What was your middle school experience like?
To most people, that question will make them cringe. It conjures up all sorts of awkwardness and feelings of insecurity. As someone who consistently struggles with insecurity, many of my days are spent feeling like a frail middle schooler: perpetually in a state of crippling self-doubt and anxiety.
You may not struggle with insecurity as much as I do, but we all have it. I’m assuming most of us would not consider it a virtue. So, how should we fight it?
I was curious how our Westernized, self-help culture would combat this problem, so I investigated some pop psychology blogs to see what they said. What I found were all sorts of strategies to cope with insecurity, things like:
- “Remember your successes instead of your failures.”
- “Visualize only good things happening to you.”
- “Pursue something you’re good at.”
- “Surround yourself with only positive people.”
There was even one blog that advocated creating a “self-esteem file.”
“It’s a collection of anything anyone has ever said, written, indicated that can be categorized as positive. Someone says something shallow like, ‘I like your shoes.’ Sure, put it in there, with a note ‘I have good taste in shoes.’ Another person mutters, ‘Dude, thanks for listening.’ That goes in there as well: ‘I am a good listener.’”
Ridiculous, right? Here’s the thing: I’ve tried all of these before! So hear me when I say that I found them all lacking. They may bring short-term relief, but they are not solutions, only band-aids. Self-esteem only goes so far because we never live up to our own standards. If our record exclusively informs our view of worth, then we will never feel secure.
Veiled Schemes of Self-Righteousness
We usually think of pride and insecurity as antonyms but they are more like synonyms in this sense: both are veiled schemes of self-righteousness. Pride is thinking too high of oneself and insecurity is thinking too low of oneself, but both put an improper focus on the self. You see, the solution to insecurity is to not look inward but upward.
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2). Sound secure enough for you? Seriously, could there be any stronger anthem for the insecure to proclaim than that? In Christ, there is no need to be self-righteous because we have been given righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). We are adopted sons and daughters (Eph. 1:5) and God lavishes his love upon us so much so that we can never be separated from him (Rom. 8:38-39). There is no condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:1) and God effectually says to us what he said to Jesus, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased” (Mk. 1:11). That’s something we can lean into. That’s something that can bear the weight of our self-doubt. That’s where we should find our confidence, security, and significance.
Tim Keller in The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness describes what life would look like if we lived out this gospel-shaped vision of identity:
“Friends, wouldn’t you want to be a person who does not need honour — nor is afraid of it? Someone who does not lust for recognition — nor, on the other hand, is frightened to death of it? Don’t you want to be the kind of person who, when they see themselves in a mirror or reflected in a shop window, does not admire what they see but does not cringe either? Wouldn’t you like to be the type of person who, in their imaginary life, does not sit around fantasizing about hitting self-esteem home-runs, daydreaming about successes that gives them the edge over others?”
Yes, yes, and yes!
The Idolatry of Insecurity
Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “Most of the unhappiness in your life is because you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself.” When your inner middle-schooler comes out, preach to yourself. Don’t battle the idolatry of insecurity with shallow tricks of bolstering your self-esteem. Instead, boldly declare the above-mentioned gospel cues and let the good news soak into your soul. Take confidence and lean into the Savior, knowing that only he can bear the weight. After all, combating insecurity is a discipleship issue. Jesus once told his followers that they must deny themselves to follow him (Matt. 16:24-25). For the insecure (and those discipling the insecure), the focus must be on death to find life—death to the doubts, fears and misplaced sources of significance and life in our grace-giving God.
If there is one redeeming quality to insecurity, it is this: it points us to our need. My prayer for you and myself is that every time it whispers its doubt we will be prompted to turn our eyes upon Jesus.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).
Tim Briggs, his wife Jenni, and their three sons Cooper, Graden and Cayson live in Charlotte, NC. Tim is the Creative Media Pastor at Church at Charlotte and is attending classes at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Twitter: @timbriggshere.