Jim Daly: We live in a “me-first” world where having a positive self-image and a good self-esteem are more important than anything else. I think we call that “narcissism,” but Leslie, why do you believe loving ourselves too much is a dangerous thing?
Leslie Vernick: You know, loving ourselves too much is a dangerous thing because it makes us self-focused, self-centered, self-absorbed and self-conscious, because when we’re focused on ourselves, we’re either magnifying our strengths and our talents and our abilities or we’re feeling our needs and our desires and longings that aren’t being fulfilled or we’re focusing on our flaws and our failures and our inadequacies. Whichever way the coin is up, it’s still full of “me” and self-absorption.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: And, without naming names, do you see any of those qualities in the people you know? Maybe a co-worker, or a friend, or a family member, or when you look in the mirror, maybe yourself. Well this is Focus on the Family, and today we’ll explore the complicated, multifaceted topic of loving yourself in healthy, God-honoring ways. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, listen to this. On average, 93 million selfies are posted on social media every day.
John: That is incredible.
Jim: 93, that’s crazy. For those who don’t know, selfies. Let’s explain what a selfie is. Those uh, self-portrait pictures that you take. You snap ‘em with your arms’ length, right? And of course your arm is always too short to make the picture just right…
Jim: …At least mine. I think it’s safe to say in today’s culture, we’re a little too much in love with ourselves, wouldn’t you say? And if we’re honest, we’re all guilty of that in some way. Maybe it’s pride or arrogance, and thinking, “Hey I deserve something better than the next guy.” I don’t know what the self-talk is, but something’s there. The Bible says very clearly, we’re all sinners saved by grace, and we may need some self-reflection to remove a log from our own eyes, before we talk about the spec in our brother’s eye. Just like what Jesus talks about in Matthew 7.
John: Well, we had a little bit of an intervention…
John: No, not really. We had our guest who addressed this. She’s great. She’s a counselor, life coach, and author, and Leslie Vernick has written a number of books. The one we’re gonna cover today on the broadcast is How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World. And Jim, here’s how you started the conversation.
Jim: Leslie, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Leslie: Thank you. It’s so great to be here with you again.
Jim: Welcome back I should say. You’ve…
Jim: …been on the program and people have really resonated with the content that you have brought, so we are grateful that you’re with us again and especially on such a difficult subject. This is probably the one that cuts so close to our hearts, because we’re talking about ourselves.
Leslie: We’re stepping on some toes…
Leslie: …including our own, right?
Jim: Yeah, but…
Jim: …I think, you know, as a life coach, that must be one of the great benefits of helping someone have that “aha” experience, that you can talk with them and they can see that – that plank that the Lord’s talking about. It’s not a negative thing to recognize these things in your own heart, is it?
Leslie: Actually, it’s imperative. It’s imperative, because if we don’t recognize these things in our own heart, what happens is we become blind. And so, all of us are broken. All of us have things wrong with us. All of us have the “messies” of life or sins, weaknesses, inadequacies. But if we don’t see them and admit them, then we begin to feel like we don’t have them. Only other people have them and that’s when we start blaming and we start judging and we start criticizing. We start feeling like superior and they’re inferior, because not that we’re not sinners, but we’re blind to our own sin like the Pharisees. As much as Jesus tried to help them see, they would not see.
Jim: That’s so true and if you think about it, and I’d like to ask this question really, why are “self” and “taking care of me,” why are they such a big deal in our culture? You know, I’ve traveled around the world. In the Western cultures we tend to emphasize the individual and ourselves over everything else. You don’t see that in other cultures as much. Why is that?
Leslie: You know, I think the whole American spirit, the whole Western spirit is very individualistic and always wanting to, you know, better ourselves and improve ourselves. We’re not so much talking about bettering the community and bettering the family and bettering the church. We’re talking about bettering ourselves and the bookstores are lined with self-help books so that you can be a better self. And so, we’re very indi – individualistic. And I – I think if we look at the consequences of that, because that’s more recent in the last 20 years, there’s more depression. There’s more loneliness. There’s more lack of community, lack of connection, because we’re so self-focused and not other-focused.
