Confidence, Shyness, and Tasteful Intentionality

In his op-ed from the99percent, which is well worth a read, James Victore discusses the dichotomy between confidence and shyness. I’ve taken the liberty of organizing his thoughts into 5 main points, as well as providing my own, unwarranted commentary:

1) Shyness is habitual

Shyness is not genetic. At least it is not proven to be. There is no gene for it. It’s my belief that it’s cultivated within us, by environment, by family and just dumb luck. As a child, I was terribly shy. I don’t believe I was born this way. As the third of three children, I was always introduced as, “This is my baby, the shy one.” And thus I became shy. A habit was born. I was told by authority that I was shy, and I began wearing it around like I owned it.

Let me preface my thoughts by stating that I believe there is a distinction between normative shyness, and the habitual shyness to which both the article and myself are referring. For instance, someone’s personality can be quiet or shy, but they can still be confident in who they are and what they do. The flip side can also be true – someone’s personality can be brash or “confident”, but they can still be habitually shy in avoiding conflict and staying silent when they shouldn’t. That said, whether it be answering questions in school, asking someone out, or whathaveyou, more often than not, we shirk at the opportunity to put ourselves out there.

This shyness is a symptom of a deeper disease, that is, the disease of pride and sin. Although this shyness is not necessarily hardwired into us, the deeper disease of pride and sin is unfortunately a very fundamental part of ourselves. Therefore, in order to confront this issue of habitual shyness, it is necessary to get to the very core of who we are as people and challenge ourselves.

2) Confidence is crafted

Similarly, confidence has always seemed like one of those ambiguous traits, like willpower or intuition, that can be practiced, exercised and strengthened, like a muscle. But just like any physical exercise, it’s always hard and takes constant work. And, more importantly, constant awareness.

We are not born with virtues such as confidence, but we can attain them through cultivation and effort. It isn’t easy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. But make no mistake, it takes work. Just consider the following quote from Morgan Freeman, as God, in the movie “Evan Almighty”:

Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?

Confidence, like any virtue, is not inherent in and of ourselves; it’s crafted and cultivated over time. Victore’s analogy of physical exercise is an appropriate one. If you hope for a six pack, will you suddenly have it the next day? Of course not. And like anything which takes effort, confidence is cultivated over time through facing challenges, making mistakes, learning from experience and keeping our heads held high. Instead of looking at failure as something to be avoided, we should instead look at it as a chance to grow and mature.

At the same time, perspective is key, because I believe too often we discourage ourselves by looking at the daunting amount work ahead of us instead of focusing on the destination. For example, to go back to the six pack scenario, keep your eyes focused on the goal of getting a six pack rather than on all the work that lies ahead of you. Debilitating discouragement comes from lingering on the latter to the neglect of the former.

For Christians, I believe cultivating confidence means preaching the gospel to ourselves. Preaching the gospel to ourselves reminds us that our confidence is not rooted in ourselves, for we are subject to bend at and fold under every breeze and wave that comes our way. In fact, preaching the gospel to ourselves reminds us that our confidence is in the cross of Christ.

We are dead to sin but alive to God through Christ Jesus, God works for the good of those who love him, God numbers the very hairs on our heads, etc. etc. These are all undeniable facts we need to constantly remember. And as we dwell on these things day by day, I believe we’ll soon find confidence slowly growing within us. We are to follow exactly what Apostle Paul wrote, who exhorted, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2).

So as we remind ourselves of God’s truth and pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us, our minds are renewed and we are transformed, filled with greater confidence then ever. The great thing is that, additionally, we can and must cultivate confidence through community. Whether it be friends from church, school or work, we can be productive in encouraging one another daily – “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). I believe persistence in these practices will enable us to take a huge step forward in the daily cultivation of godly confidence in ourselves and our communities.

3) Confidence is “being there”

My own definition of confidence is “being there.” This means being in the moment and acting with intention, not distracted by second thoughts or being “in your head.” Not listening to your inner critics or assuming what others are thinking of you, judging or presupposing “their” reaction instead of just moving forward—and confidently.

