Self-Love or Self-Loathing?

Pride brings a person low,
    but the lowly in spirit gain honor.

  • Proverbs 29:23

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

  • 2 Timothy 3:1-5

“How high do you rate on the ‘Self-Love’ scale? A recent major news article leads with the headline ‘Self-Love Must Come First.’ On the surface it makes sense: if low self-regard is at the core of underachievement, then high self-regard would be the logical path to success. How does the ‘self-love first’ plan for a happy life stack up to biblical truth?

“Both unduly high and low self-esteem spring from the same fountain, the well of self-focus. That obsession is called pride. Matthew 5:3 says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Poor in spirit means those who recognize their need for God’s grace. On the other hand, the proud are those who have no need for God or believe they deserve His acceptance based on their own merits.

“Applying a biblical perspective starts with an honest look in the mirror, acknowledging you have missed the mark. Confessing your need for mercy and forgiveness, God’s grace will rush toward you through the perfect life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Once adopted into God’s Kingdom through Christ, ‘the self’ experiences a wonderful re-creation and is declared accepted, and of great value.

“Don’t get side-tracked by high or low self-focus today. Instead, see yourself in the light of God’s great love and a rich life of significance will follow. ‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less’ (C.S. Lewis).”

  • Presidential Prayer Team Devotion

The C. S. Lewis quote at the end of the quoted devotion is a good one.  I also like the one about how humiliation would not hurt as much if we were humbler.

If we can look at the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy as a progression in the end times, we could be there or at least near the end.  At least our politicians do all that. We should watch out, but the first symptom on Paul’s list is the love of self.  Notice that near the end of Paul’s laundry list of poor behavior is the love of pleasure.  People in the US today are confused by the Declaration of Independence, written over 200 years ago.  They think that happiness is a right, not the pursuit of happiness.  Falling short of happiness, people who think they have a right to be happy lash out, sometimes with deadly force.  Most of our problems today – in government, in our schools, in social interactions, in the church denominations, in business – can be focused back on Paul’s list in one way or another.  We have taken the focus off God and placed it on ourselves.  Our self-esteem is more important than everything else in the world.

We are so worried in harming a child’s self-esteem that we fail to discipline the child, and we hand out participation medals for hardly trying in sports.

I have written a couple of times about not particularly caring for “competition,” but really, I suppose I do not like the over-competitive nature of the competitors, their zeal in crushing the opponent.  I like it when the opposing sides can meet on the playing field and shake hands afterwards. 

I still feel that there is no competition in Heaven.  At that point, do we have anything left to prove?  There is no need to establish ourselves as winners.  We already are.  And I do not believe there could ever be a loser in Heaven, no matter how much we come in second, or even last, here on earth.

But there is unintended competition on earth in almost every endeavor.  We try to prove our self-worth.  Yet, there are successes and failures.  If the ‘competition’ was an all-in endeavor and we succeed, we are on cloud nine, but did we give God any of the credit?  If we fail, our self-image goes into a death spiral.

I know of death spirals.  I briefly went through pilot training during my senior year of college, sponsored by the Army.  I was taking an overload of classes, mostly graduate level, in the fall semester, found the weather not cooperating when I had free time to fly, and was dropped from the flight program in the Spring semester, even though I had taken a small load of classes to do things that I had neglected, like flying.  But one of the first things that a good flight instructor teaches is how to detect a stall and how to recover from a stall.

For those who are not pilots, a “stall” in an airplane is when the wings lose their lift and you fall out of the sky like a rock – unless you recover.  To get “lift,” you must have forward motion, cutting through the air with air flowing faster over the top of the wing than under the wing, caused by the wing shape in normal flight.  This speed difference causes an air pressure difference, pushing upward on the wings – “lift.”  But if you climb too steeply (blocking the air flow beneath the wings from lifting – think kite, not wing) or you are going too slow (not enough air flowing above and below the wings to create lift), the wings can lose their lift and you stall.  This is a lot more of a problem with small aircraft and of most concern when taking off and when flying with a strong tail wind.  Really, a perfect landing is a lot like a planned stall, when you try to lose the lift and gently drop the last foot or two to the ground.  Flying a small plane onto the ground is dangerous and makes for a rough landing.

