Sunday, July 27, 2014

Confidence

Psalm 27 A psalm of David.
1The LORD is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?
2When evil people come to devour me,
when my enemies and foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
3Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident.
4The one thing I ask of the LORD
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
delighting in the LORD’s perfections
and meditating in his Temple.
5For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
he will hide me in his sanctuary.
He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
6Then I will hold my head high
above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
singing and praising the LORD with music.
7Hear me as I pray, O LORD.
Be merciful and answer me!
8My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.”
9Do not turn your back on me.
Do not reject your servant in anger.
You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
O God of my salvation!
10Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the LORD will hold me close.
11Teach me how to live, O LORD.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
12Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
13Yet I am confident I will see the LORD’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.
14Wait patiently for the LORD.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.

Psalm 27 poetically breathes each verse, its exhalation prompts new reflections about the activity of God and where God might be discerned. There is something of a confidence that builds as the Psalm progresses from one verse to the next.

Yet, human experience teaches that there is no shortage of things that can break  one's confidence. A harsh comment, a piercing critique, a less than stellar performance, and on the list could go. If an individual has lived any span of time, one knows the events, people, and places that have shaped him or her can serve as motivators for them to rethink the direction he or she were traveling in life and choose another way. Sometimes people can be adept at noticing the places of insecurity we harbor and then exploit them so that personal resolve is broken or shattered.

The beauty of finding out where I lack confidence or what is the cause of my own fear(s) is that I may then discover how to face them or navigate a way through them. Madeleine L’Engle in reflecting on confidence wrote, “It's a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.” So often it seems that rock is more common than sand under my feet. However, a capacity to discern the difference or even courage to place one foot down to sense the stone is overcome by the fear that what I will touch is only sand -- or worse quicksand.

The idea of the “imposter syndrome” is an ever-present force with which artists --dancers, musicians, painters, and so on -- have to contend daily. Was the dance performance good enough? Was the musical composition good enough? Is the work of art good enough? All of which point to a deeper question, “Am I good enough?” I think this phenomenon also has the potential to afflict anyone who strives to do something well. Something causes feelings of inadequacy to rise like floodwaters from distant tributaries to our personal river of life.

What is the source for my confidence? From what inner wellspring do I drink when times become tough and difficult or when critiques fall on my ears like acid rain? Each of us know too well how the corrosive power of negative comments can cause us to slip and slide in our resolve to stay the course on which we travel. An artist professor of mine would counsel prior to the weekly critiques by saying, “Remember it takes 10 good comments to offset one hard critique.”

I have discovered in my own life that where confidence is lacking, there may also be a lack of discernable hope. I have also discerned that sometimes the capacity to gain confidence lies within a reorganization of the objects of your gaze. The life of faith and a renewal of vision for perceiving the activity of God may be found in readjusting horizons by looking to the natural environment.

The Psalmist invites readers to places of self-discovery about the movements of God in the ordinary movements of creation. The land of the living is abundant with possibilities for seeing the goodness of God. The Psalmist seems to be aware of a truth about the potentiality of the natural environment to unfold pages of God’s goodness and disperse them like scattered leaves about and let them fall where they might. It is really a matter of taking the time and adjusting one’s sight to see them.

I was fascinated by ants when I was young. I loved watching them meander along invisible chemical trails. I didn’t know about the chemical trails at the time, but I delighted in seeing their animated dances of life. There was something about a sense of purpose and a zest for life in their segmented bodily movements. I marveled at how fast they could run and how much a spirit of adventure seemed to mark their steps. Maybe it was my own desire to run with speed or spirit of adventure that I was transferring to the ants. Whatever it was, it was there.

When one ant would find a piece of discarded peanut butter and jelly-smeared bread, it was almost as if I could hear an audible cry of delight from that ant who then quickly informed his siblings about the find. In moments the day of searching erupted into a dance of delight for the feast to come as they brought the bounty provided by an unnoticed hand back to the hive. I could spend great lengths of time just watching them dismantle the bread and carry it away. How much more must God delight in seeing us discover the items of grace placed before searching hands and busy feet?

Over the span of life I have had conversations with people about prayer and their visceral questions about the purpose of it -- What is it? How do you do it well? Why do it at all? What does prayer do for God or for us? When should you pray and where?

The Psalms often articulate the importance of an active prayer life with God. Here Psalm 27 asserts that prayer has positive benefits for those who pray even if the prayer doesn’t eventuate in exactly what one wants the prayer to do. There also doesn’t seem to be any pragmatic correlation between prayer articulation, reception, and divine action. Instead, the activity of prayer enriches a relationship between the one who prays and the one to whom they pray -- God. The prayer is individual and communal; it binds petitioners and the one God in an intimate relationship of trust and hope.

Prayer can be poetic and lofty. It can be earthy and mundane. It can be concerned with the bone marrow matters of life that dig deep into the core of human experience and cause people to cry out in tangible pain. The Psalmist knows this first hand and sprinkles words to indicate their own experience.

Seeking God in the middle of confusion could be regarded as the wisest course of action that anyone could take. The Psalmist’s assertion that God will not fail, even if everything else does, can bring hope to one’s spirit and provide strength to go through the day. Bringing to God human thoughts and feelings about anything and everything can bring about confidence for living through the highs and lows of human experience.

The Psalmist claimed that they would, “remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14).

We can join the Psalmist’s declaration that the Lord is our light, our salvation, our stronghold, our confidence, our safety, our shelter, our teacher, and our Savior.