Jim: Do you see Christians needing to blockade that? How – how do we guard a hedge or build a hedge around that kind of self-orientation?
Leslie: You know, the Bible says that, in Hebrews, that we are to encourage one another day after day, lest any one of us become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. And so, one of the – the ploys of the devil is to make us believe that we are the most important. And even when a baby’s born, I mean, they kind of come out the womb believing that they’re the most important, right? They cry; they scream and they expect to be catered to.
And a baby is catered to, but sooner or later, a mom has to kind of wake up the child from its delusion that, “I’m the only one that matters.” And she says something like, “Wait; not now. I’m busy. You don’t come first. You’re not the center of the world.” And this child kinda has a nasty wake-up call to realize that, wow, like the whole world doesn’t revolve around me.
But unfortunately, sometimes our culture really reinforces that the whole world should revolve around me. Any commercial that you listen to, hey, you deserve it. You’re worth it. You should get everything that you need. You should be happy. And so, there’s this counter message that’s going at us all the time, that we are the most important, that our needs are the most important, our feelings are the most important.
Jim: Let me ask you this, Leslie. The Lord said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What was He getting at when He acknowledged the fact that human nature has a tendency to love itself?
Leslie: And I don’t think that’s all bad. I think there’s an appropriate self-love that goes something like this: that when we love ourselves, the Bible says that we will care for ourselves. In fact, in Ephesians, when Paul’s telling husbands love your wives as your own body, of course, you care for your own body. And so, he’s saying, you know, you’re a good steward of yourself. That’s good self-love. That’s not a bad thing. Proverbs says, “He who neglects discipline, despises himself.” And so, in other words, discipline is a good thing. If you love yourself appropriately, you don’t indulge yourself. You see, we think self-love means, hey, I can do whatever I want. If I love myself, I can eat 10 donuts. I can lay on the couch for, you know, a week. I can, you know, say whatever I want, because I love myself so much, I’m gonna give myself free rein to be whatever I want.
But if we think about loving our children, we would never have that kind of philosophy, that we would just let them do whatever they want. And so, when you appropriately love yourself, you guard your heart. You discipline yourself. You correct yourself. You put yourself under accountability so that you can grow, because otherwise, we don’t become our best self.
Jim: In that context, why do we run from that kind of discipline as human beings?
Leslie: Because I think we believed a lie. I tell the story in the book, on self – a story, the story of Pinocchio. So, everybody knows the story of Pinocchio. So, you know…
Jim: (Laughing) Right.
Leslie: …the story. So, this little – this little puppet wanted to become a real boy and he was very selfish and then he began to suffer some hardship and so, he decided to go to school and he decided to listen to his puppet father, who, you know, Gepetto, who told him what to do, who made him. And then he had this buddy who came along, Lampwick. And Lampwick said, “Hey, Pinocchio, this is not the way to live. We’ve got to go to Pleasure Island. There is a land of toys and pleasure and no worries and you don’t have to do any work and let’s go.”
And so, Pinocchio was torn; do I go? Do I stay? Do I go? And finally, Lampwick convinced him to go and so, they’re havin’ the time of their life and they’re livin’ it up like the “life of Riley.” Until one day Pinocchio looks in a basin of water and he realizes that his ears are turning into a donkey. And he’s becoming just like the mules that carted him to the land of toys.
And so, what that story is saying is, that when you live for self and pleasure, you don’t become a better person. You actually become a distorted person. And we can look at this, just looking at the reality shows, TV talk shows, on “Jerry Springer,” you see, oh, my gosh. These people are degrading themselves. They’re depraved in terms of the way they live, the way they talk, the way they interact with one another, because they’ve lived for the wrong goals. They’ve lived for pleasure. They’ve lived for themselves and God says, “It’s not just wrong; it’s gonna damage you.”
