I used to feel terrible about not having self esteem. Then I decided that since I was doing so well without it, maybe it wasn’t so important. Like the ideal of a magazine-worthy home decor, I jettisoned the goal of having self-esteem around about the time I had my second child.

The irony of trying to have self esteem when one lacks it is that it makes one feel terrible for not having it. 

Still, I only recently went public with my lack of shame about the cheerios that stick in the corners of my home, and it’s only been about a week since I decided to ‘fess up about not having self esteem.

Gina Lamm is an immensely talented romance author. We are in the same RWA chapter, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers.

Gina Lamm is an immensely talented romance author. We are in the same RWA chapter, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers.

Most of the creative people I know suffer from intermittent profound doubts (see above, or ask any creative person ever), and I’m starting to think that maybe that’s a good thing. If we don’t hinder ourselves with guilt over not being confident and feeling great about ourselves, we are free to get on with our work. The problem, in other words, is not lack of self esteem, but fighting for self esteem when it’s actually useless to a productive life, creative and otherwise.

What makes a Christian writer? Relying on God's mercy. Today on Writing Like a Mother.

What makes a Christian writer? Relying on God’s mercy. Today on Writing Like a Mother.

But there’s an uglier side to self esteem that I only recently discovered. You know how Christian texts warn against “vainglory”? Guess another translation for that term. Yep. Self esteem is vainglory. As Thomas Buchanan points out on a post on Pravmir.com, the Greek word for vainglory or self-esteem is kenodoxia, or empty glory; as he says, “it carries with it the senses of vanity, conceit, and empty ambition.” {Go read the article.} It’s not long but has a lot of depth. Turns out, Cassian (among other early Christians) was deeply wary of self-esteem and its detrimental effects on Christian life.

Oh? And insider tip: Self-Esteem is a Demon.

I remember reading the writings of Evagrius Ponticus (EP) in graduate school. EP was eloquent about vainglory being the hardest demon to overcome, because when you have defeated every other foe and vice, Vainglory/Self Esteem rushes forward to congratulate you on doing such a great job. Sigh. It’s an ongoing trial for Christians throughout their lives.

Which means, even though I thought I lacked self esteem, all I lacked was admiration for it. Now that I understand better what it is, I think the task is clear.

We must not only reject the idea that self esteem is necessary, but fight it tooth and nail so that it does not rob us of what really matters.

Because, if I’m sitting by congratulating myself for doing something well, or feeling like a long suffering heroine for being dumped on, I’m just as bound up and unloving as I was when I sat moping for not thinking much of myself.

The solution to sticky spiritual and psychological issues in Christian life is always God-centered. When you’re fighting a big vice/demon like self esteem, the way to get back on target is to ask for God’s help. That’s where the Church steps in to help us out of the esteem cycle. We have been given an easy prayer that can be prayed in the space of a breath.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

We can be fooled so easily into any kind of vainglory. But if we ask for help and mercy, God always gives it.

Awareness of God’s mercy as our only grounding and creative principle is the heart of what makes Christian writers’ work “Christian.” We don’t always write explicitly about God or faith. Many of us write about love stories or mysteries or adventures or fantasies; we often follow the lives of characters for whom God talk would be foreign. But if we follow the heart of mercy, we write faithfully.

That’s my take; I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What do you think about self esteem? What do you think makes a writer a Christian writer?