J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Ugly Betty or the Problem with Self-Image

ugly-bettyHave you ever had someone point out something about you, maybe a habit or a characteristic, and when you hear it, you are absolutely surprised.  Your first thought might be, “No, there’s no way that is true about me.”  Maybe you think, “Huh, maybe.”  Maybe you just get angry that people messing around in your business.  Or most startling, you think, “I never knew that about myself.”  We like to think we are pretty self-aware, and even if we are private people, we still think we have put forth the image of ourselves that we want.  The problem is that is not always the case.  Objectivity doesn’t come easily, so sometimes people pick up on things that we do not pick up on.  It can be startling.

I remember one time where a friend had no idea that he made a soft humming noise every time he stretched the truth or even lied.  He did know he did it, and he definitely didn’t think anyone else had figured him out.  Well his wife knew, and one day, she said, “I know you are lying because when you lie you make a humming noise.” He said, “I do not,” and proceeded to slightly hum.  In that moment, he freaked out.  Not only was he now aware that he was lying, he was now aware that other people knew he was lying.  He almost couldn’t speak for the next day or two.

Well, knowing ourselves is not an easy thing, but it is a good thing.  Plato was famous for telling his students, “Know thyself.”  Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Even scripture says in Psalm 4.4, “When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”

It would appear that no matter who you are or what you believe, knowing yourself is important to a happy and healthy life.  Knowing ourselves is part of what makes up or represents our self-image.  Now, right or wrong, and probably more wrong, most folks determine their worth quite often by our self-image.

Sometimes we perceive ourselves by what we do:  I’m a pastor.  I’m a nurse.  I’m an engineer.  I’m a teacher.  I’m a homemaker.  I’m a student.

Sometimes we perceive ourselves by our family relationships:  I’m a father.  I’m a mother.  I’m a husband.  I’m a wife.  I’m a child.

Sometime we perceive ourselves by what we are not:  I’m not rich.  I’m not a doctor.  I’m not influential.  I am not smart.

Sometimes we perceive ourselves by our appearance.  I’m thin.  I’m fat.  I’m attractive.  I’m ugly.

There are two inherent dangers in perceiving ourselves by all of those things.  All of those things above can change in a minute.  You can be a teacher one minute and not the next.  You can be married one minute and not married the next.  You can be rich one minute and not the next.  You can be thin one moment and not thin the next.  The other problem is that we don’t perceive those things correctly in the first place.  We might think we are attractive but maybe not so much.  We might think we are ugly, but actually be quite attractive.  We might think we are poor, but compared to others, we are rich.  And so on and so on.

So how then, do we get a correct view of our self-image?  Well, I guess to truly understand our self-image, we would need to correct the problems with the above two things right?  We would need to see something about ourselves that does not change, and we would need to gain a correct perception of those things.  I would offer that those two things are only found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Fundamentally, if you have faith in Christ, you live out your understanding of that relationship with your relationships with other people.  Your security in your understanding of who you are in God gets tested each day as you interact with others who do not offer a relationship as secure.  That’s one of the reasons why so many struggle to believe they have a secure relationship with God because no other relationship anywhere is as secure.

Paul makes it simple.  He says, “It is a dead end road trying to earn approval from either God or man.  If you want to know whether you understand the Gospel or not, ask yourself if you are running around trying to win everyone’s else’s approval.  If you are, then you are not living out the life of serving Jesus.”

But this is where self-image and the understanding of the Gospel intersect.  So much of life is living up to expectations.  And when those expectations aren’t met, so many people turn to self-loathing.  Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy degrading, insulting, and criticizing ourselves and others.  For what reason?  Maybe we made a bad decision; maybe we don’t look very nice.  Maybe we said the wrong thing.  Maybe we flat out have chosen to sin by word, deed, or thought.  So, the question becomes, “What do we do with ourselves in those moments?”

Well, truthfully, we may not look very nice.  We may have said the wrong thing.  We may have chosen to sin by word, deed, or thought.  But, believing that our worth is diminished in the sight of God because of those things, is saying, “Thanks Jesus, but what you did…just not enough.”  We do need to confess our sin when are aware of it.  If there are unhealthy patterns in our lifestyle, we should change them by the power of God.  But those things no longer define you if you have faith in Jesus Christ.  You are defined by Jesus Christ.

Because of Jesus, God doesn’t look down and say, “Well, I have to love them because they are friends of Jesus, but they are ugly, smelly, rotten people.”   No your image, who you are, you’re identity through Jesus Christ is that you are a loved, child of God who sits comfortably within the hands of Jesus Christ, securely knowing that that place is never going to change.

What freedom we would actually have to obey, change our lives, change our thought processes, if we knew more assuredly, that our place before God is fixed and secure?

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.


September 17, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,


  1. Great message today, Gordon! Thank you!

    Comment by Jess C | September 17, 2009 | Reply

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