Jim: When – when you look at that breakdown, what are the root causes of this? I mean, I refer to it as the world of “Judge Judy.” I mean, I can’t take more than 30 seconds of that program (Laughter), ‘cause of the chaos that people’s lives are in. I mean, you – you think about it and you’re going, “Oh, my goodness. If I only had 15 minutes as a life coach” – something you do – you do think you can help these people think differently and thing more appropriately.
Leslie: Sometimes you can; sometimes you can’t. (Laughing) But I think that Satan is roaring about in our world, seeking who he might destroy. And he tells lies to different people, but the core lie he tells us is, it is all about you, because he wanted it to be all about him.
Jim: Isn’t that the same thing as the Garden?
Jim: Isn’t that exactly…
John: Yeah, that’s exactly it.
Jim: …the same thing?
Leslie: It’s all about you, Eve. It’s what you need, what you want. God’s gypping you out of something. He’s depriving you of something good. You just…
Jim: It’s all about you.
Leslie: …yeah, it’s all about you and you don’t have to stay limited. You don’t have to stay as a, just a plain old human being. You can be like God. You just – and that’s what we want to be. We want to be God and so, we want to be the center of everything and we want everything to be about us. And at its core, it’s I’m god, with a little G, but I’m god.
Jim: Right, I’m – I’m controlling it.
Jim: It’s about me. Leslie, you talked in your book about people with poor self-esteem and even self-hatred and how that is actually still living in a me-first kind of environment. It sounds counterintuitive, because they’re destroying themselves in so many ways. How are they actually depicting self in an unhealthy way?
Leslie: So people who fall into self-hatred do so because they can’t stand to see themselves small in their own eyes. So they’ve fallen into sin or they failed or they’ve made a mistake and what – they say something like this. “I can’t believe I did that. What’s wrong with me?” As if they should be better than that, as if they should be God, who never makes mistakes, who does everything right.
And so, self-hatred is only a subtle form of wounded pride. You know, you’re disappointed that you’re not all that and so, it’s just as destructive, because we’re saying, “I want to be perfect. I want to be all that. I want to do everything right.” And we can’t. And that’s part of the essence of this book is – is humility gives us the freedom to be who we are, which is finite, limited, beautiful, but broken human beings.
John: Some great insights today from Leslie Vernick. This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, I’m John Fuller, and Leslie’s sharing wisdom from her book, How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World. And if you’d like to get a copy of that, along with our conversation today, go to focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Let’s go ahead and continue to hear from Leslie Vernick on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Leslie, the – the antidote, it sounds like, which the Lord provided is for us to think in terms of humility, but why do we, as human beings, despise humility?
Leslie: You know, we were gonna name this book, Something About Humility, and then my publisher said, “You know what? It’s not gonna sell, because it doesn’t hit a felt need.” Who feels a need for humility? (Laughter) No one, you know, it’s like, you know, we are so caught up in our felt needs, like I need to feel better about myself and I need attention. I need admiration. I need love. Sort of like every day I feel a need for chocolate. You know, I don’t know about you, but every day I like some chocolate and my body craves it. But I think my real need is that I need some vegetables, broccoli, green beans, but I never feel a need for that, you know. All day long, it’s never like, “Oh, I’m really hungry for broccoli,” you know. And so, it’s hard to discern what our true needs are, but God tells us that we do need humility, not humiliation and there’s a difference.
You see, humiliation is because we’re angry that our pride has been wounded. Humility is when we know our place. Andrew Murray had a really great definition of humility when he said, “Humility is simply understanding our place, that we are the creature and that God is the Creator and we surrender ourselves to Him.” That’s the essence of humility. It’s not thinking poorly of yourself. It’s not being shy. It’s not having low self-esteem. It’s not any of those things that we tend – being passive. It’s not any of those things. It’s understanding that you are limited. You’re not God. You’re finite. You’re beautiful. You’re strong. You’re weak. You’re good. You’re bad. You’re a human being.
