I got an e-mail from my mom this week...attached was a Relief Society lesson on Self-Esteem given by her best friend Lynn Allred on Sunday. As I read the lesson, I cried, laughed, and felt hope. I think every woman in the world needs to read it. It's a little long, but you will not be disappointed if you take the time to read it. Promise.
My assignment for today was to come up with a 30-minute lesson on self esteem. It is particularly appropriate that we talk about this today on Halloween. Perhaps together we can exorcise a few demons that many of us struggle with. I seek an interest in your faith and prayers and invite the spirit of the Lord to be with us.
Some of you will recognize some of this material. That’s OK. I am part of the Gospel Green Movement. I believe in recycling.
I would like to begin with one of my favorite poems.
I’ve Got an Incredible Headache
By Jack Prelutsky
I’ve got an incredible headache,
my temples are throbbing with pain,
it feels like a freight train with two locomotives
is chugging about in my brain.
I’m sure I can’t stand it much longer,
my skull’s being squeezed in a vise,
as regiments march to the blaring of trumpets,
and thousands of tap-dancing mice.
My head’s filled with horrible noises,
there’s a man mashing melons inside,
someone keeps drumming on bongos and plumbing,
as porpoises thrash in the tide.
An elephant herd is stampeding,
a volcano is blowing its top,
and if I keep hitting my head with this hammer,
I doubt that my headache will stop.
As Latter-day Saint women, I suspect that we are the most practiced of any other group on the planet at this sort of “hammer abuse.”
Disclaimer: I want you to know that I feel like I have a sound understanding of the principles and the doctrine that are associated with this issue, but I have a ready supply of my own hammers with which I struggle. I happen to be the messenger today, but it’s not because I have achieved perfection with the issues I have been asked to address.
Also, no matter how true the principles are that we are going to talk about today, if you are someone who is challenged with any kind of chemical imbalance, I know that a healthy self esteem can seem especially out of reach. I have watched people that I love dearly struggle mightily with their self esteem, and it hurts me profoundly.
Years ago, Neal A. Maxwell spoke to this issue. He spoke,
“. . .not to the slackers in the Kingdom, but to those who carry their own load and more; not to those lulled into false security, but to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short.”
I imagine that that paragraph could describe everyone in this room at some point in their lives.
“The first thing to be said of this feeling of inadequacy is that it is normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance. Following celestial road signs while in telestial traffic jams is not easy.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 12)
Which is why we, as Latter-day Saint women, are so adept, almost gifted really, at beating ourselves up. We know more than any other group of women. We know what’s required, and we are constantly measuring ourselves against that real, eventual standard of perfection, and even the imagined standard of perfection that we hallucinate exists in other women. Their perfect homes, their perfect marriages, their perfect children, their perfect grandchildren, (except mine really is) their perfect lives.
There is a difference between self esteem and self worth. I learned this from Brother Brad Wilcox. He told the story of a man who bought his wife some diamond earrings. He had to really stretch to buy these earrings. When the woman opened them, she never dreamed they were real. She thought they were cubic zirconia and so she treated them like that. She would take them off and leave them around the house. One day, sure enough, she lost one. Her husband saw her looking for it and asked her what she was doing. She told him that she’d lost one of the earrings he gave her, and when she saw the look of panic on his face, she realized how valuable the earrings were. The value of the earrings never changed. The way she esteemed the earrings changed. Our value never changes regardless of how we are esteemed by others or even by ourselves. As we realize our own eternal worth, our self esteem will increase. (Building Self-Esteem in Our Children and Ourselves, 10/3/2002, BYU, Families Under Fire)
I would like to start at the beginning—actually even before the beginning.
In order to grasp these concepts, you have to know who you are. Sometimes in order to understand who you are, you have to understand who you’re not.
you’re not your percent body fat (or your pants size or your bra size).
you’re not your stretch marks, your varicose veins, your pasty white skin, your fine lines and wrinkles or the mole on your face with the hair that never stops growing.
you’re not your house, or your square footage.
you’re not your car. Or your husband’s car. (I especially want you to know that I am not my husband’s car that is held together with duct tape and bungee cords.)
you’re not your career (or your lack of a career).
you’re not your husband’s career.
you’re not your annual income or your stock portfolio or your overdraft notices.
you’re not the number of carats in your engagement ring.
you’re not your IQ.
you’re not the number of volumes of classical literature you’ve read.
you’re not your college GPA or your diplomas. (or your children’s GPA)
you’re not your trophies or awards.
you’re not your vocal range.
you’re not the number of instruments you play.
you’re not the clutter in your bedroom, or your teenage son’s bedroom.
you’re not the foot high stack of papers in your office.
you’re not your unfinished home improvement projects.
you’re not the number of scrapbook pages you’ve completed. (2)
you’re not your medical history.
you’re not the number of varieties of roses you grow.
you’re not your past sins.
you’re not your calling.
you’re not your husband’s calling.
you’re not the number of scriptures you have memorized.
you’re not your recipe repertoire.
you’re not your children, or your children’s accomplishments, or your children’s lack of accomplishments.
you’re not your husband, or your ex-husband
you’re not your marriage or your divorce.
you’re not the carton of chocolate ice cream you had for breakfast (I added that one on Tuesday. Right after I had consumed a carton of chocolate ice cream for breakfast.)
