Confidence. Get some, and you’re golden.
It is a promise we are fed by our teachers when we are young, then our mentors when we are grown. Cultivating confidence is the professed fail-safe catapult to success.
Which sounds well and good, except that it’s not true.
Confidence has its place, but it’s not a silver bullet to success, unless one is benchmarking success as just shy of actually feeling successful.
Take edgy, funny, super cool Hollywood golden boy Judd Apatow. He directed Trainwreck and produced Bridesmaids, which boosted him into out-of-this-stratosphere mega success.
“I mean, obviously, I’m confident that I know what I’m doing,” Apatow was quoted saying to Rolling Stone, “but there’s a little corner of me that returns to a low place, which never goes away.”
Since times of yore, this tension between confidence and its resulting success has confounded great leaders and left them blinking in the bright, blinding light of this-is-not-what-I-thought-it-would-be.
Case in point: Esther.
Esther is an Old Testament superstar who had to drum up inordinate confidence to faux charm her way through the ranks of a king’s concubine. She outshone the pack and landed the top spot as queen to a king who wanted his wife to have one particular inclination: submissive obedience.
Fine by Esther.
She was ready to follow the path of least resistance. Her parents had died, she’d been raised by her cousin and was then stuck in a king’s concubine until she shot to queendom. She had no say, no societal power. No one would expect Esther to do anything that would jeopardize her current sweet gig.
If ever a main character demanded an ongoing, engaging, confident drive from fellow cast members; it would be the main character of the entire Bible otherwise known as God Himself.
God repeatedly promised Bible characters that while He would work the heavy lifting, there were select tasks that He needed humans to step out and do. That would take confidence.
He liked bold, confident moves in the face of hopeless situations.
But. Don’t get it twisted.
There is a kind of confidence that leads to problems disguised as solutions. It leads to triumphs that are short-lived, happy feelings that are fleeting, lauded positions that lose rank with the next big thing. It is a confidence from ourselves, in ourselves, anchored to our ego.
Esther could read her own ego-confidence writing on the wall. She had been admirably scrappy, and fought her way through the king’s ranks. However, her alleged esteemed spot was actually a fragile façade, threatening to precariously fall apart on a whim.
In the midst of this delicate situation, God had a job for Esther.
He wanted Esther to confront the king. The Israelites were persona non grata among the king’s higher ups and one in particular wanted to snuff out the entire Jewish population. It was up to Esther to tell the king, “Don’t let him.”
Esther didn’t want to. She stalled. Scrappy survival tactics would not cut it in this scenario. She would need confidence in something outside herself, outside of her circumstances and outside of her ego. There is such a confidence, which anchors to the sure-footed promises of God.
Wherein we face the greatest obstacle to sure-footed confidence, which is this: it is not for sissies. Sure-footed confidence is set on a premise that the Somebody who promises to be with me in this actually is with me in this.
We are not wired to believe such a thing. We are unrelentingly inclined to believe that somebody, even God, is ultimately going to give us less good stuff than we would accumulate on our own behalf.
Such was the case with Esther. She had proven herself to herself, but sure-footed confidence in God? He is the master of asking from us what we most do not want to do, and often jeopardizes what we have scrappily gained.
However, on the other end of the pendulum swing is ego-confidence that, though it looks good at first, eventually loses its luster. Such was the case for Apatow, whose personal, professional and even extra doses of Hollywood glitz taught him, the hard way.
Success is nice, he told Rolling Stone, but “…when you get to the top of the hill, you’re like, ‘Oh, I guess now I have to really deal with my problems, because that didn’t work at all.’”
Esther similarly suspected that where she stood, though it looked solid, was itself shifting sand. After a time, Esther finally, boldly, confidently took her chances and confronted her husband.
He relented, and the entire Jewish population was saved.
It was a massive testimony to a trustworthy God, who interestingly wrote the storyline without ever mentioning Himself by name. He did, however, name the entire book after a woman. This after counter-culturally casting her as a star in His my-people-must-walk-with-sure-footed-confidence show.
Which leaves us where exactly? What is there to confidently say about confidence?
First of all, the issue of how to succeed in life is not a laugh-a-minute storyline, no matter if we are a mega-watt cultural success or a heroic prophet of yore. It requires a confident fight to live our lives to the fullest; that’s just the way the story goes. We can say that with confidence.
Also, prophets and prime time are not as far apart on the red flag of feeding the ego as we might think. Cultural icons are exposing oversimplified mantras that cycle us right back to the place we began. Going far in our outer life, but getting nowhere in our inner life is painful for anyone. We can say that with confidence.
There is also something to be said about an Author who goes to so much trouble to point out the pitfalls of ego-confidence while simultaneously promoting sure-footed confidence, in order to groom and grow relationships rather than mere results. That is a sure-footed move by an Anchor who is not driven by sales, or perceived achievement or overt control or ego.
But He is driven by something.
He longs to be our anchor, as much for our sakes as for His own glory. It is a hard message to convey, and His approach unapologetically positions the least likely cast of characters as pivotal leaders on whom entire plotlines hinge. His longing comes from a love that is hard to grasp with human sensibilities.
Yet, He would like us to try.
Through the prophets of yore and also through popular culture, He will likewise keep conveying His longing that we let Him love us as only He can. We can say that with confidence as well.