I was good at detecting a stall, and I was good at quickly recovering before any problems occurred by stalling (landings almost textbook), but my substitute instructor, when his boss was not available, was a stunt pilot when he wasn’t an assistant instructor.  He wanted to see how I reacted when we went into a stall similar to those in the airshows.  He just didn’t let me know ahead of time.  One problem was that this was not an airplane designed for stunt flying.  He told me to lift the nose of the plane and cut back on the throttle.  I knew the drill for stall practice.  I anticipated it since we were at a higher than normal altitude and over wilderness, nothing but pine trees for miles and miles – near Camp Yocona scout camp in northern Mississippi.  Then he kept telling me to lift the nose more, more, more.  By this point, we were in a stall condition.  The airplane was shaking violently, but he still wasn’t satisfied.  For a few seconds, we had lost so much forward thrust that we started falling backwards.  I was about to level off and give the plane full throttle when the instructor reached over and gave both of my arms a vicious karate chop.

The karate chop caused me to lose my grip on the control wheel entirely, but one hand let go a little later than the other.  I think he stomped on one of the rudder peddles. This made the plane flip over, dropping straight toward the ground at a ‘ludicrous’ speed.  I grabbed the control wheel and found a stable position, but the wheel only controlled the elevators and ailerons, both useless in a stall – just essential immediately afterward.  Although we were going straight toward the ground, I gave the airplane full throttle.  If you ever wondered what a pine tree looks like from directly overhead, it is not a pretty sight.  File it under, “Do not attempt this at home.”

Because the flip was uneven, we began to spin – really, really fast.  I didn’t have time to get sick.  If I didn’t act fast, we would both die.  In spite of what was going on, the instructor asked in an inhumanly calm conversational voice, “What is the first thing that you need to do?”

I screamed, “Stop the spinning!” (Knowing how I felt, you could add multiple exclamation points.)

“And how do you intend to do that?” Still with a smile on his face, and very calm.

“The ailerons are useless without lift on the wings.  I am shoving the left rudder as hard as I can.  That’s our only hope, but I can’t push any harder!  We keep spinning faster!”

“Well then,” still in his calm voice, “If we crash, it won’t matter whether we are wearing our seatbelts.  Why not we both unbuckle and stand on the left foot peddle together?”

We did so.  The spinning slowed and finally stopped.  That gave me one or two seconds to do a lot of things, at once.  We were now flying at a speed that the aircraft was not designed to fly – straight down, toward pine trees – and I was no longer sitting in the pilot seat, halfway sitting on the floor.  I scrambled to get back into the seat.  Now that we were flying, I could use the wheel.  I pulled up, lifting the nose of the aircraft using the elevators, back at the tail, to level the flight.  I looked out the window and saw the horizon.  I looked at the attitude display to see if we were at level flight. That checked out, nose on the horizon and wing tips level.

He calmly suggested that I gain some altitude before flying back to the airport.  I looked around us and saw that we were extremely close to the ground, at least at treetop level.  I had no problem complying.

We practiced a few more maneuvers on our way back, nothing too daring, but as for stalls, I was emotionally spent, no more that day.

I taxied the airplane to its parking spot.  I turned off the engine.  I chocked the wheels, and I started to walk back to the terminal when the instructor got huffy.  “Sir, you may be an Army officer in a few months, but you are, right this minute, my student.  You will clean the aircraft before you go home.”

When I had chocked the airplane, I was not noticing anything other than the wheels.  When I looked back at the aircraft from a few paces away, I noticed limbs from pine trees stuck in the landing gear and a few bunches of pine needles in places that defied logic, like between the flaps and the ailerons on the wings and in the air intake of our single, thus only, engine.  A little more in those areas would have made flying impossible.

While I did my cleaning, the instructor doubled over laughing.  I guess for a stunt pilot, any flight, or crash, that you walk away from was a good one, worthy of celebration and a good laugh.

So, yes, I escaped ‘crashing’ an airplane – crashing in that I contacted things on the ground while still flying.  Yes, I know what a death spiral is, but I walked away – a little wobbly, but I walked.

But, back to the topic…  Whenever we have too much self-esteem or not enough self-esteem, everything revolves around us, or so we think.  Oh, precious us.  We do not get participation trophies in life.  We just get crashes that we can walk away from (or not).  Why did my instructor and I hit pine trees while flying an airplane?  Maybe the instructor had just a little bit too much confidence in himself.  It took both of us standing on that rudder peddle to pull out of the dive.

Being confident is important, but confidence in the Lord is more important.  Don’t get worried about your press clippings, good or bad.  Just keep your eyes on Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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