CascadiaJS and Insecurity

Written by David on November 24, 2013

I attended CascadiaJS this past week in Vancouver, BC - my first JavaScript conference - and was shocked when it came to the closing keynote. The speaker got onto the stage and very respectfully and vulnerably told us about her struggles with self-doubt and identity and insecurity. She said that she didn’t feel like a good person and that she didn’t feel like people treated her with the value she thought she was worth and that she wasn’t emotionally safe in her last workplace, and then she talked about how studies had come out saying that mental stability is a greater indicator of future success than standardized test scores.

I was baffled… someone was willing to get up on stage at a JavaScript conference and talk about brokenness and the human condition and things that are way more important than JavaScript. And everyone was engaged… everyone could identify!

This has resonated with me for years - this brokenness was the reason I began considering Christianity 7 or 8 years ago.

When I was in San Francisco, the CTO of the startup I was working for told me that most of the Christians he knows became Christian after some crisis in their lives that they weren’t able to overcome. A few months ago, I had a coworker voice the same realization, suggesting that the reason Christians became Christians was because they couldn’t accomplish their own pursuits on their own. And one of my friends in college believed that faith was a crutch for the weak, an opium for the masses.

It was a bit insulting and kind of hard to hear because I felt I was just as human and just as strong as the next guy, but, then again, there’s this passage from 1 Corinthians:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth… God chose what is weak in the world… God chose what is low and despised in the world.”

And then Paul backs that up in 2 Corinthians 12:

“I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…”

And even before that, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

And in Matthew 11:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

God even intentionally chooses Israel as His people because they are weak. And throughout the Old Testament, God is defending and associating with the poor, the orphans, the foreigners, the physically disabled, and the widows. He wasn’t identifying with the kings and the highest social classes in society, but with the lowly and the outsiders. I get the feeling that if God was a captain picking players for His soccer team, He would have been choosing the nobodies.

With that in mind… instead of trying to defend that I am strong, I should rather be glad. I don’t have to carry the weight and burden of thinking that I’m the one who is determining my future or to think that my value as a human is conditional on my abilities. I don’t have to keep trying to justify my existence with things that can be taken away from me like career or family, because my existence is justified by a third party. My weakness means that I have a greater chance to actually be able to choose God and experience Him in a way that you can’t, because I have more insecurity and hopelessness and arrogance to be freed from.

I think that the one premise to coming to a place where you could actually believe in Christianity is believing that you’re weak. Or small, or guilty, or unable. You might be able to reason yourself into it, maybe like Pascal’s wager, but I don’t think you can need yourself into it. We might say that we know no one’s perfect and we know that we have weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean that we really feel like those things are problematic and that we actually really need to get our acts together. That doesn’t mean we really feel like we are going to die because we don’t deserve to live… we just treat it like an abstract painting or something… like it’s not definitively wrong and could even be beautiful in its own way.

But I am saying that to believe in Christianity, you really need to believe like it’s a bad thing. Like you’re a bad person. When I was in high school, I remember feeling like I was the antagonist, and that I wasn’t the hero of the story, or even on the right side. I was the bad guy and had become a person that I didn’t want to be. I really thought that I needed to be rescued from myself…

Ultimately, I think the thing that made me believe that Christianity was the only way was that I didn’t believe I was good enough and that what I wanted to do was worth doing. I think every other major paradigm or system of beliefs is dependent on your being good enough, following some kind of rule system, working hard enough so that you eventually achieve what you want. That’s the idea of karma and nirvana and the American dream. I didn’t think that I could achieve those goals… but then, I also didn’t believe that those dreams were worth achieving. I thought very abstractly that those dreams would make me happy, but when I considered what life would be like if I had all of those things, I didn’t think my life would be much different. I’d still walk around feeling like the same insecure antagonist, feeling like I had done something wrong.

That’s why I became a Christian. It was the one thing in my life that said I didn’t need to be good enough, and that God was impossibly powerful and great, but that He cared about the weak and broken and invisible. Every other god seemed to care about the valedictorian and the guys who played varsity football or were going to go to Ivy League schools, the guys who helped themselves and were moral enough. But the Christian God said He would be content with me. He also said that He wanted me to start doing the right things, but then He said that I wouldn’t be able to naturally do the right things and that I would need to pay more attention to Him helping me instead of me helping myself if I ever wanted to change.

So you must see… I am not very strong at all. I am all too fragile and forgetful and faithless, and I have a compulsive need to be right a lot. But at the end of the day, I know who I am. I’m the prodigal son who was loved back home by a Father.

So who are you?