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Tear down those affirmation posters!

September 20, 2022 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Posted in: Culture

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)

Last week I went to our town high school’s open house in order to meet some of my children’s teachers. One thing I was struck by as I toured the school was what felt to me like an insane number of posters lining the walls that were designed to boost the students’ self-esteem. Wall after wall was plastered with phrases like “Instead of saying ‘this is too hard’ say ‘I can do hard things!’” and “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think.” With all the affirmation and positivity everywhere a student looks, you would think the school would be filled with confident, high-achieving children!

So why are the rates of anxiety and depression higher than ever?

Judging by the walls of motivational posters, it would seem that our schools believe that what students really need is to believe in themselves. The thesis seems to be that if we can convince children that they are awesome and amazing and capable of anything, then they will become well-adjusted high-achievers. In fact, I have seen an increasing number of people doubling down on this approach by not only trying to convince children that they are perfect just the way they are, but also insulating them from anything that might question that narrative. God help you if you dare to bring a different point of view to anyone who has bought into the “only surround me with affirmation and positivity” way of thinking. You will undoubtedly be found guilty of hate speech. But I would argue that the evidence is disproving the thesis, as children seem to be growing up not as well-adjusted high-achievers, but as more fragile, anxious, and depressed than ever.

I believe that there is a better way to build confident human beings who are less anxious and depressed. The answer is not found in looking within and believing in yourself, or listening to outside voices trying to convince you how amazing you are. The answer is found in looking to God. In 1 Corinthians 4:3-4, Paul tells his listeners that he does not care what others think of him. “Right on, Paul!” our culture would shout. “It only matters what YOU think!” But then Paul continues: “indeed, I do not even judge myself.” In other words, my identity does not depend upon what others say about me, or even what I think about myself. “It is the Lord who judges me.” The only opinion that matters, Paul says, is God’s opinion

So what does God say about us? Too many things to list here, but here are five foundations upon which to build your identity:

Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. You are more wicked than you ever dared believe, but also more loved that you could ever imagine. When you were at your worst, Jesus died for you. There is NOTHING in you that He can not forgive, cleanse, and transform.

Romans 8:1-2 - Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. To know Jesus is to know that all of your guilt and shame has been taken by Him. You are free. You are loved. You belong to a good and powerful heavenly Father.

2 Corinthians 5:17 - Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! In Jesus, we always have a clean slate and a fresh start.

Philippians 1:6 - He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. God brought you into a saving relationship with Him. God is working in you for good. And He will finish that work in His good timing.

Philippians 4:12-13 - I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. As a believer in Jesus, we can know that God’s Holy Spirit resides in us. And so we are never alone, and with His strength, we can meet any challenge that comes our way.

 The answer to overcoming our fears, doubts, struggles, and shame will never be found in looking within or looking to others, and it will certainly not be found in surrounding yourself with motivational posters. The answer is found in looking to God and finding your identity in who He says that you are in Christ.

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