I remember when my wife and I were having our first parenting discussions. We debated what some of our primary parenting goals should be. One of our goals was to strive to give our kids confidence. Not a bad goal, and certainly preferred to trying to convince your children that they are not good at anything, however, I’m not sure it is as important of a concept as I once believed it to be.
“Self-efficacy” is the psychological term most synonymous with “confidence.” Albert Bandura is the psychologist most associated with this term, as he is credited with coining it. Bandura describes self-efficacy as a belief that one can succeed in a specific situation.
The Bible tells us we can do nothing in our own strength and that through Him who gives us strength, we can do all things, (Philippians 4:13). On second thought it seems that my priority as a parent should have been to give my kids a relationship with God, and in doing so, redefine confidence for them.
Melvin was a young, single guy who was a bit of a nerd and possessed the absolute lowest confidence which I had ever encountered in anyone. Melvin had, no doubt, endured a lifetime of ridicule for his nerdiness. Ostracized by his parents and unsuccessful at meeting the expectations of friends and family, Melvin felt he had absolutely no ability to succeed at anything. The task of helping someone like Melvin find the confidence to succeed in life is the counselling equivalent to “Mission Impossible.”
It would have taken years of work to reinterpret the many harsh interactions in a way that could have help Melvin understand the folly of others, including mistreatment from his parents. It requires a significant amount of time to relive all of the negative interactions between family members and peers in the light of their ignorance. Even with sufficient time, only God can turn it around. I knew only God could rebuild Melvin. As a therapist, on my own I could do nothing.
Let us examine what nothing means in Biblical terms. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon repeatedly describes nothing as just about everything “under the sun.” I think that Solomon is trying to tell the whole world that pursuing money, material things, admiration and even respect are all worth nothing to us. It is possible for us to attain all of these things, but in the end it will be meaningless. It is not what God ultimately wants for us.
In the same way, we need to examine what “all things” are, biblically speaking. Near the end of Ecclesiastes, Solomon also says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). As far as meaning goes, that’s it, I think. In addition, Jesus says in Matthew 22: 37-40 that all the Law hangs on two commandments: to love your neighbour as yourself, and above all, love the Lord your God with all you have. I think that to love God and your neighbour is all the meaning there is.
If we equate success with meaning and confidence with the ability to love God and to love our neighbour, we have a couple of beneficial definitions with which to work. In light of this, we can say to someone like Melvin, “Don’t worry about believing in yourself. Love God and love your neighbour with all your soul, mind and strength, and He will direct your path.” That’s a tough sell for a counsellor, I admit. But I also know, as a counsellor, that it’s the only real solution out there.
Unfortunately, I was not able to convince Melvin that confidence was just a human misinterpretation of our obvious need for God. The idea had not germinated into truth for me when I first met him. Even if I had possessed the concept, I would not have been able to talk him into it, since he didn’t hang around long enough to do so. I am sure it was, at least in part, because I indirectly communicated to him that I was overwhelmed by the challenge of helping him to overcome years of mental trashing. Looking back, I realize I was overwhelmed because I thought I was supposed to have the ability to help him in myself. I see now that on my own, I can do nothing. While nothing includes many things, none of those things has to do with helping, loving or connecting with others. Without God we can only be selfish.
This is an ugly truth, actually. It is even worse to attempt to sell this concept of nothing to my son and to try to sell him on the illusion of confidence. What a wonderful Christian parent I am!
Thankfully, my son is only five years old and already worlds smarter than I am. God has instilled in him an ability to see through a lot of bad advice and understand the circumstances underlying the principles in that poor council. Very often those principles get down to these: There is no meaning outside of love and there is no love outside of God. Everything else is selfishness; everything else is nothing.