If you happen to be up late at night surfing the internet or watching television–or maybe even both at the same time (as one does to relax after a long day), you’ll find yourself inundated with ads like this:
- “Protect your future, buy gold!”
- “Protect your home, buy insurance!”
- “Protect your children, see a financial planner!”
All of these, of course, are accompanied by bleak visions of what happens when we fail to do any of these things. By the end of the evening, you’re likely left with a deep sense of foreboding and a resolution to see a financial planner, an insurance agent and a gold broker tomorrow.
If advertising as tells us anything about ourselves it’s that our deepest desire is to be insulated from life’s ups and downs. We want to rest secure in the knowledge that no matter what happens, we’ll be ok.
Well, here’s the biblical truth, offered in the hope that it will set us free, as the truth is supposed to do: no one can promise security. Not the announcers on late-night television, not political leaders, not our bank accounts—not even Jesus.
Sometimes Christianity has tried to paint the Christian path as though it is one of security—that faith might insulate us from grief, illness, sadness or even promise “prosperity” but a cursory look at the life of Jesus shows us this simply isn’t true.
Not only does Jesus reject security in pursuit of the more daring life but he calls his followers to do the same.
Now, I want to stress that security is closely linked to survival. It’s literally a life and death matter to have food, housing, health and loving friends or family. We’re not a congregation that’s about romanticizing poverty or economic insecurity. And, in fact, romanticizing life’s hardships is another way that we protect ourselves from experiencing them directly. As long as those struggles can remain “other people’s walk with God,” we’re protected from having to walk that path ourselves.
Take for instance the Beatitudes. We so often read these as words of comfort for people who are struggling. And they are at least that. But we make a mistake when we point them at other people–they are words directed at all of us. Comfort or challenge as the case may be, they are also a call to a new kind of lifestyle, one that embraces “blessedness” over wealth, health or even safety.
In Where the Red Fern Grows, grandpa sets a raccoon trap to catch one of those masked bandits. The trap is just a hole in a log, and in that hole is a shiny object. The raccoon reaches in, grabs the object but then the opening of the hole is too small for him to pull his fist back out. This is his trap: because he won’t let go, he’s stuck to the spot as sure as if he was actually in a cage.
While there’s much to be said about the virtue of persistence, we want to make sure we’re hanging on to the right thing. I can certainly recount times in my life when I’ve held onto some shiny object of security rather than choosing the adventure and freedom that comes with relaxing my grasp. And so the search for security becomes it’s own kind of trap because we can never achieve complete security in a shifting world.
Now, if you had time to look at the bulletin and noticed that our topic today is confidence, you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with that. What’s “confidence” have to do with “security?” Well, the answer is simple: nothing.
Confidence and security aren’t related at all. Which is exactly the point. As humans, we face a great deal of insecurity. Economic, social, biological even cosmic insecurity. So while it would be logical to believe that the cure for insecurity is security, it’s actually not.
The cure for insecurity is confidence.
Security is outward facing. It’s a set of circumstances. And because we can never actually control all of our circumstances, we can never achieve full security. Confidence, on the other hand, is an inward trait. It’s the inner disposition to believing that we can handle whatever comes our way. For religious folks, confidence is the inner discipline of believing that we can handle whatever comes our way with the help of God.
Now, the importance of this spiritually is that we are called to risk taking faith. As individuals and as a congregation, we’re asked to continually push the boundaries of our comfort zones. That’s what it means to be a progressive Christian–we believe God is on the move, creating winds of change that are blowing us toward a new heaven and new earth. Our choice, always, is whether we’re going to choose the security of keeping things the same or the confidence of stepping out with God.
In her TED Talk on creativity, author Elizabeth Gilbert says, “You should never be afraid to do the work you were put on this earth to do.”
And assuming that we were all put on this earth to co-labor with God, which is of course a central part of our beliefs, then I have to ask: how often are we letting our insecurities get in the way? How often are we choosing not to live fully into the future God is creating because we’re afraid of taking a risk, however big or small it may be?
So, that’s all well and good when it comes to a pep talk from the pulpit but what does it really mean when we walk out those church doors? How do we take this idea–that we should have confidence in ourselves and in God–and make it a reality?
I know from experience that haranguing myself to “have more faith,” or “trust God more” or tell myself, don’t work well in the long run. So I’d like to offer some wisdom inspired by therapist and author David Richo.
Richo categorizes 5 basic fears and some possible responses. I’m calling them our “security response” and our “confidence response.”
- First basic fear: we might lose everything we have. Security response: becoming less committed and stoical. The confidence response: learning to grieve and let go.
- Second basic fear: Our expectations won’t be met. Security response: Plan every detail and try to stay in control. The confidence response: accept what happens and learn from it.
- Third basic fear: We might not get our fair share. Security response: Blame those we perceive as getting “more.” Confidence response: Have an attitude of “you win some you lose some” while working for social justice. My observation is that there’s a second possible security response: to become competitive. The confidence response here would be to practice generosity of time, money or emotional support.
- Fourth basic fear: We won’t be able to handle pain when it happens in our lives. Security response: Be on guard to avoid pain. Confidence response: Allow pain that is natural and learn not to add to pain by attempting to control it.
- Fifth basic fear: We will be hurt by others. The security response: stay away from closeness. The confidence response: Learn to speak up when others hurt us while not retaliating.
Hopefully you recognize yourself somewhere in these 5 responses because that means you’re on the growing edge.
Confidence only comes when we conquer insecurity.
We can’t grow in confidence in either God or ourselves if we’re not venturing into the place we’re feeling insecure. We all have at least one shiny object we’re learning to let go of. But with practice, and with the assurance that we don’t walk this path alone, we might find that we learn to let go just a little bit sooner each time.
Sermon given at United Church of Christ, Longmont on August 27.
My “security vs. confidence responses” are mostly drawn from David Richo’s book The Five Things We Cannot Change and How to Embrace Them, although he doesn’t frame them this same way.