Monday, February 11, 2013

Lent As A Treatment For Excessive Self Esteem

Fr. Dale Matson

The season of Lent will arrive this week. It is a time for reflection, confession, repentance, penance, almsgiving and prayer. It is forty days of preparation for Easter where our Lord arose bodily from the grave. Lent is a penitential season. It is a time of confession of sins, self-denial, fasting, reading of Scripture and personal sacrifice. For Catechumens, it is a time of preparation for Baptism. In the Lenten season, the focus is on contrition and cleansing. It begins on Ash Wednesday where ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the penitent.

“Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen”
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  (BCP 265)

In 2000, I was a university preparation program director and consultant to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. We were creating new standards for programs that trained students for credentials in School Psychology, School Counseling, and School Social Work. The state of California mandated that a standard be included to address Self Esteem in school children.

"Pupil Services Standards of Program Quality and Effectiveness
Standard 8
Self-esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility
The program provides candidates with opportunities and experiences to assess
their own self-esteem and to demonstrate an understanding of principles associated with the building of (a) self-esteem, (b) personal and social responsibility, and (c) their relationship to the life-long learning process.
Several national and California studies have indicated that a relationship exists between pupil achievement and self-esteem. Self-esteem and self-affirmation as well as a sense of personal and social responsibility are attitudes that contribute to the development of academically capable, active, socially responsible citizens in society. The building of self-esteem and personal and social responsibility are shared responsibilities of the pupil, school, family, and community.”

At the time we were crafting the standards, some of the panel members including me, felt that Self-esteem needed to be paired with social responsibility. Students needed to take responsibility for their actions. Actually, I believe Self efficacy was what we were really after but the State of California had mandated through legislation, a new training standard to be written to develop Self-esteem. I believe this encouraged an environment where competition was discouraged and everyone was a winner. I believe Self-esteem does not create good grades. Good grades created self-esteem. This emphasis on Self-esteem contributed to inflated grades. Recently, even using red ink for corrections on student work has been questioned, because it can be seen as punitive. (

What has this led to? Well, how about this?

“College students, we keep hearing, are different from prior generations. And not in a good way: In studies they've been branded as overstressed, unsympathetic slackers in comparison to their parents. Today, we can also add that they're "overconfident." The research arrives from Dr. Jean Twenge, who published new findings claiming that self-ratings of freshman confidence have noticeably risen compared with students in the 60's. Twenge explained her latest research to the Associated Press by saying ‘it's not just confidence. It’s overconfidence’ that defines the current generation.” (

So, my prescription for this current crop of students who have this inflated sense of self-worth, sense of entitlement and narcissism is the 40 days of Lent. This is actually a good prescription for all of us. It is a way of downsizing the ego.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3)  

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