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When I was little, people always told me that I had a lot of confidence, and some said I had too much. I didn’t really understand what they meant at the time. It seemed to me that if you were going to do something, you just did it. If you competed, you put yourself out there to win. And if you wanted something badly enough, you simply did whatever it took -- short of hurting someone else -- to get it. I never really thought about being nervous, even when I was. There was something inside me that was convinced that I could do anything I set my mind to, as long as I was willing to throw myself into it.
Looking back, I realize that while confidence was normal for me, it was a struggle for a lot of other kids. When I think about it, I’m certain that many of them were at least as capable as I was. They just didn’t get the mileage I did, not because they were less competent, but because they were less confident.
As a parent, I see how important it is to build confidence in children. My mother used to tell me that she spent my childhood telling me what she thought I needed to hear at the time. It was usually one of two diametrically opposed core messages. “You can do anything you want to do,” and “Why do you seem to think that you can do anything you want to do?” I find myself doing much the same thing: building kids up to reach their potential, and knocking them down a peg or two when they get a bit too full of themselves.
The truth is that all of us need confidence, not only to do or become what we’re capable of, but just to get up in the morning and go about our day. I recall a scene from “The Sound of Music.” As she approaches the intimidating door of the von Trapp estate, Julie Andrews sings out these magnificent words, “I have confidence in confidence alone!” While they are surely intended to inspire, poor Fraulein Maria appears to be left a bit short of the confidence she needs when the door opens. She begins her position as the new family governess looking very much like a deer in the headlights.
Life takes a certain amount of “chutzpah” or “guts.” But where does confidence come from, where can it be found? The secret, I think, is revealed in the word itself. Confidence means literally, “with faith.” To have confidence is to have faith -- but faith in what? I was always told that if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will either. I have to say, however, that I always needed more than that to believe in. I needed -- and still need -- someone much bigger and better than myself. That someone is God.
Self-esteem isn’t the same as confidence. It is possible for a child to feel good about himself and never accomplish what he is capable of. Children don’t learn more or score higher on tests because they tell themselves they are special. They feel special when they study hard and master what they are being taught. After our big societal push for the gospel of self-esteem, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that telling yourself how great you are just doesn’t work. Ultimately, we all know better, and we all need more than what we can find in the mirror.
Confidence comes with faith because it is the visible fruit of living with faith. But I’d go even further. I think living “with faith” is only possible when we live by faith, when we live according to the faith, in short, when we are faithful. Somewhere along the line we all make choices about how, and whether, and to what extent we will live our faith in Christ Jesus. We do so, perhaps not fully appreciating that we become stronger and better people, more fully human, and more capable of fulfilling our potential when we entrust all we are to God and do all we do in His presence.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.