At the start of some years I choose a theme to define a particular bent I hope to pursue over the coming months, a certain learning I hope to discover that might enrich my desire to “live well”. Less like a resolution and more like a response to a vague, growing awareness, the annual assessment admits that great potential to grow could exist with further examination of said burgeoning theme.
This year, immediately after choosing ‘confidence’ as fodder for fruitful learning, God brought to my attention a single word: selfishness. Namely mine, and the distinct reality that it would be (had been!) a stumbling block to my self-impression and that which I contribute to the world. This was an unexpected and rather discouraging revelation. This is gonna hurt, I recall thinking.
Perhaps more challenging than the notion that I am selfish is what I found several weeks later in the pages of a small but substantial book*: “The nature and depth of human pride are illuminated by boasting [and] self-pity…The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be so needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego. It doesn’t come from a place of unworthiness but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.”
As my eyes delivered these words to my heart, I felt it squeeze at the truth of this intimately familiar reflection of my self-centered spirit. I thought of my fierce struggle to stay home with young kids, my sometimes sense of stark under appreciation, my hesitation to speak or write or sing without tremendous encouragement, my grudging attitude toward serving my husband, the control I seek in positions of authority. This conviction was so honestly ugly and true.
Then, the most peculiar thing occurred. My family crowded from the kitchen onto my bed, led by my 5-year old daughter, to intercede against the “bad bugs” in my stomach, a lingering illness from an unidentified source. They quietly grabbed my hands and asked in turn for my healing. My 2-year old son, just learning the art of prayer, squeezed his eyes shut and earnestly thanked God for the bad bugs which are no different to a child his size than good bugs or green bugs or happy bugs.
I cried hot tears. The joy that moved my daughter’s face shouted something equally honest and true; the delight of loving well, of treasuring and being treasured, decimates the desperate need to prove one’s own worth, to seek its promotion. This is the foundation of self-surety, a surrender of pride in the face of enormous, satisfying love.
The reason confidence is prey to attack by doubt is the perceived risk we fear in giving up our will to pursue God’s. What will we lose? What is the cost of this surrender? Often, we believe the cost of losing control is simply too high. We do not want to accept that our worth is defined so humbly as God’s redemption of our failure; we do not want to be the ugly that gives God glory.
Only when we experience profound, pride-crippling love, do we begin to understand that there is no real danger in God’s perfect, pleasing will. We eagerly relinquish our small selves to allow more of his mysterious, gracious presence. Accepting less of me allows more of his greatest gift, the Holy Spirit, to grow powerful, eternal, intimate life within me. Thus, gaining confidence is not a rising up, a gathering of merit and courage and flawless form but, rather, a leaning in to the death-defying joy that exists in the exchange of my will for His.
“Everything is possible for him who believes.” -Mark 9:23
“If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father is the one who glorifies me.” -John 8:54
“I have come to enable you to serve [the Father] without fear.” -Luke 1:74
*The Dangerous Duty of Delight, John Piper