As a teenager, my self-esteem was wrapped up in fitting in with the guys and impressing the girls. As you can probably imagine—and relate—it was crushing. No matter how popular I became, there was always someone more popular and more well-liked. No matter how many girls I dated or showed interest in me, there were always others that wouldn’t give me the time of day.
I remember thinking that getting older and getting married would fix both problems. When I got older, I’d be the top dog at a company, or a college, or an industry. I would become the guy everyone else would long to know and be known by. The room would light up just because Brandon Smith walked into it.
When I got married, I’d never be lonely again. Marriage was a magical land of googly-eyed enchantment. I would be her knight in shining armor, and she’d be grateful every day to have my love.
I was married at 26 and just turned 30 in September. Guess what? I’m still lonely at times. I still feel rejected, left out, and underappreciated. I don’t run the show at B&H Publishing. I’m one screw holding together one piston in an enormous engine.
My wife isn’t always happy with me, and she’s usually more tired-eyed from being with our toddler all day than googly-eyed to see me come home from work. Our love is not a unicorn-riding fairytale—it’s hard work, self-sacrifice, and covenantal devotion.
What I’ve learned—and am still learning—in my short life is that the cross indicts my self-esteem. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, stepped into human history on the greatest mission trip of all-time. Why? Because I’m a mess. There is no esteem in me from the start, so my self-esteem is sinking sand.
If I’m Debbie Downer about myself—I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, my wife doesn’t appreciate me enough, my daughter doesn’t respect me enough—the cross reminds me that I’m not as worthless as I think I am. I am loved and approved of by my heavenly Father through his Son and by his Spirit.
When I’m flying high, thinking I’m the man because I get a pat on the back at work or my wife’s frown turns upside down when I get home, I cannot rest in that either. The cross reminds me that I’m not as great as people might think I am. The spotless Lamb bled and died, bearing the billion-ton wrath of the Father, because of my sin and brokenness.
My life is better than I could’ve ever imagined. Work is more fulfilling when I remember that God has placed me there for a purpose. Marriage is more joyful than I could’ve ever imagined when I remember that faithfulness trumps lust, perseverance trumps comfort, and displaying the gospel trumps an Instagram couple-selfie.
My self-esteem, good or bad, cannot sustain me. It’s a toothpick house in a tornado. But because of the esteem of Christ—his perfect love on full, bloody display—I am redeemed, made whole. No power of Hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20 HCSB)