A few weeks ago I sat on the couch, opposite my husband, as we shared our dreams for the future. He is a pastor and I am a writer, two vocations that walk well together, hand-in-hand. We talked about ministry, calling, and vision. We hashed out our plans, our successes, our failures, and our fears.
Eventually the conversation turned to a subject I know well: insecurity. Throughout the past few years I have experienced a lot of insecurity in my writing and my call. The world of social media makes it easy to compare, leaving me to wonder if my gifts even matter. For years I ached, and even wept, over my inadequacy.
My husband has dealt with insecurities of his own. Although his are different from mine, the hearts of our insecurities are essentially the same: Am I enough? Are my gifts enough? How do I compare with other leaders? Am I capable of growing my ministry effectively?
Over the years, my husband’s struggles have functioned like a mirror reflecting back on my own, but with a wonderful, new kind of clarity. As I have walked my own journey of insecurity, and he has walked his, I have learned a lot about the intersection of insecurity, ministry, and leadership. I want to share just one of those lessons here.
Christians have one, primary way of dealing with insecurity, which is affirmation. Insecurity flourishes in the absence of love and truth, so we counter it with messages about God’s acceptance. If we can wrap our heads around God’s radical love for us, and His intentional purpose in creating us, those truths can eradicate insecurity.
That is the advice most frequently doled out, and it is true. When insecurity is rooted in a wound, or a lie, we need God’s love and truth to combat it. That is a good and valid response to insecurity.
However, there is something else at work in our insecurities as well. Insecurity is not only the result of failure, pain, or lies about yourself. Sometimes, in fact, insecurity points to something true. Insecurity highlights the parts of ourselves that are not surrendered to God. It elucidates false idols, self-glory, and sin. It reveals the things deep down in our hearts, that God is trying to kill.
For many of us, and leaders especially, insecurity is God’s way of bringing sin to the surface so that we can see it, and He can deal with it. And when this is the case—when insecurity is about your name, your reputation, and your glory—affirmation misses the point. In fact, affirmation can play right into the complex. When self already looms large, you don’t need more self.
That’s why, in many cases, the answer to insecurity is not more affirmation or positive self-talk. Not even the Christian kind. Instead you need to look hard in the face of insecurity and ask what God might be crucifying. What is God trying to wrestle out of your hands? What is He trying to kill, so that you can live?
In Matthew 16:24-25 Jesus tells his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What these words tell us is that sometimes, insecurity is a grace. Through insecurity, we experience the pain of a life lived for ourselves. By clinging too tightly to our own need for affirmation, success, and glory, we taste the “loss of life” that Jesus describes, and it tastes like insecurity. Put another way, insecurity is what makes your self-focus unbearable. It is God’s way of saying, “Trust me, you don’t want to live this way.”
The next time you face insecurity about your ability as a leader, the growth of your ministry, your comparison with others, or your clout among peers, positive self-talk may not be the answer. Maybe what you need is the Holy Spirit to search you, to know your heart, and to see if there is any unrighteous way in you. Because that insecurity and self-doubt might not be from the Enemy. Instead, that insecurity might be a grace. It might feel like a death, and it might even be a kind of death, but life awaits on the other side.