Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Singer’s passing is a reminder that youth (and adults) should derive their self-esteem from the right sources

The recent death of musician Amy Winehouse is a vivid reminder that, beginning as early in life as possible, individuals need to develop healthy perspectives on their value as a human being. Amy Winehouse was an award-winning musician who enjoyed praise from fans, respect from critics, and international fame. But clearly the perks of stardom and the gratification of artistic expression weren’t enough to fill Amy Winehouse’s heart.

Like so many other musical firebrands who burned out early (the list of more famous names includes Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Presley, Cobain, et al), Winehouse seemed to truly be on a path of intentional destruction. It has been agonizing to watch her journey play out over the last few years: There has been habitual drunkenness, drug use, erratic public performances- not to mention shocking changes in appearance that included plastic surgery and the toll exacted by her lifestyle. Amy Winehouse had many things that people would assume should amount to happiness- yet it was clear that she was unfulfilled.

Amy Winehouse’s story is one more true-life illustration of some basic realities about what it means to be human. Though they may not say it in these words, all individuals seek acceptance, significance, and security. We all want to feel like we have value as a person and that our life has meaning. Our pursuits for solid answers to the heart’s deep longings may tempt us to do things that can be personally detrimental. The quest to fill the heart can lead to destruction of the body in which that heart (and soul) are housed.

I believe this is what happened to the late Amy Winehouse. After two decades in ministry and in the course of working with countless families, I have seen similar scenarios played out in the lives of many people. Parents should understand that they must encourage their children to find personal worth, value, and meaning in the appropriate places. The natural longings of the human mind and soul should be answered in ways that are not destructive to the individual.

Self-esteem: Developing a sense of how I see me
Whether positive or negative, realistic or not, the views we form of ourselves during childhood and adolescence stay with us for years. Our self-esteem influences mental acuity, emotional health, and behavior.

Beverly Odom, assistant director of a large student ministry in Georgia, says, “The pressure on most kids today is just unbelievable. The quest to be accepted goes on “24-7.” Odom comments on the fact that even youth from religious homes (who would likely be more inclined to base their self worth on their relationship to God) are not immune to pressures related to image and popularity: “Even Christian teens can lose sight of all that they have in Christ, and can be pressured to do things that, deep down, they know are wrong. Teen girls, especially, constantly compare themselves to each other and to images they see in the media. I often see the body obsession thing linger on into adulthood.”

How do we help the youth in our lives arrive at a God-honoring, balanced sense of self? “The kids we’ve seen flourish are the ones who accurately understand who they are in Christ,” says Odom. “They must draw their identity from Jesus. Parents should try and steer their kids away from allowing peer-pressure, social posturing, or the media sour their perspective.”

Finding a godly, healthy perspective in a “world about me”

For a Christian, there are clear and tangible reasons to feel OK about who they are. Your teen’s understanding of his own worth should be grounded on (and bolstered by) the following realities:

1. By the fact that they are made in God’s image;

2. In the awareness that Jesus personally cares about them;

3. Through the unconditional love present in your home;

4. Through the accepting haven provided by one’s church;

5. In their true status as a resident (and heir) of heaven;

6. In the confidence that God truly has a plan for their life.

These truths can be a great source of encouragement, but we know that emotions don’t automatically “catch up” to the facts that we hold in our mind. Self-esteem issues often feed on irrationality. We must vigilantly pursue an honest view of ourselves, of our circumstances, and of God. Feelings of insecurity (which can lead to unhealthy behaviors) should not ‘trump’ the facts (that we are made in God’s image and are complete in Him Christ).

For the Christian, one’s self-esteem is grounded in things outside of themselves (see Colossians 2:8-9). Of the six realities listed above, none lead us to find our value by comparing ourselves to others. Somebody will always come along who is prettier, a better athlete, wealthier, or who has a higher GPA. In a world of more than six billion people, that’s inevitable.

Approach life as a competition, and it doesn’t take long to realize that we all eventually get left in the dust of the next fastest runner. The comfort is in knowing that we are a priority to Christ.

The tragic decline and death of Amy Winehouse is a reminder that people of all ages need a clear understanding of Who Jesus is, and a personal experience of His love and care. This provides lasting purpose and clear direction- even to those traversing the heady, challenging, and sometimes “tooth-and-claw” years of adolescence.


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