How many of you have seen this movie? A beautiful girl or a handsome boy has an impossible dream. Yet a great tragedy interrupts, a debilitating injury threatens, bullies block the way, or some other plot device interferes. Everything looks bleak, and then a beloved mentor swoops in: “Follow your dreams,” the mentor advocates. “Believe in yourself.” From there, of course, the movie climbs up to its tear-jerker ending with all dreams fulfilled. I’ve seen this storyline countless times, dressed up in various ways, but with the same message. You would think that if it was asking too much for the screenwriters to offer a correct message they could at least strive to be creative!
G.K. Chesterton had this wisdom to offer of
’s favorite motto: America
“Once I remember walking with a prosperous publisher who…said of somebody, ‘That man will get on; he believes in himself.’
…I said to him, ‘Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.’
He said mildly that there were a good many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic asylums.
‘Yes, there are,’ I retorted, ‘and you of all men ought to know them. That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself.
'If you consulted your business experience instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. Actors who can't act believe in themselves; and debtors who won't pay. It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail, because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one's self is a hysterical and superstitious belief...the man who has it has ‘Hanwell’ [a lunatic asylum] written on his face.’1”
You truly cannot afford to believe in yourself. For in such self-reliance you open yourself up to all the strength and possibility you can muster, but that is no more strength than an hours-old baby! Yes, the baby can cry out that he is self-reliant, but in the end it is the mother who answers the cry with satisfying, life-giving food.
Likewise, for all our boasted-about self-belief, it is God who upholds our every breath! We say follow your heart, yet the only reason that heart is still pumping is because of God’s great mercy. Following a deceitfully wicked organ will only lead to despair.
We say follow your dreams, yet it would be better to follow the One who gave us those dreams in the first place.
We say believe in yourself, because in a world that says we were an accident with great-grandparents in the monkey family, we want desperately to think we are worth believing in. John 1:12 and 13 tells us that our worth lies in our special position as precious children of God:
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Do these niceties bother you as much as they do me? Don’t be pulled into the whirlpool by a stirring soundtrack and beautiful speeches. Don’t you dare believe in yourself: you just might find yourself in a lunatic asylum one day. Instead, believe in Christ who offers so much more possibility than our own brains could ever imagine:
“Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:23-24)
1. Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. Project Gutenberg, May 1994. Page 5.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.