The late Reuel Howe, a pastoral counselor, educator and author, tells of a seminar participant named Joe. It seems that Joe participated in a seminar for five straight days and offered absolutely nothing. Again and again, efforts were made to draw him in because he looked lonely and miserable.
Finally, Joe said, “I haven’t spoken because I don’t feel that I have anything worth saying. I’d rather listen.”
In the exchange that followed, Joe admitted that he was tired of listening and would like to contribute. But then he added that he felt inferior because of what he regarded as an inadequate education.
The cause may be different but the condition is the same. Like Joe, numbers of people are jailed by a low sense of self-esteem. They feel inadequate, inferior and worthless.
There’s a well-known passage of scripture that addresses this sense of inadequacy. In answer to the lawyer’s question about the great commandment, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:37-39).
When we first read these verses, we are so overpowered with loving God and neighbor that we almost overlook the key ingredient to the entire process — the words “as yourself.” Hang those words boldly across the mantlepiece of your heart and mind — “as yourself.” It all begins here. If we are truly to love God and neighbor, we must love ourselves.
So how do we come to love ourselves and overcome our feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and worthlessness? It might not happen overnight, but it can happen.
First, we can love ourselves by remembering that it is God’s assessment of us that counts. An advertisement in a national magazine was sponsored by the Humane Society. Of course, the purpose of the ad was to interest people in adopting homeless pets. The ad featured a full-page color picture of a puppy and a kitten. As an emotional appeal, it accomplished its goal.
But it was the sentence at the top of the page that was and is so crucial. The sentence read, “It’s who owns them that makes them important.”
That’s also true of us, especially as it relates to our feelings of inferiority. It’s who owns us that makes us important.
One day an elderly man in a Southern town was talking. “I don’t amount to much in this town,” he said. “I have not been what men and women call successful. But I think I do amount to something with God. I can forget what people around here think of me when I remember what God thinks of me.”
It’s God’s assessment of us that counts.
Second, we can love ourselves by reclaiming our uniqueness. A friend called sometime back and asked if I would write a letter of recommendation for her son to a particular fraternity at the University of Georgia. I answered that I would be glad to write a letter of recommendation for her son. But the reason I was glad to write that letter is the same reason I would be glad to write a letter of recommendation for you. You see, like you, that college boy is unique and special, one of a kind, and he has his own contribution to make.
Third, we can love ourselves by choosing something that we can learn and do well. When we realize that there is at least one area in which we are proficient and above average, it will strengthen all our other areas, including our minds.
William James taught that the greatest discovery of his life was that people can alter their lives by altering their attitudes. We can overcome our sense of inadequacy, inferiority and worthlessness.
In closing, I like the story of the lady who met a little boy and asked him his name. He replied, “My name is George Washington.”
“I hope that you grow up to be like George Washington,” the lady stated.
“I cannot help being like George Washington because that is who I am,” was the reply.
Be somebody. By God’s grace, be somebody. Love God and your neighbor, as yourself.