The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

August 20, 2008

Where Is My Confidence?

In his book Hope Against Darkness, Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr writes,

Greatness emerges when, above all else, people are confident. When we believe—together—that life is good, God is good and humanity is good, we become very safe and salutary people for others. We do exciting and imaginative things because we are confident that we are a part of a story line that is going somewhere and we want to be connected to something good.

But what about those of us for whom confidence is often difficult? What about those of us who wake up many mornings feeling the sky is going to fall as soon as our feet hit the floor? Is "greatness" closed to those who find it difficult to work the alchemy of confidence?

Sometimes it just does not feel that "life is good, God is good and humanity is good." Evidence may suggest that life is difficult, God is distant and humanity is dangerous. How do we find "confidence" when we feel we are in "a story line" that seems to be going nowhere?

The etymology of the word "confidence" is helpful. "Confidence" is made up of the intensive prefix "com" and "fidere," to trust. "Fidere" is also the root for the english word "faith." So "confidence" is intense trust or faith.

The important question to ask the concept "confidence" is "where are you placing your faith"?

Often "confidence" looks like self-assurance. A person who believes she can do anything seems to be a "confident" person. High performance atheles train themselves to believe in themselves; they picture their success and place absolute faith in their abilities. When they achieve a certain level of confidence, they can take great pride in their well-earned success.

The Hebrew prophet Habakkuk questions the concept of self-confidence and its partner pride. Habbakuk warns, "Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them." Then he goes on to offer a corrective to the proud human spirit saying that "the rigtheous live by their faith." (Habakkuk) Pride and self-confidence may have their place but they are not the same as faith.

At the end of his short book, Habakkuk offers a picture of the biblical vision of confidence. He outlines a series of terrible calamities, "Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines." The list goes on and on as the prophet paints a terrifying picture of all the worst things that could happen to people living in an agrarian culture. Then Habakkuk concludes, "yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 3:17,18)

Everything in the prophet's vision suggests that life is not good, God is not good and the forces of creation are working against God's people. In response, the prophet does not proclaim, "In spite of all this I believe in myself; I choose to picture success and to have confidence that I will find a way through my difficulties." Instead, Habakkuk says, "yet I will rejoice in the Lord." In spite of everything I will take joy in God. Faith is the ability to find joy no matter what may be happening in the surface circumstances of my life.

Habakkuk understood what I so often forget. He understood that joy does not lie in making the circumstances of my life turn out the way I think they should turn out. Joy is not located on the surface of life; it is found in the depths of my being where I can know "the God of my salvation."

The problem with looking to my circumstances to give me joy is of course that my circumstances will never be good enough, or stable enough to insure that no calamity ever upsets my sense of well-being. There will always be more struggles to replace those I manage to conquer.

The difficult circumstances of my life are not an enemy to be defeated. They are an opportunity to be embraced. The difficult circumstances of my life come to me as a gift. They have the power to open me to a deeper place within myself where I know that the goodness of life does not depend upon anything as uncertain, changeable and unreliable as my circumstances.

I do not think we are looking for "Hope against darkness," as the title of Rohr's book seems to suggest. I think we are looking for hope in the midst of darkness. Faith offers us the opportunity to see light in the darkness. It offers us a living relationship with the power of God that makes it possible to find strength even in the wilderness of doubt, uncertainty and fear.

The problem for some of us is that we take our feelings too seriously. We believe that our feelings are reality. When I wake anxious in the morning and lie in bed with my stomach churning, I need to hear that churning calling me to a deeper place. I need to see that my insecurity is a gift that, if I will receive it, will draw me to a place within myself where I can know that the goodness of God does hold me no matter what the day may bring.

There is one word in Richard Rohr's paragraph that may help me find this place of depth and true confidence within myself. It is a surprising word. Rohr says, "When we believe - together." Doubt, fear, uncertainty, and insecurity are fueled by isolation. There are times when I need to be surrounded by people who have the confidence in God's goodness that I may lack. There are times when I need to be carried by the faith of others. Despair is fostered by loneliness. The spirit of those who find it easier to stay connected to the light and truth within themselves can help me to open to the presence of God that sustains and upholds me.

Community can be the birthplace of hope and the cradle of confidence. I need people of hope in my life. I need the faith of others to give me strength when I am wandering in the wilderness. And, at times, I may be able to help those who are lost find the source of life in their own being as I turn and trust again in the goodness and love of the God who created and sustains me through this journey of life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that article. After letting go of a relationship with a guy I dated for a little over a year, I found myself feeling lost. I also realized that I foolishly had allowed my boyfriend to control me (and he didn't even try to). I cried out to God last night to help me find confidence because I always try to get it from the wrong places...the circumstantial things as you mentioned. For me it's been my relationships, my looks, my career, or when I am not in a relationship...I used to find it in alcohol. God showed me last night that my true confidence can only be found in him.