We are programmed to equate our level of confidence with how we feel in the present moment. As a Christian, I struggle whenever I equate my level of confidence with how strong my EFFORT is in my faith. In both cases, confidence is shaken when we start over-thinking things. I believe “being there” requires us to keep the big picture in mind, continually find the gumption to stay on course, and of course, a healthy amount of shamelessness. At the end of the day, because we all have our own critics, we don’t need to add to their number by doubting ourselves and losing focus.

Personally, I stay focused on “being there” by remembering all the things God has done in and through me over and over again. I know I am being perfected day by day and have chosen to look at life’s challenges as a stepping stone instead of a ball and chain. Most of all, I know I can look and step forward because God’s sanctifying work in me is in progress and will come to fruition – “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

If my confidence and faith is in my efforts, I will be shaken and discouraged time and time again. I say this from experience because frankly speaking, my faith wavers and is hardly perfect. Nevertheless, I know that my imperfect faith is in a perfect God and so I keep calm and carry on. Knowing this, I can “be there” in confidence, taking heart that even if my grip loosens, His grip on me will remain steady and sure no matter what.

4) We fear failure and rejection

Most of us are so afraid of failing that we don’t even risk it. And what’s worse, risk and rejection become something to avoid at all costs. A habit is formed. We close doors that may lead to opportunities and stop putting ourselves out there for other people to respond to. This fear of rejection is normal. Everyone shies away and has moments, or extended moments, of self-doubt. But the fear is also a test, it means you are onto something and you should pay attention to it and not shy away.

The doubt comes not only from the inside, from your own personal critics, but also from without via our friends, family and well-wishers whose concern it is to keep you out of harm’s way and within your—or possibly their own—comfort zone. Here you need to trust yourself, lean into the fear, and resist the “be like us” mentality from a society that wants you to fit in.

We fear a lot of things – interviewing for a job, asking someone out on a date, speaking up for our personal beliefs, etc. When we are at the apex of such tasks, we are inclined to shy away from “sealing the deal”. As Victore mentioned, the moment we give up is far too often the moment of critical mass. But to cross beyond that point, we have to rise above our habitual inhibitions. And part of that process is coming to grips with the fact that nothing worth it comes easy! Just think about it – if all those things which require confidence were that easy to achieve, wouldn’t everyone be doing them? The reason why these things seem far off and unattainable is because we’ve made them so in our own minds and hearts. Scared of the unknown? Fearful of change? Whatever it is, it would behoove us to confront whatever stumbling blocks prevent us from getting over that hurdle.

One of the greatest stumbling blocks may be criticism and rejection from those around us. Indeed, critics surround us and, like it or not, we are sensitive to what they (might) have to say. In life, we will face criticism/rejection from those we don’t know and from those we call friends and family. In both cases, there’s an extremely fine line between accepting constructive counsel vs. letting others dictate our lives. But at the end of the day, we must live out our lives and be true to our ourselves in the process. If we fear judgment and cower into becoming people pleasers, we’re wasting our lives. In my own life, if I pandered to whatever my critics and loved ones said, I would not have gone to Uganda, Japan, and I probably would have quit pursuing law school. In short, don’t play it safe! As a LSD-peddling, curly haired, animated teacher once said, “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

For me, what has helped me maintain perspective and battle my fear of rejection is remembering that Jesus Christ was rejected, despised and tortured in ways I will never experience and understand (Isaiah 53). If God is for me, who or what can be against me? Because thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). When my Lord has already suffered through rejection and envelopes me in His boundless grace, mercy and love, what do I have to fear?

The bottom line is this – where is your source of identity? Depending on who or what it is, you will likely face discouragement and trials. Do you place your worth and identity in material possessions? They will rust with time. Do you place your worth in other people? They, with their own agendas, will disappoint you. In fact, place your worth and identity in anything finite and imperfect, and your heart WILL get broken. As for me, I maintain that the greatest place to find your identity and worth in is at the foot of Christ’s cross. Though we may fail, He will never fail us. Though we may fall, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ!

