And now with the confidence

I was shivering along the edge of Reeds Lake at 6 a.m. ten days ago, psyching myself up to plunge into the water.  The air was unusually cool, the wind was brisk, and it was pitch black.  If it were not for my commitment to my training partners, I might very well have gone back home to bed.  It was my last open water swim before participating yesterday in the Ford Ironman Triathlon in Louisville, Kentucky.

In order to keep track of each other, we wore makeshift lights.  I slipped a tiny LED flashlight inside a milk gallon jug, tied string around my ankle with a slip knot, and let the jug float 10 feet behind me.  As we began swimming across the lake and followed each other’s lights, I couldn’t help but smile and think, “This gives a new twist to ‘This Little Light of Mine.’  If I can make it through this swim, the Ohio River will be easy.”  Every early morning swim, every 7 hour bike ride, and every grueling long run in the summer heat not only built strength, endurance, and technique, but added to the confidence I needed to complete the race.

Whenever I think of the word “confidence,” this phrase comes to mind, “And now with the confidence of children of God, let us pray, ‘Our Father …’”  Every one of the hundreds of times I have served the sacrament of holy communion in The United Methodist Church, I marvel at the power of this phrase.  It reminds me that confidence is not only a human quality, it is a gift from God and a key characteristic of a happy, healthy life.

Simply put, confidence is a belief in ourselves and our abilities. When we are sure of ourselves, we are able to be a better parent, employee, and leader as well as a more faithful Christian.  Confidence-building starts as soon as we are born.  Parents are instrumental in forming our self-worth when they create a safe, supportive environment, provide the necessities of life, and encourage their children to become all that God created them to be.

On the other hand, nothing destroys confidence and self-worth more than poverty or instability in the home.  Children who do not have good role models, steady support systems, or the opportunity for an excellent education often spend years learning how to believe in themselves.

We all know what it is like to be confident as well as experience a crisis of confidence.  At times, our confidence even changes by the day!  We can also easily tell when others are confident or timid.  We see it in their poise and mannerisms as well as in their words and performance.

How do you and I gain confidence, whether it’s in our work, hobbies, personal, or spiritual life?

  • The more we do something, the more confident we become
    • Persistence, practice, and determination produce confidence
    • Don’t pretend to know something you don’t: do your homework but also be comfortable with your limitations
    • Changing a bike tire becomes a lot easier once you’ve done it a few times
  • The more self-aware we are, the more confident we become
    • Face your fears rather than shrink from them
    • Don’t compare yourself to others: set your own goals and stretch yourself
    • Be conscious of the impact a confident demeanor has on others
    • Always accept responsibility and apologize for your mistakes
  • The more others encourage us, the more confident we become
    • Do not underestimate the power of others believing in us
    • Deliberately seek out mentors and trusted friends to coach you
  • The more we rely on God through the Holy Spirit, the more confident we become
    • Envision yourself as God sees you, which is at your best!
    • Humbly accept the gifts of God in you: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God… (2 Cor. 3:4-5)
    • Claim God’s presence with you always: “For the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from getting caught.”  (Psalm 3:26)

Just as quickly as we gain confidence, we can lose it, as individuals and as churches.  Perhaps we made a major mistake in a music recital, the sermon bombed, the person we asked out for a date said “no, not ever,” we experience a batting slump in baseball, or we can’t seem to make a putt (aka “the yips”).  More insidious, however, are the times when our faith and confidence in God is shaken rather than our self-confidence.  We experience a tragic death, which results in the feeling that God has let us down.  We are deeply hurt by someone whom we completely trusted.  A child is diagnosed with inoperable cancer.  We’ve been without a job for 2 years with no hope in sight.

When our confidence is gone, the best we can do is start over with the basics of confidence-building.

  • Continue on with patience, endurance, and resolve
  • Acknowledge and embrace our pain
  • Allow others to surround us with love and support
  • Claim that faith which is “the courageous confidence that trusts in the Source of all gifts” (David Steindl-Rast)

If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’
then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.
Vincent Van Gogh

Confidence is a critical quality for leaders.  By our words, presence, and behavior, we can communicate either confidence or doubt, trust or fear, even when we don’t feel it inside.  It’s especially important in times of crisis or tragedy to maintain our poise and show more confidence than we may feel.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had the immense task of calming the nation during World War 2.  He did that by boldly stating in his first inaugural address that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Then Roosevelt proceeded to conduct regular fireside chats where he spoke informally to the nation.  He also followed up with 100 days of action where many bills were pushed through Congress.  Because of Roosevelt’s emotional strength and non-anxious presence, he was able to lead our country through some of its most difficult days.

Of course, the shadow side of confidence is arrogance.  The columnist Harvey Mackay has written, “Confidence in one’s ability is a critical element in the willingness to take risks while still steering the ship.  Arrogance takes risks by assuming everyone will get on board when the boat has a hole in it.”

It is a natural temptation for leaders to become overconfident.  When we are enamored with our own success, stop learning, think we are always right, cease listening to others who speak truth to us, and are out of touch with the real world, beware!  Smugness and pride substitute for confidence, we get in over our heads, and trouble is not far behind.

The ironman triathlon in Louisville was a peak experience in my life, where body, mind, and spirit were fully alive and integrated with the world around me.  When the butterflies in my stomach threatened to take over, I kept repeating, “I am a strong confident swimmer; I am a strong, confident biker; I am a strong, confident runner.  I have trained well, I am prepared, and I am going to have a great time!”

I even rewrote Psalm 3:26 in my head, “Lord, you are my confidence.  You will keep the water in the Ohio River from disgusting me; You will keep my bike from crashing; and You will keep my feet from tripping, even when I feel as if I can’t move another inch.”

And now, with the confidence of children of God, let your light shine by claiming and living out the wonderful words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” 

What role does confidence play in your life and faith?  I invite you to share your thoughts on the blog.

Blessings, Laurie

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