Once, when I was nine, I stood in the hallway and admired myself in the mirror. I turned my body left and right, I looked up and down. Announcing my conclusions, I raised my voice a little and said to my mother, "Do you see how long my legs are getting?"
"Honey," she said, "your legs are the same length as everyone else's: they reach from your butt to the ground."
There is a Far Side comic that shows a boy, book under arm, pushing hard to open the door to his gifted school. The door says, "Pull."
My mom found this comic printed on a mug and gave it to me as a gift, since (according to the state of California and the name of my school), I was her "gifted child." She usually liked to remind me of this when I did something that demonstrated a lack of common sense. "That's my gifted child!" she would say, smiling.
Several months ago my mother and I were laughing on the phone as we remembered that nine-year-old me admiring herself for her long legs. The irony that I aged to be the shortest in my family was not lost on us. We cackled at the memory, and floated from it to others where she had put me in my place with some well-timed quip. I realized that this sort of thing had happened not once or twice, but many times. I brought it up to her, not from hurt feelings but out of curiosity. She said, "I felt that it was part of my mission as your mother to humble you. You always had more than enough self-confidence."
I always had more than enough self-confidence. Though that would need to be amended slightly to be exactly accurate (e.g., "...as long as it did not involve meeting other children or playing basketball"), it is basically true. I always have had at least enough self-confidence, especially in the classroom. Some people were made for assignments and standardized tests. I am one of those people. I was the child who felt it cruelly unfair that the state tests did not award me a 100th percentile ranking even though I had answered every question correctly, and my mother's explanations that they didn't give anyone that ranking was only a small consolation. I saw a list of "99"s as a list of imperfections. No reason for snobbery at all.
85, 95, 99% ?! Woe is me!
I always expected to be the top of my class. And when I was at the top of my class I didn't feel any special sort of pride; I rather it took for granted, as ordinary reality. I felt no more pride at being the top student than I did in being a resident of the state of California. It's just where I was. As I advanced in my education, being the best became harder until it became being among the best, as in college. By the time I got to my masters degree, I had matured enough that being the best, or among the best, didn't come to mind. (Though keeping that spotless 4.0 was still a priority.) Still, there was never any question about if I could successfully complete an M.Div. degree. Of course I could. Of course I would. Of course!
I always had more than enough self-confidence.
Doing doctoral studies is the sort of thing that when people find out you're doing it they are somehow compelled by social or natural forces to utter some words of awe. The raised eyebrows, perhaps a whistle or the slow nodding, words like "Wow!" or "I could never do something like that," or "They don't just give those things away." Almost without fail, people react by acting impressed. This makes me quite uncomfortable, very eager to downplay the entire enterprise or to ridicule myself. "Don't be too impressed yet," I warn, "I haven't got the degree yet!" Or, as if I were jabbing them jocularly in the ribs, I say, "Well, what can I say? I'm just a nerd. We'll see how it goes."
Except that all my hemming and hawing is not mere empty social posturing (which I dislike very much). It does, rather, betray that I actually do not have self-confidence on this point. I have self-doubt. I seriously doubt if I can successfully complete a PhD. Maybe I'm too naive, or too ignorant, or too dull, or too lazy, or too busy, or too faithless. I'm probably "too" something, and I probably don't have what it takes to finish. Resigning from my job and enrolling in this pricey degree may have been an expensive and career-fatal move, perhaps one of the dumbest life decisions I've made.
But perhaps not. Likely it is a Fatherly invitation, part of God's mission to humble me. Probably it is God's schoolroom for me wherein I might learn humility and faithfulness, to trust Him whatever, neverminding the settled sense of unease. I am, after all, His "gifted child." ;)
So I go forward, resolving to no longer waver uncertainly in my speech about this doctoral degree, receiving the fear as an invitation to trust and obey, ignoring the self-centered folly which counsels me to give up, and walking confidently under the direction of His dreams within me. Walking--despite these short legs!