Essentially what my mom was trying to instill in me and my brothers in the 1970s world of “me, myself, and I” was that a concerted effort to keep “ME” out of the center of my speech could only happen if I was making a concerted effort to keep “ME” out of the center of my thinking. Her hopes were that during those times when I was caught up in a brag session with friends, the little bit of extra time it might take me to rephrase a sentence to avoid the first person singular could force me to assess my self-centeredness, choose not to brag about myself, and instead redirect the conversation back to my friends. She had (possibly misplaced) high hopes for me, but at least I remembered the lecture!
The 4yo-3rd grade Sunday School class has been focusing on the first question of the children’s catechism these past few weeks. Who made you? goes the inquiry, and the answer is, of course, “God”. First of all, consider the implications of the resulting sentence. God made me. Simply put, I would not be if it weren’t for God’s act of creation. I am the passive object; he is the SUBJECT.
Initially, we learned that the lives of our first parents reflected what God is like, displaying attributes such as kindness and creativity, and recognizing the absolutes of truth and justice without the stain of sin in their consciences. But with the Fall, that changed for Adam and Eve and for all of mankind.
Here’s a helpful illustration: We know that an image in a mirror is not the actual person. You can’t pinch it and get a reaction. But the image does give others a sense of what the actual person is like. Once sin entered creation through the fall of Adam and Eve, the mirror cracked, and our reflections distort the image of the Creator. No longer do we point others to God, and sadly, the world around us reflects the confusion of countless generations of broken lives unable to properly bear the image of God.
But mirror-repair is Jesus’s speciality, and for those whose sins are nailed to the cross and whose accounts have been wiped clean by the justifying work of the Son of God, our mirrors are made as new. As image bearers, our lives can reflect what God is like to a watching world. Jesus is meant to be the center of our lives -- the image that others see when they look at us. We’re not made to live for ourselves; we are made to reflect the Creator and to divert all attention back to him.
In a recent article for the Children Desiring God blog, “Leading Them to God-Esteem,” Jill Nelson addresses the phenomenon of the Self-Esteem mantra:
[S]o often, secular educational philosophy tends to push us in the direction of encouraging higher self-esteem as we teach and interact with children. To that end, important biblical truths become skewed as they put the emphasis in the wrong place…
God loves ME. God made ME special. God hears ME when I pray. God takes care of ME.
And then she offers this quote by John Piper as a solution:
Our aim is not to take a child’s low views of self and replace them with high views of self. Rather our aim is to take a child’s low views of God and replace them with high views of God.
Our aim is not to take a child with little sense of worth and fill him with a great sense of worth. Rather our aim is to take a child who by nature makes himself the center of the universe and show him that he was made to put God at the center of the universe and get joy not from seeing his own tiny worth, but from knowing Christ who is of infinite worth.
We are not supposed to raise our children with the impression that all of life, all of the universe, revolves around them. Christian parents, we have been given a different template to work from.
“By wisdom a house is built, by understanding it is established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled,” then it will be filled with “all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:3-4).
Resist the ME culture of Self-Esteem -- the language and images on Facebook and Instagram that entice you to exploit your progeny for the sake of your own accolades. Control that temptation to post photos and comments that highlight the Self of your children. Curtail the tendency to schedule all of your life around opportunities for them to be recognized, rewarded and lauded for achieving more and more. It delights the Lord when our households reflect his image instead of the world’s, even if the hearts of the children have not yet been turned to him.
I think when we raise up Christ and introduce him to our children, talking about him and pointing out where he touches every part of their lives, we demonstrate our hope that their desire will be to see themselves as "friends of Jesus.” By coming to identify themselves in the context of who Jesus is, what he's done for them, how he helps them make decisions, how he comforts them in times of trouble, they move out of the center willingly and beam with delight when he gets the glory -- “That’s my friend, Jesus!” And if it doesn't seem to be happening willingly, remember how stubborn your heart was before it was redeemed, and don't give up. Pray to this end out loud and in front of them to show them that you rely on Jesus’s centrality in your life.
Show them the vast goodness of Jesus in every part of their lives: his protection of them, his provision for them, his fairness in never changing who is he or what he declares as right, his faithfulness and gentleness and mercy and kindness. Were you kept safe today? Jesus is such a good protector. Were you fed today? Jesus supplies just what we need for the day. Were you scolded today? Jesus gives us parents and teachers and leaders to help us stay on the path. Were you hurt today? Jesus is the great physician who knows what it feels like to be hurt, and by whose wounds we are healed.
If our children are self-absorbed, scheming for attention or acting with entitlement, they are reflecting too much familiarity with the wily ways of the world. And though the world may applaud and encourage self-centeredness, though it may despise self-denial or attempt to criminalize efforts to guide our children to devotion to Christ, it is of no matter to you. You have kingdom work to do with this next generation of image bearers. In the assessment of the writer of the epistle, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).