The confidence we need to navigate life flows from faith in ourselves, and that begins with self-knowledge.
“Explore thyself!” Henry David Thoreau urges us all.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet marveled at the human animal: “What a piece of work is man. How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty in form and loving how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!”
Yet in the next breath the prince’s faith in man and himself faltered: “And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
Hamlet lacked hope in, and love for, mankind and himself.
When you reach the autumn of your life, you’ll want to nurture a faith that secures your future and engages your affections as well as your mind.
For that, you will need a faith in something — or someone — outside yourself.
If you conceive of yourself as a mere accidental speck of life in a vast, impersonal universe, you are not likely to find a faith that holds out much hope.
Believers and doubters are equally exposed to life’s trials, but the believer knows where he stands in the universe and where he is going.
No one can live free of faith.
If you or I attempted to live confidently on the basis of what we know for an absolute fact, we could never get out of bed in the morning.
People cannot help but live by faiths that fall short of certitude, but we can shed false faiths that are built of little more than habit and sentiment, and we can build a faith full of hope.
Take the time to list your beliefs on paper, starting with what you believe about yourself.
What kind of person do you think you are? What do you do daily to justify your faith in yourself?
For example, if you consider yourself to be truthful, what hard truths have you revealed or confronted lately?
If you think of yourself as generous, what acts of kindness have you displayed of late?
Next, answer this: What do I believe in beyond myself?
In what or whom do I place my faith and trust?
Summon the courage to submit your findings to a couple of trusted friends.
Do they see you the way you see yourself?
If not, don’t despair.
Your faith may be fine, though your self-image may be faulty.
Even saints falter in action, but they maintain their faith despite their shortcomings. To be worthy of your adherence, your faith needs to be bigger and better than you alone.
Francis of Assisi was once challenged by a peasant who had heard of the friar’s generosity. He urged the saint: “Try to be as good as people think you are.” From all reports, Francis succeeded. Despite a life of almost inconceivable deprivation and generosity, he lived happily.
David Yount’s latest book is Making a Success of Marriage (Rowman & Littlefield). He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and firstname.lastname@example.org.