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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Believing in yourself

Complete self confidence is not merely a sin; complete self confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one’s self is a hysterical and superstitious belief … GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
If you doubt the above statement, I would guess that you have never seen an episode of American Idol. I am perpetually amazed at the would-be contenders who have an unshakable faith in themselves as the next musical sensation. Some are struck dumb with shock when they are rejected by the judges; others explode in a tirade of protests and promises. I can imagine Chesterton chuckling away in Heaven watching these stormy manifestations of unwavering self-confidence.
On the other end of the scale we all know of capable people who are somehow frozen in moving forward in their chosen life’s work because they lack confidence in themselves …  students and nurses who second guess their practice and management decisions to the detriment of care … practitioners and other folks who long to do something of importance in the world but perpetually believe they lack preparation or ability  … so remain forever stalled in meeting their life’s mission.
Too much or too little self-confidence? Is that the issue? Through a casual use of such terms as self-confidence, self-actualization, centeredness, inner locus of control, I think that we are perhaps sending the wrong message to our students, the young in our profession, and to each other. The net outcome seems to be that we are preparing nurses and students who are set up either for a lifetime of hiding insecurities, growing a rhino-thick skin of self-illusion, or simply ceasing to care about the whole thing. None of us knows the solution for every patient situation—the fact is sometimes there are no solutions. The truth is, it is not all about us: our knowledge, our solutions. However, that is not what we feel we can portray to patients, to our peers, to ourselves. Our socialization in this world of ours informs us to our core that, to reach maturity and success in life, we must believe in ourselves.
Add on to this the pressure of being not just a nurse, but a Christian nurse. Wow. Now, not only do we have to have complete self-confidence in ourselves as nurses, but also in ourselves as disciples of Christ. It’s like wearing a Fish bumper sticker on your uniform—you don’t dare step to the right or left without your indicator on, travel over the speed limit in the hall, or flip off that jerk who cuts in front of you or fails to hold the elevator button. The Christian nurse has to not only exhibit self-confidence as a nurse, but also portray self-confidence in the ability of her/his faith to handle all the messy ethical issues and borderline personalities on the unit.
Can you say, ‘Burn out?’ Do we continue to wonder why we are hemorrhaging nurses from the health care systems on both sides of the border? Do we wonder why authenticity has become synonymous with inner doubt and depression, rather than with an invigorating humility grounded in external Faith? We seem to be cultivating an inner locus of control based on inquiry of self-as-primary assessor, rather than an inner locus of control based on an inquiry of self-as-assessed externally.

How frightening, it turns out, to be both inquisitor and standard-setter of your soul!  One would think that we long for such freedom—“you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Such freedom becomes our own personal hell. We are forever second-guessing if we are good enough at our jobs, relationships, families, lives: I never have to look far to find some nurse, some professor, who appears to have it more together than me.
People either shatter or become paralyzed to any action when, overloaded with self-doubt, they can no longer sustain an outward illusion of self confidence. They may disappear (quit nursing or teaching),  isolate (avoid peer/professional activities), or become incredibly hungry for continual external validation of the purple dinosaur variety:
“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family …”
“I’m a nurse, you’re a nurse, we’re the ones who really care … “
Chesterton, in his essay, the maniac (in Orthodoxy), states: “Materialists and the madmen have no doubts.”   This is comforting to me ;-) … for I have many doubts. The list is long: it begins with myself and it goes all the way to Heaven.

The materialist immediately has a much shorter list: there is no heaven, and nothing to doubt that cannot be seen, touched, measured, and experienced. Once things are seen, touched, measured, and experienced, nothing can be doubted—except, perhaps, for doubt itself.

The madman is horrifyingly certain of his reality. Any psych nurse knows that that therapy is so difficult because the practitioner is striving against that certainty: if even a glimmer of doubt can be shed about his world of paranoia, voices, and illusion; there is a movement toward wellness.

Christians, on the other hand, are free to doubt in good health :-) ... to wonder, imagine, to embrace Mystery. Christians live in the paradox of the cross: this crux where time and eternity meet. We are free, then, not to believe in ourselves. To cultivate an inner locus of control based on an inquiry of self-as-assessed externally. We are valued by God, and upheld by his standard of care made explicable in his Word. There is, thus, an external touchstone when caught up in the whirling vortex of self-doubt.
Last week, my nephew reminded me of a quote by Madeleine L’Engle.  In her book, Walking on Water, Madeleine states: “The wider the light, the bigger the circumference of darkness.”  What a metaphor full of meaning. As our circle of light becomes wider, the thin edge of darkness, the circumference, becomes proportionally bigger.

We live caught in time, but captured by the eternal. Our God is big. Our viewfinder is limited by finite boundaries. As we grow into greater vision of God, these boundaries grow with us. We live in complexity: the muck and murk of earthly reality in learning, teaching, nursing, community living is framed by the finiteness of the boundaries of our viewfinders. Healthy doubt is catching sight of the periphery in stark contrast to the light. Glimpsing that thin edge at light's border—a necessary happening in this finite world. Perhaps, in this way, doubt itself acts as a marker of the size of our God. Perhaps as well, this doubt saves us from the madman’s illusions: it is not all about me, my feelings, my thoughts, or that matter, my actions … as the Bard scribed, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
 Believe in yourself. I write this with a grin on my face, knowing, that what I believe about myself in any given time may change depending on how much sleep I have gotten the night before, what I have eaten (or not eaten), whether or not I made it to my treadmill that morning, and who has smiled at me recently.  Doubt.  I grin again, knowing that I will never see it the same way again: not seeking to be either a materialist or a madman, I find myself catching the edge of my viewfinder rather regularly.
Perhaps this is one reason why we are asked to die with Christ in baptism. At the crux of the cross, perhaps only from that terrible perspective, do we see the junction of time and eternity caught at the right angles of two pieces of wood fused together in perpetuity  by the blood of Jesus.  A wide, wide beam of light set against the darkest of evil. Utter truth that is not dependent on my current view of myself, or me at all. An external touchstone for time and eternity.

I will doubt. I should doubt myself. Not to do so implies that I am either not in time, or not in eternity. I am meant to be in both until I am called into the presence of God.

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