5) Your confidence propels you forward and convicts/inspires others

Your pursuit of personal greatness challenges others to fear for their own causes, their own battles and pursuits. Your freedom is a reminder of their own imaginary restraints and limitations. Yet, for others, your confidence will be a beacon. People follow conviction, assertive advice and brave leaders, and there’s nothing more powerful than a confident man or woman.

In life, we will come across situations that break us down and stretch us to our limits. There will be people we just can’t see eye-to-eye with and there will definitely be those who, for whatever reason, have it in for us. Nevertheless, if we are able to come to terms with and apply the lessons as put forth by the article and my “expert” thoughts, I think we’ll be able to “brush that dirt off our shoulders” and react with grace under pressure. Moreover, when we come across hostile people and situations, we will be able to engage in the best possible revenge, which is simply to live well. And when the people around you are marveled by it, you will surely convict and inspire them.

Confidence is not boisterous, contentious or dogmatic. Just the opposite, confidence is sure, intentional and infectious. Confidence misplaced is no confidence at all, and as Christians, we must not let our confidence in the source of our hope go to our heads, lest we begin trusting and crediting ourselves! Placing our confidence in God-things is integral in our ability to humble ourselves in all-things.

As a Christian, I believe our confidence (properly placed) should result in something I like to call “tasteful intentionality”. I’ll explain word-by-word: being tasteful means being tactful, respectful and sensitive, and being intentional means being purposeful and direct.

First, when we are tasteful, it presumes we are properly confident in the right things (i.e. Jesus Christ), which means we are not defensive or have anything to prove. On the contrary, we are free to enjoy and live out the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, to the amazement and curiosity of those around us. On the other hand, when our confidence is misplaced and mutates into fear, we turn the good news of Jesus Christ into a message of condemnation when we bludgeon people with religious jargon, presuming ourselves to be judges and those we’re yelling at as “wretched sinners” in need of our “help”. What’s worse is that when our confidence is misplaced and mutates into self-centered hate, we end up turning the wooden cross that Christ was nailed to for our sins, into a wooden sign that reads “God hates f*gs”, for example. When we are confident in the God-things, we are humbled in all-things, and I believe this is the key which will allow us to freely admit that we deserve hell just like anybody else. And rather than looking down on non-Christians, we are right there with them, face-to-face, happily sharing about a life-changing gospel that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we do not deserve.

Second, when we are intentional, it means following through on our confidence in the right things. If we are confident and sure in the cross of Jesus Christ, we read the bible, pray, and go to church, not because we HAVE to, but because we GET to do these things for the purposes of strengthening our faith and sharing our faith with others to the glory of God. When we are intentional, it means having firm foundations and convictions on which we stand. We have a worldview that informs the way we live, and we remain steadfast and sure in living out what we believe in. Being intentional also means we are purposeful and ready, unwilling to wait and hope things come to us. Convictions are followed, goals are set, and we follow through on those convictions and goals in our words and deeds. The great thing about Christianity is that intentionality and tastefulness are directly connected. To be intentional as a Christian is to be tasteful as a Christian. Being intentional as a Christian requires the daily admission that we, on our own, are unworthy of the good news we have received, and you can bet that this absolutely transforms the way we deal with those around us.

As God’s witnesses in this world, we can’t afford to botch this delicate balance between being tasteful and being intentional. On the one hand, when we are tasteful but not intentional, words are wasted and nothing of substance is shared. In this extreme, we over-concern ourselves with how we are received by those around us. Playing it safe, we become nothing more than people-pleasers, saying nothing of substance and pandering to others. On the other hand, when we are intentional, but not tasteful, words are wasted and hearts are broken. In this extreme, we under-concern ourselves with how we are received by those around us. Rather than being constructive, we do and say whatever we want with no regard for repercussions. For those of you NBA fans, think of the first extreme as Dwight Howard (cares too much what people think, wavers in convictions) and think of the second extreme as Andrew Bynum (cares too little what people think, stubborn in “convictions”).

Bottom line is that when we are tastefully intentional, we are sensitive to those around us and purposeful in our words and deeds. Only when we are tastefully intentional, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are we able to follow Apostle Peter’s following exhortation:

in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect… (1 Peter 3:15)

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