It happened at church the other day. It happened after singing songs and listening to a sermon in the drafty red-seat theater with windows that look out over the Kremlin, and the onion domes, and the frozen Yauza canal. A friend came up after the service – she wanted to introduce me to her friend who was visiting for the first time.
“This is Elizabeth,” she said, “She’s a journalist.”
And I could feel myself smiling and shaking hands and nodding. Yes, I’m a journalist.
What do you think about when you walk into a room? What gives you confidence? What makes you feel legitimate, like you are someone worth talking to and listening to?
For me right now it’s my work. Being a journalist makes me feel interesting, like I have something to offer.
It wasn’t always this way. A few years ago, when economist husband and I were dating and newly married he was my confidence – “I’m married to a really smart, handsome and successful man. He thinks I’m amazing,” is the banner that played through my head every time I walked into a room.
In college it was Russian – I speak Russian, and I’m smart. In high school it was sports – I play basketball, and my teammates are popular at school. In junior high it was looks – I have pretty hair and clear skin, and I’m thin.
(You can imagine how devastating a bad haircut in 8th grade was!)
Now I’m losing my job. Well, that’s not true – I’m not exactly losing it – I’m just working under a new contract, but the twinge is still there – now what? What will I do after I don’t get to be a journalist anymore? It feels like I’m losing my legitimacy.
The panic started slow and quiet. I felt the twinge last night, laying awake in bed after a day in the office. Now what? It wasn’t so much the pay cut or the loss of benefits; it was more the dread of how I could explain this; of how it would look; of the rejection. If this isn’t who I am anymore, then who am I?
I know it’s not right. I know it’s pride. But it’s still there; a creeping dread that I’m going back to square one; that I’m being exposed.
This morning was gray. Cloudy at the end of February and after weeks of eye-watering cold, I can feel the first hints of Black Russian spring in the air. I’m up early for a hot shower, and for a few quiet minutes reading the gospel of Luke.
I love these stories about Jesus, and by Jesus. He’s so incredible and fresh and surprising, and scandalous. He nails it on the head every time, and always gets right to the heart of things. It’s refreshing.
“Be on your guard against…hypocrisy,” He told His followers after insulting his hosts at a party full of self-righteous religious leaders, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs…”*
I wonder what Jesus thought about when He walked into a room full of people. I wonder what He whispered to Himself.
In a way I’m glad this is happening – it’s one more layer getting peeled away – one more secret being disclosed and shouted from the rooftops. My career won’t last. Being a journalist is a pretty shaky identity to hide behind.
That’s one of the coolest things about being a Christian, actually. No matter what happens, no matter what gets taken away from you, it all moves you onwards and upwards in your faith. This crazy, foolish God, and the unlikely relationship with Him are constants that never disappear.
So, what do real security and confidence look like? What should we be thinking about when we walk into a room if not our job or our relationships or who likes us?
The key, I think, is not to think about myself at all when I walk into a room. Transcendent joy, and confidence is something that comes when you’re focused on something else entirely: when you’ve become obsessed with and driven by something bigger than yourself…
What do you think?
*quote from Luke 12: 1-3