Monday, March 17, 2008

The buck stops ... with parents

Chapter 3 of Maxie Dunnam's workbook, "Christians Under Construction and In Recovery," has this to say about self esteem, quoting the findings of social scientist Charles H. Cooley: "A person's self-concept is established by what he or she thinks the most important persons in his or her life think of him or her....what others said 'you are' when were were children, to a marked degree becomes the 'I am' as we grow older and claim our identity." Dunnam goes on to say that there are many people in our young lives who have influence over us and help to shape this delicate image -- teachers, coaches, neighbors, friends, church workers, etc., -- but families and more specifically parents hold the lion's share of this responsibility.

As a former child (and some might debate this point ... ha ha), I can see Dunnam and Cooley's point. Some of those careless comments sure can stick with ya over the years! As a parent and mother to four completely complex human beings, I will plead one of my mother's favorite expressions: "Kids don't come with instruction books."

The real point of the chapter is not to impart guilt on parents everywhere, but to help the walking wounded to understand that it's possible, very possible that they are carrying around a great deal of baggage from the past (huge understatement). To recover our self esteem, it seems we must find a way to identify the source of the baggage, choose to reconcile with or forgive the guilty party and THEN ... and this is the important part ... look to Jesus Christ as the source of our self-image from thence forward.

Great, thanks, Tammy ... I'll get right on that. THERE! I'm done. Wow, I feel better.

Surprise, this baggage claim chore is a process, not an instantaneous experience. It's a bit grueling because it requires us to visit the catacombs of the soul where we prefer not to tred. More than 4 years ago, I began this gut-wrenching process myself, trying to recover from the indignities and miscellaneous damage thrown my way compliments of my well-meaning but otherwise clueless and careless Father. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's 4 years ago, which opened me up to letting go. I'm not saying my Father deserved the horror that now represents his life, but I am convinced (as I often am) that God is using a bad situation to bring about good.

I think I've posted this statement before, but it's pretty hard (and pointless) to hold a grudge against someone who can't remember what you said to him 5 minutes ago, let alone what he DID 35 years ago. The summer of 2004, I very gingerly began to allow myself to feel the pain I had conveniently stuffed away through the years. Around the spring of 2005, the Lord spoke to me and said, regarding my baggage, "This will not do. I have something for you, but you have to work through this first." Ask anyone in my Bible study class back in 2005 and they will tell you that I stood up in front of a room of some 150 women and shared these words from God. I had no idea what that something was at the time, but I was determined to find out. (Now, I am convinced it is the ministry with the women in rehab.)

Honestly, I spent a lot of time excavating places that brought up huge chunks of anguish and tears. I found myself saying, "How could he ... why did he ... why didn't he..." Every time I thought I had hit solid ground, the floor would give way and I'd discover I had to dig yet a little bit deeper. Fun? Hardly. Painful? Duh! Healing? Hell ya ... eventually.

But remember ... we can't just clear the baggage claim area. We have to change the way we define ourselves. We have to resist the urge to allow those around us who mean the most to us TODAY define us as well. Even those persons who are lovable and supportive are still limited. No one can fully define us, love us, esteem us and value us as Jesus Christ can and does.

We have to remember how we are viewed by Jesus Christ and live every day in that reality, regularly rejecting those old thoughts that dare to rear their ugly heads from time to time. I have to stand my ground and say, "God doesn't make junk!" I have to be emphatic and certain that even if I was the only one ... Jesus Christ would still have died on that cross. I have to believe that I am a precious gift in the eyes of our heavenly Father (and so are you, my friend).

Here are some questions formulated by writer David Seamands that Dunnam throws out to his readers regarding our "resistance" to allowing Christ define us, or paint our portraits, as he puts it:

* What right have you to belittle or despise someone whom God loves so deeply?
* What right have you to belittle or despise someone whom God honors so highly?
* When you consider God's son or daughter worthless or inferior, is He pleased by your so-called humility?
* What right have you to belittle or despise someone whom God values so highly? Or whom God has provided for so fully? Or planned for so carefully?

We have to commit ourselves, Dunnam concludes, to daily cooperation with Christ to give ourselves a renewed self-image.

"There is something you can be but will never be apart from Jesus Christ, and that takes hard work."

Amen, brother!

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