Now, don’t misunderstand. Certainly, we have responsibility for and stewardship over everything we’ve been given including material blessings and relationships. But too often, who we really are gets buried under and lost in piles of unpaid bills, broken appliances, flat tires, increasing waistlines, weeds, ring around the collar, knothead teenagers, steadily decreasing estrogen levels, crusty kitchen floors, and struggling relationships. In short, who we really are is lost in the minutia of mortality. We allow the celestial and eternal to be completely obscured by the telestial and temporal.
One of the worst things we do is compare ourselves to others. I am still getting to know a lot of you from the “other side.” Just last week in relief society, I said to Wendi Webster during the opening song. “Is Kathleen as pleasant as she looks?” Wendi said “Totally.” I said, “She oozes this amazing angelic glow.” And then I thought, “I want that.” Some of you who know me know that one of the deepest desires of my heart is to be sweet.
Not too long ago, I was thinking about my parents, who happen to be very sweet. I was mindlessly putting on my makeup and kind of pondering and praying. How did I miss that sweetness that my parents exemplify? Heavenly Father, how did I not get any of that sweetness?
At that moment, I received probably the most profound revelation I have ever received. A voice spoke to my mind and to my heart and said, “Sweet people can’t do the work I need you to do (policy work at the UN and elsewhere that is very difficult and very ugly). I have work for sweet people, and I have a work for you. I gave you that grit so that you can do what I need you to do. It’s a gift. BUT. . . you have GOT to learn to temper it in your relationships.”
Listen and see if you fit this description as written by one gospel scholar:
“We can be so cruel to ourselves; we destroy ourselves with our negative self-talk. We see only the raw material, much of it yet undeveloped, and we block from our awareness many already godlike qualities in us. We throw a wet blanket over all this divine fire. We decline to acknowledge the divinity that is developing in us through the challenges that life has presented to us for this very purpose. And we are ready to argue—in a most ungodly way—with anyone who tries to tell us something to the contrary. This refusal to accept our developing divinity is a sort of blasphemy and a denial of the purposes of the plan of salvation; it diminishes the effectiveness of our service and inhibits our full surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no real settled contentment, no real enlarging of the soul to meet real opportunities and possibilities, until we find out own divine fire.” (“When We Come to Ourselves,” Selected Writings of M. Catherine Thomas, p. 254.)
Who you are is in reality who you were.
Charles Penrose taught this:
“The knowledge of our former state has fled from us. . . and the veil is drawn between us and our former habitation. This is for our trial. If we could see the things of eternity, and comprehend ourselves as we are; if we could penetrate the mists and clouds that shut out eternal realities from our gaze, the fleeting things of time would be no trial to us, and one of the great objects of our earthly probation or testing would be lost. But the past has gone from our memory, the future is shut out from our vision and we are living here in time, to learn little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept.” (Charles Penrose, in Journal of Discourses, 26:28)
Much of the purpose of mortality is to figure out who you are by figuring out who you were and who you have been for the past six thousand or so years. And of course, not only who you were, but who you ultimately will become.
Brad Wilcox said, we never get mad at seeds for not being flowers. No one would ever march into the store where you purchased a packet of seeds and complain demand your money back because the shriveled up ugly little brown things in the seed packet didn’t match the picture on the front. We would be smart enough to realize that those seeds have potential in the seeds we would be smart enough to nurture the potential. Rather than condemn the seed for not looking like a flower.
Mediocre comes from the Latin word mediocris which means halfway up the mountain. It’s a point at which we all must pass on our way to the top of the mountain. All of us pass through mediocrity on our way up the mountain. (Building Self-Esteem in Our Children and Ourselves, 10/3/2002, BYU, Families Under Fire)
As mortals, we are really amphibians. Half mortal, half spirit. We are involved daily in the struggle for the soul.
I love the story of the old Cherokee who was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A battle is raging inside me ... it is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The old man fixed the children with a firm stare. "This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too."
They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee replied: "The one you feed."
Which part of you are you feeding? There are lots of ways we feed these wolves. One of the ways we do it is by our thoughts, with your own self talk. So which part of you receives the most fuel? The real, divine, spiritual, eternal you? Or the temporary, fallible, struggling, mortal you?
The truth is that it’s not so much what happens to us in life, as what we think about what happens to us.
President Kimball observed that “Man alone, of all creatures of earth, can change his thought pattern and become the architect of his destiny.” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 28)
We tend to move in the direction of our most dominant thought pattern. So if your thought patterns with regard to how you esteem yourself are negative, which direction will you move?
Another way to say it is, “That which we focus on enlarges.” If you are focusing on the negative aspects of anything or anyone including yourself, I guarantee you that the negativity will enlarge. On the other hand if you are focusing on the positive aspects of anything or anyone including yourself, I guarantee you that it is enlarging in a positive way.
