Thursday, February 16, 2012

Confidence and Christianity

Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality: it has a depressing effect. We are deprived of strength when we feel pity. That loss of strength which suffering as such inflicts on life is still further increased and multiplied by pity. Pity makes suffering contagious.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, sec. 7
You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It's hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape - especially if you've got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you're dinner's burnt. Maybe you haven't got a job. So who am I to say, 'Believe, have faith,' in the face of life's realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, "Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.' If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.
-Eric Liddel, Chariots of Fire

CONFIDENCE is an indispensable trait. I have learned this in running and in work.

Confidence is important for focus, since anxiety and lack-of-confidence are usually the precursors of procrastination.

Confidence is the mother of get-it-done.

Ryan Hall is perhaps the greatest American marathoner of all-time. Because of his visibility in the running world, his recent decision to train coach-free caused a stir.
“I really wanted that,” Hall said. “To wake up every morning, to get down on my knees and say: ‘God, I need your help. I don’t know what to do.’ ” He reasoned that even if his running got worse, he would gain something because he would be closer to God (1).
He was alternately mocked and praised. Shortly after his decision, he ran the fastest marathon ever by an American (2:04:58 at Boston), a huge surprise to many.

Surprisingly Hall is one of my favorite athletes. I say “surprisingly” because there are fewer things I hate more than the “God made me win” Or “Jesus put the ball in the receiver’s hands” shtick. But Ryan Hall is a very natural and reasonable person and his spirituality is authentic, his love for God contagious and convincing. And the guy is so relaxed and confident. Confident in training and confident in rest (2).

So what about that tricky interplay between confidence and faith?

Jeremy Lin talks of the role of faith in his life. It shows in post-game interviews that he has an instinctive discomfort with excess adulation, that he is always trying to deflect praise. His teammates highlight his humility. You watch him on the court though, and he is utterly confident, bobbing his head, smiling and even winking. It’s like he’s dancing or something. He is so fluid, so confident.

Last Saturday, I attended the Millrose Games, arguably the most famous track meet in the world. Bernard Lagat -- also a man of faith -- lined up, totally confident. You couldn’t detect a single degree of cowering in his face or in his frame. Thirteen minutes and seven seconds later, he was holding [yet another] American record.

So, do these guys just suspend their faith in God, in the importance of humility, when it's time to perform?

St. Paul wrote, "What do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (3). The issue isn’t confidence; it’s arrogance and ignorance.

On a related point, sometimes people beg and plead with God to keep them from a certain sin or to relieve them of a certain weakness. A lot of the time, though, I think this really just creates an obsession with the thing you’re trying to avoid. You risk becoming a weirdo. Lots of times it’s really a matter of saying “This is stupid. I’m not going to do it, because I’m not going to be stupid.” I don’t think this is against the principle of faith. The person who walks around with a general confidence that God’s grace is with her, that she is a human being, fully-alive and no slave (4), can avoid a lot of stuff from the get-go. Confidence. Intelligence. Hope. These are great things and, I think, the helical backbone of the Christian DNA.

All these things have been swirling in my head because I recently came to point where I approached workouts with fear and self-pity. Nietzsche gave an accurate portrait, not of Christianity, but of being Egyptian.

But, I've also come to a point in life where everything is really for real. I need to thrive in my work, not because mommy and daddy will approve, but so that my daughter will have food, clothing, shelter and an education.

Training has forced me to face the weaknesses in my life and in my experience of faith. Facing measurable events like workouts and races has made me think about the way I face work and youth ministry. Tense, scared and resentful? Or loose, courageous and grateful?

Eric Liddel hit it right. He was unashamed of his gifts (He made me fast). But when he rejoiced, he zeroed in on the pleasure of experience (When I run I feel God’s pleasure).

Live the life God gave you. Squeeze it, hard.

(1) Top American Marathoner’s Success Raises Question: Is a Coach Necessary?
(2) With Experience, Maturity, Olympic Marathoner Ryan Hall Learned Rest is Part of Training
(3) 1 Cor 4:7
(4) Romans 6:22
(5) For additional thoughts on confidence and training, check out my friend's recent post at The Logic of Long Distance blog.


Mena Mirhom said...

Squeezing! :) thanks fot another great
post Nader.

Andrew John said...

Wow, thanks Nader, I needed to hear this. I've been wondering about the interplay between humility, faith, and confidence for some time, especially after fretting over my MCAT for four months. I can testify that a lack of confidence is the antithesis to "getting-it-done" as I've thrown up my hands in frustration and resignation over a nasty bit of geometrical optics.

Nietzche had a point. I too often cringe in the face of praise under a mask of false humility, while internally psychotically trying to convince myself that what I did, whatever it may be, was not all that good or worth any merit. Having said that, I have personally experienced that there is no surer death of the gifts given by God, than to deny and diminish their existence. Both in my music and my schoolwork, the more I depreciate that which was given me by God, the less I value it, the less I cherish it, the less I am confident in my ability to perform it to excellence, which in turn makes that which was once a gift, a curse and a source of the false pride which I had hoped to avoid.

As a Christian, this view of the gifts of God is absurd and, in a very real sense, intensely psychologically flawed. Thank you Nader, for reminding us of necessity of having confidence in the things imparted to us, and an even greater confidence in Him who gave them.

Michael Karass said...

Great post Nader!

Terzah said...

Great post!

Mike Girouard said...


NaderAlfie said...

Thanks for reading and for commenting, guys. It is always encouraging.

(You'd think I'd just do this for myself, right? Alas.)

Sama Habib said...

Great post Nader! I read somewhere that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they take their compliments. This entry reminds me of that.

What would you say is the "ideal" way to take a compliment for both something natural God gave you, such as looks, height, athletic ability etc. and something a bit more tangible (for lack of a better word) such as a great post like this or successfully planning an event etc.

Should there be a difference? Is there a difference?

NaderAlfie said...

Hey Sama, you've got some good thoughts in there.

Far be it from me to set forth any kind of "ideal" (Who's to say?). To me, though, it all comes back to the life of gratitude. I would take it in a spirit of gratitude that I am the subject of the compliment.

I would try not to read too much or too little into the compliment. As my running mentors say "Not too high, not too low."


Jeff said...

Wow, you nailed this one, Nader. What I like best about the post is that your voice is coming through--confident and strong.

Keep up the good work, man.