By: Caryn Tennant “Love; it will not betray you Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free Be more like the man you were made to be” – Mumford and Sons In January I arrived in Madrid to work here for 6 months with the aim of improving my Spanish. I have a degree in the language, but I had never used it so I wanted to test it out beyond the textbook. While I am profoundly grateful to be in Spain and to use the language, there is something humbling about how limiting a second-language can be. Most of the time I cannot express with depth what I would like to say – let alone ask with grammatical grace if the person across from me would be so kind as to pass the salt. I have thought about how some of the unglamorous experiences might be sharpening my character. There have been times I have been proud of myself for taking risks; and other moments when I realise my frailty and feel totally overwhelmed by how different everything is. Out of all this, I recently found myself questioning, what is a good self-esteem and how does one cultivate it? In reality, I have never met anyone with a perfect self-esteem; I am well aware that I haven’t mastered the perfect balance of self-confidence and humility either. Each of us carries brokenness which bleeds into our perceptions and reactions. There is nothing unusual about unhealthy practices of placing one’s identity in work or possessions or ‘likes’ or relationships. We have all done it at some point. As Christians, I think we sometimes buy the idea that we should be like meek, defenseless lambs or to ‘forget’ ourselves so as to serve another. On the other hand, we might slip into thinking that we are infallible because we have left behind ‘old ways’ and now we run some ministry or enjoy waxing-lyrical about theological matters. Can I be so bold as to say that each of us has a deformed self-esteem by merit of the fact that each of us struggles to see clearly, let alone, know the truth of who we are? And that this has caused us either to over-compensate in arrogance, or undervalue aspects of ourselves? The truth of who we are is a big one. What does that even mean? Recently, I went on a retreat where a nun who was leading spoke about ‘mystery’. Sister Lorella, a rambunctious nun, said that mystery does not mean ‘secret’; no, it is something that is slowly revealed. It cannot be known in its entirety – only piece by piece, day by day. I find freedom in the fact that I do not fully know who I am, who God is, who my closest friends are. I know some of aspects, and as time goes on, I know more. Circumstances in our lives will make us feel stronger, and others will leave us feeling crushed. So, I suppose that our self-esteem waxes and wanes. But I would like to hope that how we see ourselves does not have to be attributed to the things that happen to us. So how do we, with confidence, learn to walk around in the skin we have been given, regardless of what happens? I don’t have a simple answer. But from my own experience, I have found that through prayer and Scripture, I have been able to delve deeper into the truth of who God says I am. The best place to start is by spending time in the presence of Jesus and to to read the Gospels. If we are to place ourselves in the shoes of the people who encounter Jesus, you and I will also find ourselves met by the loving gaze of He who came to heal and restore. I find extraordinary value in the fact that Christianity is not a religion of ‘forgetting ourselves´ by becoming less of who we are. We do not have to go out of who we are to walk the Christian road. This same nun told us on retreat that when we are with God, we bring to Him the density of our being. We are not an empty glass to be filled. We are full of who we are and that is beautiful. We are full of light and beauty and imperfections and experiences and desires and burdens. We are complex – and yet we are accepted. When Jesus calls ordinary people like you and me to be disciples, He calls them as they are. That is why He speaks to Peter in Luke 5:1-11, He calls Him not to be someone else, but to be the fisherman that He already is! “Come, follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” I find it beautiful that discipleship is a continuation and a fulfilment of who we inherently are. We become more of ourselves by receiving and becoming more aware of God’s love for us. Unlike other religions where one has to go out of oneself to reach God, Christianity is about Jesus coming to us. Just as Jesus takes time to be alone with individuals, to heal them, to talk with them apart from the crowd, so Jesus desires to seek each of us and to do something new. See this interaction between Jesus and a crippled woman in Luke 13:10-13. We are told that her upper body was doubled-over for quite some time. For eighteen years, this woman was quite literally navel-gazing. She could not walk tall as the person she was. Sister Lorella shared with us that God is always at work in our lives. In fact, Jesus gets into trouble for performing miracles on the Sabbath day instead of resting. He works tirelessly for our good. “Woman, you are free,” (Luke 13) are the words he wants to speak to us all. He wants to heal us not by stripping us bare of all our peculiarities and quirks. No, He wants to meet us where we are; and extend who we are. If there was anyone who mastered the perfect self-esteem, I would think it was Jesus because He was perfectly aware and perfectly able to receive the love of His Father. If we want to walk tall and love others, we need to spend time in God’s presence and receive His love over and over again because we seem to forget it too easily. If I am to proclaim that there is a God who loves tirelessly, forgives mercifully and heals resplendently then I need to believe this is true for me too. This healing I speak of will not come all at once; it is a process, and one I am willing to commit to. Do something powerful today – tell yourself that the world needs your light, and that this light is desperately needed by someone today. Tell yourself that if God loves and accepts who you are, then so can you. About the Author Caryn Tennant My inspirations are the smell of croissants, Pope Francis and café interiors. I have had too many hometowns, but currently I’m living in Cape Town where I finished my BA degree and am now teaching English at a high school. My bucket list includes studying theology, speaking Spanish in Spain, and running a half marathon.