nation. Clearly, there is a disconnect between self-esteem and abundant life.

As they say, the numbers don’t lie. Despite the many Disney movie songs that have taught us to follow our hearts, doing so has only led to more negativity. Why? Well, Scripture tells us our hearts cannot be trusted because they are evil (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:18-19 and Mark 7:20-23).

That’s right, we are not good on the inside; we’re bad. And while this biblical perspective is radically different from what our culture communicates, it’s plain to see the Word of God is correct.

When we’re able to have a proper view of ourselves along with an honest view about the sinful state of the world, the solution to our rampant anxiety becomes more and more clear—it is not more self-esteem, self-trust, or self-love. The solution is God Almighty made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

An answer

He alone is the answer to our problems. And placing our trust in this truth should create a deep sense of relief that all of life doesn’t depend on our capacity to believe in ourselves and be great. Undoubtedly, when we all come face-to-face with our fantastic ability to fail, it should point us not inward, but outward toward our Creator.

God can be trusted. He can be leaned on in prayer. And He can certainly carry the heavy load of our burdens (Matthew 11:28-30) because He already carried the heavy load of our sin on the cross.

Belief, unlike anything else, melts away our anxiety because we can trust God. We can pray to Him with confidence that the outcome of every little thing in our lives, along with every huge burden, is cradled lovingly in His powerful hand. Honest prayer about the stress and pressures we experience each day drops our heavy baggage at His feet and communicates the great degree of confidence we have in Him.

Testing it

When my first daughter was around 8 months old, she started to get really good at crawling. Seriously, it was shocking how quickly she could cover a certain distance on all fours. Sometimes I played with her on my bed. When she’d crawl to the edge, I snatched her up into my arms before she was even close to falling off the mattress and onto the floor. When I’d grab her, she’d laugh because she obviously loved the exhilaration of getting close to the edge and being caught by me.

Needless to say, we stopped playing this little game because she was getting too fast for me. And I valued her safety. In reality, what put an end to it was when she looked me right in the eyes, smiled deviantly, and shot away from me like lightning toward the far edge. I darted to the other side and caught her right before she hit the ground.

I was horrified. “Why did you do that?,” I shouted at my 8-month-old, realizing quickly she wasn’t scared at all … and could not respond in English. She just laughed.

After thinking about it for a while, I came to the realization that my little girl simply trusted me. Sure, in her 8-month past, she had fallen down before and knew what it felt like to bump her arm on a doorway or smack her head against the coffee table. She was probably aware of the potential pain that would come with falling off a bed … but that didn’t stop her from racing toward the edge.

Why? Because she knew I’d catch her.

Something you can trust

Going to God in raw, vulnerable prayer is kind of like zipping off quickly to the edge of the bed. In those authentic moments with the Lord, we’re able to bare our soul, lean into Him, and trust that He will catch us.

There’s this really great moment in the Gospel of John when Jesus teaches something to His disciples. Many can’t take it, so a number of them turn away and no longer walk with Him (that’s not the great part). Afterward, Jesus looks at the 12 who are left and asks them if they’re going to leave too. Peter then answers beautifully with, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

When life gets tough, self-esteem is not the answer. Only Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life. He alone is the One we can turn to for genuine abundant life. As we prop ourselves up on Him through the act of prayer, we can begin to see the anxieties we wrestle with fade in light of the knowledge that God will catch us.

He is good. He is in control. And He loves us enough to send His only Son to die for us—what more proof do we need? Go to Him today in prayer, and candidly reveal the struggles that lead you to be anxious. Don’t trust your heart … trust His.


Copyright © 2019 Shelby Abbott. All rights reserved.

Shelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States and author the books Jacked, I Am A Tool (To Help With Your Dating Life), and Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress (New Growth Press). He and his wife Rachael have two daughters and reside in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Instagram/Twitter: @shelbyabbott, Web: shelbyabbott.com

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