Success without my emotional crutch (aka God)
Do you remember that climatic scene at the end of Dumbo? It’s time for his big performance. He’s poised on a ledge, clutching the magic feather that gives him the ability to fly in his trunk. He jumps and WOOSH, the magic feather flies out of his grip! He’s plummeting toward the ground when his little mouse friend says to him, “Dumbo! Open dem ears!” Dumbo opens his ears and WOOSH, takes off like a hang glider. He learns that it wasn’t the magic feather that gave him the power to fly, but rather his special ears. The power to do extraordinary things was within him all along.
Much like Dumbo, all of my life I have been plagued by low self-confidence, but I too had a magic weapon: I called mine God. Dumbo was told that the magic feather would make him fly. I was told “with God all things are possible.” I believed that God had a plan for my life. Not only that, but I was told that God wanted me to be happy and successful, that he had “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I was sure that I was special to God, that I was one of his children, and that my status granted me privileges that I could not earn on my own. I was sure that where others failed, I would succeed, because I had God on my side and he would help me accomplish anything I set my mind to.
When I was 13 I tried out for a spot on a highly competitive club volleyball team. I was incredibly nervous and sure that my skills weren’t enough to qualify me for the position. I had only played one season of school volleyball in 7th grade, while several of the other girls had been playing club for two years. They were taller than me, stronger than me, and more experience than me. I was so sure that I wouldn’t make the team that I considered asking my mom to take me home before warm-ups were even over. But then I remembered that I was a child of God! I knew that if it was his will for my life that he would help me make the team. With a new sense of peace and confidence I completed tryouts, giving it my very best, and leaving the rest in God’s hands. When I found out that I made the team I said a quick prayer of thanks and ran off to tell my mom the good news.
When I was grappling with the decision to de-convert from Christianity, losing this source of self-confidence was one of the largest obstacles. As I considered what it would mean to no longer be a Christian, instances like the volleyball tryouts came to mind. I was a person who suffered from low self-esteem, and what small self-esteem I did have came from my belief in God. I had been taught that I was nothing without God—that all people are weak in mind, spirit, and will, but that God intervenes and is the source of all of our positive traits. That is why we give him the glory, and not ourselves. I was told so often that it was God who makes us strong, who gives us faith, who helps us persevere, and who helps us overcome. I was afraid that without God my life would fall apart, and that I wouldn’t have the confidence to get out of bed in the morning, let alone accomplish the lofty goals I had in mind for my future.
I used God as an emotional crutch. I thought that it would be impossible for me suffer through day to day life if I was unable to take my burdens and “lay them on the cross.” I couldn’t imagine tackling a problem or dealing with an emotionally stressful situation without having God to rely on. I was already dealing with rather severe depression and was convinced that my relationship with God was the only thing keeping my head above the water. I was afraid that without him I would sink so far into depression that I would never find my way out again.
Despite my fears for my emotional wellbeing, I couldn’t maintain belief in the Christian God the face of mounting evidence. I renounced my faith and waited for the avalanche.
That avalanche never came. Instead of finding myself bogged down further by depression, I found myself coming out of it. Having the courage to reject my religion also gave me the courage to change my life in other positive ways. I ended up taking the reins instead of waiting for God to intervene, and I took myself to a better place where I could find happiness. Knowing that I was capable of making positive changes, that I was the one responsible for my own happiness, increased my self-worth. I had removed myself from emotionally detrimental situations. I had cured my depression.
This increase of self-worth lead me to realize that I could be making more out of my life. I had always planned on attending the most prestigious college I could get myself into, and I was always a dedicated student, but my bout with depression came during the last few years of high school and caused my grades to slip well below Ivy League levels. I didn’t even attempt to apply to any of my dreams schools, opting instead just to go to my state university, which had admissions standards so low that they had actually been mocked on an episode of The Simpsons.
After my first year of college I had brought myself up to the good emotional place I mentioned and I was excelling in my schoolwork. I decided to start thinking about those dream schools again, and applied to three as a junior transfer.
As I was waiting to hear back from the schools my old self-confidence problems crept back into my life. I found myself wishing that I was a Christian again so I could pray to God for comfort and have the confidence that he had a great plan for my life. I was nervous that my grades weren’t good enough, that my essays weren’t good enough, and that I didn’t have what it takes intellectually. On top of that, the odds for being admitted as a junior transfer were much lower than those for being admitted as a freshman. I wanted to feel special like I did at volleyball tryouts. I didn’t feel special, and worse than that, I felt alone. These schools were evaluating me based on my merits and scholarly ability. They were either going accept me or reject me, and it was me alone. There was no God to intervene on my behalf or to guide the admission board’s decisions, there was no Divine Will. I had simply either worked hard enough to get in or I hadn’t.
I was accepted into all three schools, and chose to attend my first choice, UC Berkeley. I currently have a 4.0 and am in the top 4% of my class, and I did it all on my own. Just as Dumbo learned that he could fly without his feather, I learned that I could be successful without God. It turns out that the key to self-confidence, emotional stability, and perseverance was within me all along.
[Cross-posted on The Art of Skepticism]