When Your Self-Worth Goes Up and Down

He was a young minister who lived in the Midwest. selfworth.jpg

One day, he told me about how he once went to a reception for a number of ministers who had gathered in a particular city. Many of these people were quite well-known. This young minister said, “I felt like a complete nobody.”

Now he never indicated that someone did something rude or demeaning at this reception. He never suggested these people acted superior in any way. Yet, his feelings were very real. He felt as if he was less important than the other people in this room.

I can relate.

For years, I judged my own worth by what I perceived others thought, said, or did.

  • One day I feel great. I am asked to speak at a church that I really admire. However, the next day, I feel down, after learning that a good friend is about to become the minister for a very large church.
  • One day I feel great. I have the opportunity to talk with a well-known minister. The next day, I feel inadequate as I think about how much better his church is doing than the one I serve.
  • One day I feel great. I write an article that is accepted for publication. The next day, I feel low when I find out that my friend is about to have his first book published.
  • One day I feel great. I am invited to teach a class at a wonderful lectureship. Later, I feel crummy at this lectureship, learning that there is standing room only for my friend’s popular class.
  • One day I feel great. A church calls to see if I am interested in possibly serving as their next minister. Later, I feel miffed when I learn that two of my friends have already turned them down. I am actually their third choice.

Up and down. Up and down.

I remember the day when a therapist looked me in the eye and said, “I think you put way too much importance in what people think about you.” Did he ever nail that one! I had allowed my feelings to be ruled by whatever someone might say or do at the moment.

Not good.

Self-worth is not to be determined by popularity, education, salary, size of church, etc. My worth is to be determined by the one who loved us and made us.


What do you think? Have you ever placed too much importance on what others thought, said, or did? What has been helpful in dealing with this?   

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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17 thoughts on “When Your Self-Worth Goes Up and Down

  1. This has been my story for too long. While I am not where I want to be yet, the following has helped.

    1. Learning to rejoice with those who rejoice.
    2. Recognizing the gifts God has given me and others and rejoicing in both.
    3. Long, intense study of Israel’s prophets. Again and again, I see that it is not about the messenger, but the One who sends the messenger.
    4. The realization that my relationship with God and his love do not depend on my achievement.
    5. We don’t know or control the effects of what we do in the long run. Trust God to handle outcomes.
    6. Find confidants who are encouraging but honest. Once when complaining about not getting as many speaking engagements as others, my friend, in love, told me, “It is because you are not as good as they are.” He then went on to affirm the things he saw as gifts in me. I need some people in my life who love me enough to be honest with me.

  2. One day I felt great and then someone I considered a dear friend with whom I worked, told me, totally from out in left field, that his lovely wife “would never be my friend until the Lord returns,” yet he told me of his respect and appreciation! She’s young enough to be my daughter and for some strange reason I allowed that to bother me for quite a while and do a number on my feeling of self-worth. Wonderfully the Lord used this strange and uncalled for comment to help me deal with this issue and heal what was broken! So, even at my age, the evil one will throw darts to focus on self and our feelings rather than focus on the One who loves us most and does call us friend! – At the time this happened I could never have written about this like I just did!

    • Karin, thank you for your honesty and candor in this comment. Great that you moved on past such a remark to a much better place.

  3. I think we enter “people-helping professions” out of our own need for approval. Perhaps that is why so many of us in “ministry” struggle with this issue. Perhaps at its root the desire is not bad. I think it is the good urge that the evil one so twists so that it becomes a tool in his toolbox to destroy.

    I think also our ultimate problem is our focus on self. Perhaps those with “low self-esteem” do not need to try to muster the energy to feel good about self–perhaps they need to loose themselves in Christ. Both the arrogant and the self-depreciating still focus on self as the center of their world.

    One of the best books I’ve read on this (out of print, sorry) was Earl Jabay’s The Kingdom of Self.

    • Darryl, great thoughts and thanks for the book recommendation. You make a very good point about the focus on self that can be experienced in a number of different ways. Thanks.

  4. It’s human to care what others think about us, but it seems as we grow older, if we’re attempting to follow Christ (with all his teaching about the last shall be first, blessed are the poor in spirit, etc), this becomes less and less important. This is a quote from a book I’m currently enjoying:

    ‎”The saint is precisely one who has no “I” to protect…such people do not need to be perfectly right, and they know they cannot be anyway; so they just try to be in right relationship. In other words, they try above all else to be loving.” (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward)

  5. Good thoughts, Jim.

    I think globalization contributes to this feeling. Consider the world before information flowed so easily. The best guitarist in each county might be a local hit–a somebody. Then, radio stations emerge, and one or two artists from the nearest city get to be rock stars, but the local guy is left out. Rob Bell’s book can dominate the theological book market in Texas as easily as in Michigan. Better cars and roads mean that I can drive 20 miles to hear John Mark Hicks or Max Lucado speak rather than sitting through the local preacher’s sermon. It’s hard to be a medium-sized fish when the pond is so big.

    It also seems easy to socially insulate oneself with blogs and Facebook. I only have to pay attention to whomever I deem worthy of my attention, so the unappealing folk are left out.

    I think that it does matter that we mean something to somebody. This is a reason to be grateful to God for the love He shows us. But it’s also a reason to go out of our way to make friends with those who have none. Those people are valuable, or God wouldn’t love them. Surely, in loving them as well we become more like God.

    • Chris, this is such a good comment. Not only is it insightful but very honest. So much of this can give us the illusion that we are in complete control as we isolate ourselves socially and as I select what is appealing or not appealing to me. Again, very good Chris.

    • Karen, thanks very much. I read your comment several times. So much of this goes back to how we were taught. I think that much of life (at least for some of us) is doing a lot of relearning. Thank you.

  6. Definitely been there before! Thanks for the post, Jim. It only underscores that our identity and self-worth must come from somewhere other than that which is temporal.

    • Jeff, thanks very much for this comment. You are so right about where our identity and sense of self-worth need to come from. I have recently been introduced to your blog. Very, very good, Jeff.