By MARIA SERMERSHEIM
I have been relearning to have confidence in myself – not on the basis of my own accomplishments in any way, but on the basis of God’s loving care for me. It seems that this is a lesson I will be learning all my life in newer and deeper ways. Lately, it seems to be the transition to graduate school and some tricky friendships that have sparked these reflections, as I have noticed myself second-guessing my social cues more often and being more self-critical after simple interactions. Two excellent spiritual authors, St. Francis de Sales and Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, illuminate well the path forward.
Scupoli wrote, “To preserve our hearts in perfect tranquility, it is still necessary to ignore some interior feelings of remorse which seem to come from God, because they are reproaches that our conscience makes to us regarding true faults, but which come, in effect, from the evil spirit as can be judged by what ensues. …if they trouble us, if they dishearten us, if they render us lazy, timid, slow to perform our duties, we must believe that these are the suggestions of the enemy and do things in a normal way, not deigning to listen to them.” It is true, he explains, that such feelings of remorse can lead to good things, such as greater humility and good works; but if the remorse actually bears bad fruit, then we know we must chop down that tree, instead.
Rather than entertaining thoughts that lead to distrust in divine mercy, we must always remember that the Lord cares for us, and this steadfast love will not be shaken by our goofy mistakes or awkward social interactions. When we firmly believe that we are in God’s good hands, we can and should breathe more freely and step more surely, even if we think we just stumbled. St. Francis de Sales wrote to St. Jane Frances de Chantal, “you should not be too particular in the exercise of virtues, rather…you should pursue them briskly, openly, naively, in an old-fashioned way, with liberty, sincerity and grosso modo. It is because I fear the spirit of constraint and melancholy. It is my wish that you should have a large and open heart on the way to our Lord.” A large and open heart is better clay to become a saint than a heart that is closed in on itself, constantly second-guessing its last move.
Personally, I need to embrace a holy detachment from my image and remain in the present moment, so I can respond to each opportunity to love given to me. If reflecting on my action or inaction, or my silly words in class, causes me to be timid or disheartened, I need to cast such reflections aside and instead recognize that my value comes not from anything I do but from who I am in the sight of God. I am relearning confidence, the true confidence founded on God.
It seems funny to find myself sitting with the concept of confidence again, even after graduating college, but it also seems to be the way God works – through patterns. Whether this pattern is prevalent in your life or whether there is another, I hope you take the time to pray with the patterns the Lord gives you and to pursue virtue in them with freedom and confidence in the One who loves you.