Jim: Well and the one thing in this culture that it seems to me the connection here is, we live vicariously through people who have achieved. Sports is a great example, where we don all this gear and go watch our favorite team and it’s almost like we feel like we’re in the arena. That’s how committed we are to it. But that’s kind of a bit of a form of, you know, thinking more highly of ourselves when you’re not in shape to be out on the field. Do you get the analogy?
Leslie: You know, I think that there’s a fantasy life in all of us…
Leslie: …that wish we were in a – in maybe a different spot. But I think that part of the essence of humility, as least as I’ve worked with people and as I’ve really tried to work on that in my own life, is that there’s a freedom. There’s a freedom to be in your own skin, as you said right at the beginning of the show, to be yourself, to not have to put on airs. Even sports figures have weaknesses. Even sports figures strike out.
Leslie: Even sports figures are on the news doing some bad stuff. You know, they might be really strong in one area of their life, but don’t be fooled that they’re strong in every area of their life.
Jim: Hm, so true. Let me ask you this question. In your book, How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World, you talk about how people are turning away from the hymns, because they kind of, I guess, demean the human being. I think that’s kind of the analogy. I laughed when I read that, because when my son, and I won’t (Chuckling) name which one, but one of my sons when they were about 5, we were singing, “We are weak, but He is strong.” And he belted out, “Dad, I don’t like that song. I don’t want to be weak.” He said, “Can’t we say, “We are strong, but He is stronger?” (Laughter) Even…
Jim: …as a 5-year-old…
Jim: …he was – it was grinding against him to say that he was weak.
Jim: Isn’t that interesting?
Leslie: It’s insulting, yeah, it’s insulting to our ego. It’s insulting to our ego to be told we’re wrong, we’re weak, we need something, we’re deficient in something and we hate, hate, hate that. And so, yeah, exactly. I – ”Amazing Grace, who saved a wretch like me.” I had a client that said, “I’m not a wretch. I don’t want to be a wretch.”
Jim: (Chuckling)Yeah, who does?
Jim: You talk about a friend of yours, going back to your point about the difference between humiliation and humility, which I think is a great distinction. You talk about Eva Maria, a friend of yours that had an experience. What happened?
Leslie: Well, she was, you know, a woman, an upper middle-class woman. She was a successful author. She did a lot of wonderful things, but she had a nice lifestyle. Her husband had a good job. They, you know, shopped in fine stores. She had nice clothes, all of those kind of things. And her husband had a business that went bankrupt. She lost her home. She ended up having to go on Food Stamps and she was so humiliated. She would always judge those people at the grocery store who used Food Stamps as being lazy and you know, not, you know, diligent people. And now she’s standing in the grocery store at 11 o’clock at night, ‘cause she doesn’t want to go during the day when anybody can see her and she’s going there using her Food Stamps and she’s feeling so humiliated, like what’s wrong with me? I’m a bad person.
And the more she began to sit in that space with God, He began to reveal to her about her “judgmentalness” and her arrogance and her pride. And so, she began to – she was humiliated in that whole situation, but then she began to lower herself, not in a bad way. When the Bible says, “Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought, but have sober judgment,” it’s saying, you know, if you’re thinking yourself up here a little bit too superior, a little bit too competent, a little bit too together, sometimes we need some hard knocks of life to help us see ourselves truthfully.
And so, she lowered herself, which is what humility does. It lowers yourself to the truth. I am a fallible, finite, beautiful, but broken human being. And as she lowered herself to that place, there was a freedom to say, “Yes, here I am and how can I minister to people around me who are in the same place as me? I understand now what it feels like to be here.”
Jim: You know, it’s interesting, with all of this, you look at life and I’ve asked myself this question, “Lord,” and maybe it’s not an appropriate question, so I might be a little embarrassed to even, you know, publicly saying this, I’ve asked, “Lord, what is the purpose of this life?” ‘Cause you go through such hard stuff sometimes, not everybody.
