Posted on April 13, 2014

Dr. Newton Malony, a well-respected psychologist and theologian, wrote in one of the several books he has authored: "Persons do not discover who they are by reason. They are told who they are and accept it on faith." I believe that.

Years ago there was a famous test about self-understanding and personal performance. People were given puzzles to solve. Unknown to each other, everyone in the test group received exactly the same set of puzzles. They worked on them, handed them in, and waited expectantly for the examiners to grade them and give them back. The results of the test were fictitious. The examiners made them up. They didn't even look at the puzzles. They simply said to half of the group, "You did well on the test," and to the other half, "You failed the test." Then they distributed ten more puzzles to all the group members. Again each participant received exactly the same set. This time when they were handed in, the puzzles were graded. The participants who had been told that they did well on the previous test, did well on this test. The participants who had been told that they had failed the first test, did poorly on the second one. "We do not discover who we are by reason. We are told who we are and accept it on faith."

In Hebrew Scripture we read: “As people think in their hearts, so they are.” (Proverbs 23:7) Sometimes our confidence or doubts are self-fulfilling prophecies. In short, we live into the vision we have of ourselves. And frequently that vision was passed along to us by somebody else. We accept how others (rightly or wrongly) assessed us, and we live in ways that reinforce those assessments. Children who are consistently told by their parents that they should not aim too high, that they should not set themselves up for disappointment, that they are not equipped for success, will usually live down to those low expectations. They will accept a kind of inadequate self-esteem that was created by a parent who did not understand the beauty of human potential. By the same token, many a young person with merely adequate academic skills excels professionally and personally because a mother or father or some other adult instilled in them at an early age: “You can do anything and be anything you desire.” “As people think in their hearts, so they are.”

The important point is that we can become the captains of our own destiny. Another person’s notions about us do not (and should not) define us. If someone else thinks we are inadequate or unworthy, Jesus counters by saying: “I have called you my friends.” (John 15:15) That means whenever anyone says, “You are not good enough,” we can honestly answer: “I am one of Jesus’ friends. If I’m good enough for Him, who are you to judge otherwise?”

Day by day, there is wisdom in reminding ourselves of who (and Whose) we really are. Perhaps each morning a helpful discipline would be to stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, and repeat a mantra of self-worth: “I am Jesus’ friend!,” or “I am a child of God!,” or “I am divinely created with unlimited potential!,” or even, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Like Dr. Malony said, someone will tell us who we are. Let that someone be Jesus, and you can become more than you ever dared to dream.


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