Since the season has ended for my favorite show, This Is Us, I have found a new series to watch called Designated Survivor. Kiefer Sutherland plays the role of President of the United States, Tom Kirkman. Although an unlikely candidate for the position, he accepts his duty to serve when there is no one else to fill the role. Given the unusual circumstances under which he became the most powerful leader of the free world (I’m trying not to give too much away here), President Kirkman not only faces opposition from other political leaders, but he also battles himself. He frequently wonders aloud, “Am I qualified? Can I do this? Am I good enough?” If you and I are really honest, don’t most of us ask these same questions?
In psychological terms, such questions are related to our self-concept. Since the self-esteem movement started in 1969 when Nathaniel Branden wrote The Psychology of Self-Esteem, there has been an overemphasis on making kids feel good even if they didn’t accomplish anything. Every player on every team gets a trophy, whether they win or lose. As a result we have many young people who live with a sense of entitlement.
In her New York Times best seller, The Gifts of Imperfection: Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life, researcher and author Brene’ Brown says, “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance” (26). In order to belong, we must first accept ourselves. We must own our story — the good, the bad, and the ugly. When we experience and embrace suffering, and even failure, we discover strength, gratitude and freedom we never knew before. We develop resilience.
Developing a healthy view of self requires Self-Awareness and Humility. Self-Awareness is knowing our strengths and weaknesses. It’s finding out what we can do well, doing that to the best of our ability and asking for help with the things that are harder for us. Humility is not thinking too much or too little of ourselves. We don’t think we’re better than everybody else, but we also don’t think that we need to go eat worms. One of the ways this balanced view is formed is through praying the Prayers, such as the ancient Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Whether we are parents, teachers, grandparents, youth workers or community volunteers, our children are watching and learning from us. Therefore, wrestling through the doubts and questions related to our own sense of self is doubly worthwhile.
It really comes down to a question of identity as children of God. When we know, deep in our hearts, that we are loved by God and others regardless of our mistakes, then we can live with confidence and purpose. It is both our self-perception and our relationships that make us who we are. Like Gloria Dump tells Opal in Because of Winn-Dixie as they stand under the bottle tree, “…you can’t always judge people by the things they done. You got to judge them by what they are doing now.” We need each other.
What I admire about President Kirkman from Designated Survivor is his genuineness. The tension between his power and personhood makes him a good leader, one worth following. He is a man of character. As Brooks notes in The Road to Character, a person of strong inner character who has a certain depth has not led a life of “conflict-free tranquility, but has struggled toward maturity” (xvii).
So, if you, like me, are working through self-examination and repentance as we move from Lent into Holy Week, take heart. Jesus specializes in making all things new. The celebration of Resurrection is on the way.