But my sense is you do get crushed in life, but it’s actually a good thing, because in that crushing, it’s like that – that great Scripture that says, “He is close to the brokenhearted and He saves those crushed in spirit.” There’s almost like a prerequisite that when you have to go through hard things, I think humility is a little closer in your grasp…
Jim: …because you realize your limitations…
Jim: …and you’re not in control and whatever may have happened to you, maybe your spouse has left you or you don’t have a job or whatever is a daunting situation in your life right now, the Lord might be actually helping you to see some weaknesses.
Leslie: And not only that, but to see how much you need Him, because you see, we need God for heaven, but we really don’t need Him to run our lives. We can do just fine, thank you. And so, God sometimes pushes us into a classroom called Suffering 101. We would never volunteer for it. We would never sign up for it.
Jim: Yeah, you don’t sign up for that elective.
Leslie: No, no, but He pushes us in there, not to harm us, but to help us grow, because suffering produces perseverance and perseverance produces proven character and all those things that Paul talks about in Romans 5. Those are spiritual muscles that make us more like Christ. And so, God pushes us into suffering sometimes, again not to harm us, but to wake us up to say, we really do need God for everything. It’s not that we need God for a ticket for heaven. We need God to live our lives and we also need God to help us move from the false self that we’ve created to our true self and who He wants us to be.
Jim: You also talk in the book and I think this applies to both adults and children and I thought it was a great piece of advice. You talk about putting yourself out there to do menial tasks. Talk about that and what that does for you.
Leslie: Well, I talk about that in terms of, you know, okay, so someone’s kind of convinced, all right, now I need humility, but how do I get humility? Because it’s not a natural virtue. Nobody comes out of the womb humble.
Jim: It sounds a little strange to ask the question that way actually. I want some humility. How do I go about getting it?
Leslie: Yeah, nobody wants (Laughter) humility. As I said, it’s not a felt need, but when you recognize that you need humility, you might not want it, sort of like nobody wants a root canal (Laughter) or chemotherapy. But when you realize, I need this in order to develop as a human being, then there are some things that you can do.
And one of them is to – to practice menial service and what I mean by that is, you know, so often when we serve, we look like we’re humble, ‘cause we’re having a servant attitude or a servant heart. But we’re really doing it for something we’re getting out of it. We’re getting recognition. We’re getting praise. We’re getting an “attaboy.” We’re getting money, whatever we’re getting from serving. But Jesus says, “Don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” And so, I think that sometimes He’s calling us to serve without being so attentive to what we’re getting out of it.
Jim: And that may be one of the first signs that you’ve got an issue is when you want to do it and get recognition.
Jim: That might be a key that you’re not living in a humble place.
Leslie: Exactly, so you can look like a servant on the outside and still be just as proud and Pharisaical on the inside or self-centered on the inside.
Jim: Leslie, in your book, How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World, there were two questions that I think are so critical to our conversation, because Jesus was the one Who asked them and I always have an ear for those questions. And talk about what you see in the questions that Jesus asked and what those questions were.
Leslie: The first question is, “Who do you say that I am?” So, you know, I have a picture of Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband, Ken, that we took at CBA as I was wandering the halls. I saw them and I said, “Oh! Can I get my picture with you?” And anybody who looked at that picture would think that we’re friends. But we’re not friends. I’m just a fan of hers. I’ve supported her ministry. I love her books. She’s been a great spiritual mentor to me. And in the same way, sometimes we think that we’re friends of Christ, but we’re just His fans. We love what He has to say. We read what He has to say. But we really don’t know Him and He doesn’t know us.
And so, when Jesus says, “Who do you say that I am?” I think a lot of people are fans of Christ. They are not friends of Christ. You know, Jesus says, “Depart from Me; I never knew you.” And so, so often we kind of prayed the prayer and we, you know, say, “Okay, Jesus, I believe in You,” but I don’t really believe You.
Leslie: And there’s a difference.
