The having (or not) of faith

By Caitlin Kelly

The Paris Unity March, Jan. 11, 2015. Faith in action -- that collective community response still matters
The Paris Unity March, Jan. 11, 2015. Faith in action — that collective community response still matters

I married a PK, a preacher’s kid.

Jose’s father was a Baptist minister in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His parish numbered about 30 — with a church large enough to hold 200. He faced many empty pews, yet kept on going.

His mother was a kindergarten teacher.

She was, he says, the epitome of faith.

Money was often tight and Jose, the sensitive, often worried baby of the family, sometimes wondered if everything would be OK.

“Have faith,” his mother told him.

We tend to talk about faith in narrow religious terms, as faith in a deity or a set of guidelines.

I’m interested, here, in the faith we place in ourselves, in one another and in the world around us.

Without it, without even a shred of it, we’re paralyzed. Too scared to move.

I started selling my creative work to strangers when I was 12. I sat on a Toronto street corner and sold bead necklaces. At 15, I sold my home-made stationery and at 18, my photos — and was gratefully stunned when one of the city’s top fashion photographers bought one.

Maybe that flickering flame of faith in myself, in my nascent skills, in my ability to connect with others who found value in my work danced a little higher then.

Yes, this machine will work. If we feared it wouldn't, then what?
Yes, this machine will work. If we feared it wouldn’t, then what?

Without faith in ourselves we’re lost.

Without faith in our parents — to guide, teach, protect us — we feel un-moored and unsafe.

Without faith in our intelligence and stamina, we can’t accept that learning can be exhausting and difficult.

Without faith in our elected and appointed officials, we can’t function — imagine the rage and distrust so many African-Americans are feeling in the face of the five unarmed black men recently shot in the United States by police.

It takes tremendous faith to forge ahead in the face of despair, illness, fear and anxiety.

To wake up with pennies in your pocket and to find the faith that, somehow, things are going to get better.

To face a diagnosis that terrifies you, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

To inhabit a home that once welcomed  your husband or wife, now fled to the arms of someone else, wondering if anyone, anywhere, will ever love you again.

I think faith is forged in the fire of fear.

Phoenix-like, we have to rise from the smoking embers of what-we-thought-would-happen, while we figure out what happens next instead.

Without some solid skills we know we can trust, without friends and family who know and believe in the best of us, without some notion it will all be OK, we’re toast.

Having survived some horrendous episodes in my own past — a mentally-ill parent, family alcoholism, divorce, job loss, criminal attack — I know I’ll make it through. Somehow.

Faith + I’ll-get-through-this-somehow = resilience.

The past few weeks, for a variety of reasons, have demanded I stolidly move forward, in spite of sometimes paralyzing doubt in a few outcomes. Without the faith I’ll survive them, emotionally and physically, I’d consider staying in bed in the fetal position.

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Instead, I went out this weekend to play softball with my co-ed pickup team, a posse of people, some 50 years apart in age, that I’ve known, loved and shared post-game, beneath-the-trees lunches with for a decade.

I stepped up to the plate, picked up the bat, wondered, in my first game of the season what would happen next — and hit a single.

Do you have faith in yourself?

In others?

Women Lack Confidence? As If. We Just Get Punished For Showing It

Two women boxing
Image by Powerhouse Museum Collection via Flickr

Loved this thoughtful post from the blog BitchPhd about when, where and why women behave as though they lack confidence — when many of us actually don’t:

When did self-promotion, confidence, and even occasional arrogance become the exclusive domain of men? I believe that we can have a sea change in how women behave without it being a submission to the forces of patriarchy. And I firmly reject the notion that women are “naturally” inclined to be more collaborative, less arrogant, and less self-promoting than men. Zandt doesn’t say that, but it’s running as a subtext through what she wrote.

In order to answer the question of what behavior is “natural” to men or women, you need to look at girls. Pre-pubescent girls, girls who have had healthy childhoods in a loving environment and a stimulating education. They are not retiring. They do not deprecate themselves. If they are not shy (and some of them are) they will happily tell you all about the awesome things they’ve done and how great they are. They are just as arrogant as the boys, maybe even more so. They compete with each other and with boys, they try furiously to make themselves stand out.

I was one of those girls. And let me tell you, I was punished mightily for it, starting right about the time that puberty crept up. Teachers, friends, and friends’ parents repeatedly told me I was “conceited.” This was often not even for saying anything, but merely for succeeding in a given activity. I was lucky, though. These messages were never reinforced at home. My dad wasn’t a cheerleader-type parent, but he never cut me down, either. I’d tell him about how girls at school shunned me after I succeeded at something, whether it was getting a role in a school play or winning the spelling bee, and he’d tell me that I didn’t need to change my behavior. He didn’t tell me I was better than them, either, or that they were “just jealous.” He just said, you are all changing and growing up and maybe some of them will stay your friends and some of them won’t. I know it hurts, and I’m sorry. (Ps, my dad is awesome).

So I managed to retain most of that childhood exuberance. But I’m still surprised by my instincts toward self-doubt.

I doubt there’s a successful woman out there, anywhere, who hasn’t struggled with this. Recently, my own Dad jibed me: “You don’t lack for confidence, do you?” My father, who won international awards for his work as a filmmaker, isn’t one to mince words. “The apple falls close to the tree,” I replied. Growing up in a family of people who never had jobs, job security, raises, promotions or pensions — all of them freelancers in film, television, radio and print — taught me that self-doubt meant loss of income.

You can’t sell yourself, or your skills, and the two become conflated, if you think you’re lousy or someone’s better than you. They probably are! But that’s not the point. Anyone selling their services into the open marketplace needs a solid sense of their value. And showing it takes confidence. No one wants to hire the chick who fiddles with her hair or says “um” or “sorry”.

Yet women are, indeed, punished for their — you should pardon the expression — ballsiness. A feisty woman who’s ready and willing to fight hard for her ideas and vision isn’t someone many other women are comfortable with. Some men, and their sons, are also happy to beat the hell out of a woman who thinks she’s something, a lesson I learned firsthand.

I arrived halfway through tenth grade at a Toronto high school filled with kids who’d known one another since elementary school and one in which, like many, the boys ruled. I’d spent all my previous life surrounded by cool, accomplished women and girls in an all-female private school and summer camp. Deferring to boys because they were male was just…weird.

A small group of them were determined to teach me a lesson, and three years of brutal, relentless, daily and very public verbal bullying were my reward for daring to be so outwardly confident. How dare I? It left scars, no question, but allowing them to define me, and destroy my sense of excitement about the world? Not an option.

When I re-kindled a friendship with my high school best friend decades later after a reunion, I asked her why they’d singled me out for such abuse. “You were confident. You scared them to death.”

One of my favorite books on the subject, one I think every woman and female teen must read as they negotiate their careers, is Women Don’t Ask, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. The authors studied a group of women and why they failed to ask for more for themselves when negotiating in a business setting — and the very real backlash from those who don’t is one of the issues.