The gospel provides us with beautiful doctrine and law and theory and principle, but sometimes the actual tools can be somewhat elusive. There are many scientists, health professionals and wise individuals who have “been there done that” and who understand the “how” when it comes to applying the truths that we know. It would be inappropriate to talk about that today, but I have a list of Telestial books that have taught me a lot about how you can control your feelings and the direction you are moving by understanding and controlling what you think. I can provide that list upon request.
Now, besides being amphibians, we are also spiritual schizophrenics. And I mean no disrespect to you schizophrenics in the room. We hear voices. But how can you determine the source of the voices? Elder Maxwell:
“We can distinguish more clearly between divine discontent and the devil’s dissonance, between dissatisfaction with self and disdain for self. We need the first and must shun the second, remembering that when conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 12)
Here’s the bottom line. If the voice you hear leaves you feeling weaker, or more doubtful of your ability to overcome weakness, or if it continues to remind you of past mistakes and sins that you have already repented of, or if it makes you feel like giving up, or if you hear the words moron, idiot, jerk, dipstick, lame-o, creep, brat or loser, you can just know that voice is not from the Lord.
On the other hand, if the voice you hear makes you feel stronger, if it gives you a greater desire to improve yourself, if it makes you want to try harder, or try again, you can know it is from the correct source.
When you’re evaluating these voices, you have to remember that,
“. . .we [must] allow for the agency of others (including our children) before we assess our adequacy. Often our deliberate best is less effectual because of someone else’s worst.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 12)
[Michael Wilcox. This talk can be found at http://www.byub.org/findatalk/. Type ‘Wilcox’ in the search box, click on ‘page 2’, The talk is called Faith, Hope, and Charity by S. Michael Wilcox, BYU Education Week (8/18/1997). The excerpt I used can be found at 35 minutes and 12 seconds.]
Remember that “Self-contempt is of Satan; there is none of it in heaven. We should, of course, learn from our mistakes, but without forever studying the instant replays as if these were the game of life itself.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 12)
After you remember out WHO you are, you have to remember WHOSE you are.
George Q. Cannon wrote this:
Now, this is the truth. We humble people, we who feel ourselves sometimes so worthless, so good-for-nothing, we are not so worthless as we think. There is not one of us but what God’s love has been expended upon. There is not one of us that He has not cared for and caressed. There is not one of us that He has not desired to save and that He has not devised means to save. There is not one of us that He has not given His angels charge concerning. We may be insignificant and contemptible in our own eyes and in the eyes of others, but the truth remains that we are children of God and that He has actually given His angels charge concerning us, and they watch over us and have us in their keeping.” (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth.)
The truth is that you really are the daughter of a God.
One of the fiercest weapons in the adversary’s arsenal is to keep that information, both WHO we are and WHOSE we are, from us.
Let’s get to the cosmic bottom line of self worth. The pursuit of self esteem is a crock.
The scriptures don’t mention self esteem, self worth, or self image. And there’s a reason. It’s because the Lord knows a better way for his children to flourish than for us to focus on increasing our self esteem. It’s a diversion to distract us from the real issue.
Let’s dissect this scripture:
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. Doctrine and Covenants 121:45
Confidence is defined as “a state of mind or a manner marked by freedom from uncertainty or embarrassment.”
Virtue—“moral excellence and righteousness.” The Latin root means strength.
Here is the corker. You have to have charitable bowels.
“If one grand objective of earth life is to gain access to the grace of Jesus Christ for our divine development, we will immediately realize that self-confidence is a puny substitute for God-confidence.” (“The Doer of Our Deeds,” Selected Writings of M. Catherine Thomas, p. 244)
It’s not self esteem we seek, it’s God esteem. Not self image, but in fact, it’s Christ’s image in our countenances that we seek. It’s not preoccupation with self, but the absence of self that the scriptures teach.
Love and virtue are the essential ingredients in feelings of confidence and security. And the truth is that the pursuit of self esteem usually generates anxiety, while increasing humility, faith and discipleship produces consolation and peace and rest.
We can’t speak of loving and being gentle with ourselves without talking about being loving and gentle with each other. President Monson addressed this in the last Relief Society broadcast. Someone I love a lot has spent some time going to Al-anon meetings. She has said over and over how at every meeting she goes to she feels overwhelming unconditional love. She told me that she thinks that that’s how Relief Society is supposed to feel. I heard someone say that if the Savior were coming to their house, they wouldn’t clean it because they knew he wouldn’t judge them. But if their visiting teachers were coming over, they’d break out the vacuum cleaner and the dust rag. Sisters, we have a lot of work to do.
Finally, C.S Lewis writes this,
"Until you have given up yourself to him you will not have a real self. Your real, new self will not come when you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Give up yourself and you will find yourself. Lose your life and you will save it. Nothing that you have not given away will ever really be yours. Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him and with Him, everything else thrown in." (C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality, p. 45)
Thank you Lynn! I really needed to hear this!
And thank you mom for passing it along!
And thank you mom for passing it along!