Leslie: And so, when Jesus says, “Who do you say that I am?” ‘cause if I am God, if I am the Lord of Lords, then the second question is, “Then why don’t you do what I say?” If you really believe who I am…
Jim: That’s the second question?
Leslie: …that’s the second question, “then why don’t you do what I say?” I have a friend who’s a pilot for United Airlines and so, I don’t know about you, but I always get freaked out flying at night, like especially over the ocean, ‘cause I like the pilots to kinda see where they’re going, even though I (Laughter) know that they don’t use their instrument – they don’t use their eyesight at all. And he says, “We don’t even look out the window. We put, you know, a big screen there so the sun doesn’t hit us,” you know. And I said, “You don’t even look out your window.” And he says, “No, we use our instruments. We trust…
Jim: And that bothered you.
Leslie: …that instrument. (Laughter) And it bothered me. He goes, “But Leslie, if we don’t use our instruments, we will not trust our own judgment. Our own judgment, we can’t always trust our own judgment where – what’s happening with the plane. We have to use our instruments. We have to train ourselves.”
And so, Jesus says that we need to train ourselves to trust Him. We can’t trust our own perceptions of life. And so, He said, “If you love Me, it’s, who do you say that I am? Why aren’t you doing what I do? I’m telling you the truth. I’m telling you the truth.” He tells it 70 times in the Gospel.
And so, what He said is, “Trust Me with all your heart; don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Me and I will keep your path straight.” And that takes humility, because we have to let go of our way of seeing, our way of thinking, our way of believing things are right and believe God. And that requires us to lower ourselves to trust Him.
Jim: As a life coach and a counselor, a person that’s hearing what we’re talkin’ about today, is saying, “Oh, no, this is me. I’ve not trusted God in that way. I’ve not believed Jesus in that way.” What’s one step they can take today to start heading in the right direction?
Leslie: Well, I would say that if they have that internal awareness that they haven’t done that, that that’s really good news, ‘cause the Holy Spirit is drawing them, because nobody even opens their eyes that way unless the Holy Spirit is calling them. So then I would say to you, “Get on your knees and say, “God, I need faith. I want to believe You. I don’t want to just believe in You; I want to believe what You say is true, because You have the words of not only eternal life. You have the words of life. And if we don’t follow Your plan, we’re gonna mess up our life and I want to believe you.”
John: What a powerful conclusion to our Focus on the Family conversation with Leslie Vernick, hearing about her book, How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World. And Jim, I really appreciated Leslie’s insights about being intentional and choosing a better way to live, that way of humility, which is really very counter-cultural today.
Jim: Oh, it’s so true, John. And it runs contrary to our own pride and selfish desires. I mean, that’s what we are as human beings. But I’m reminded of that great passage in Philippians 2 where we’re told, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Man, that is hard, isn’t it? That’s what Jesus did – He emptied himself, became a servant, and was obedient to God’s plan to sacrifice Himself on the cross for our sins. What an amazing gift! And what a great example for all of us.
Now here’s a challenge I’d like to give you, our listeners: would you be willing to do something selfless for someone else? Would you be willing to pass on this godly advice and encouragement to another person or family who really needs to hear it? Thousands of people are contacting Focus on the Family every day for this kind of help and for resources. And with your financial partnership, think of how much more God can do when we work together. Today’s families need our assistance more than ever and together, we can transform their lives. Please contact us today, and let me say “thank you,” in advance, for your generosity.
John: We really do appreciate anything you can do to help us. You can contribute then at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. And if you can make a gift today of any amount, we’ll gladly send a complimentary copy of Leslie’s book. We also have a link to our Listener Survey. Let me ask you to take a few minutes and fill that out. Your feedback is valuable as we craft programming to meet your needs.
Well, coming up next time, Al and Lisa Robertson of the Duck Dynasty clan sharing about the power of forgiveness, especially in marriage.
Al Robertson: You know, if I’m able to forgive Lisa on a consistent, daily basis with the little things, then we’re probably never gonna get to the big things. That’s what we’ve noticed.
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