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Believe in God, believe in yourself

Scott Boyle | Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Although it’s sometimes hard to admit, I get nervous easily. This was especially problematic in high school. My nerves made big decisions difficult. I always put off asking girls to dances until the last minute and told Notre Dame of my decision to attend on the day of the application deadline. 
I’ve always felt more comfortable away from the spotlight. I’ve never liked organizing and have always been more content helping as a part of a team rather than leading one.  So, college was great for me. There were always activities and people that needed help. I could be something to everyone and could stay away from big decisions. 
Everything changed once I started this year in Campus Ministry. Suddenly, my opinion mattered more. I was given responsibilities. I was no longer just part of the team, but instead was responsible for leading it and organizing meetings, committees and programming.
I was especially shocked – and scared – when I discovered I would be co-leading Notre Dame’s Senior Retreat. I helped with the Senior Retreat as a senior, so I figured I would not have any trouble this time around. This was not entirely the case, as I soon discovered.  My co-leader, Katie, and I were tasked with overhauling the entire retreat. We changed everything from the previous year and gave it a different focus and structure. We took on a lot of responsibility and tried to organize the retreat so that little help was needed from others during the course of the two days. 
I grew a lot during the preparations for the retreat, learning to manage the stress and responsibility that came from juggling many different details and people. But perhaps my greatest insight came not at the end but near the beginning of the preparations in a conversation with Fr. Jim King, Director of Campus Ministry. And I’m just now starting to live into its truth.
Fr. Jim and I were talking about my future and I mentioned to him I was, as usual, having difficulties making decisions. To shake things up, I asked him a question point blank: “Having known me for a couple of months, what is one thing that I could work on?” He replied to me almost without hesitation: “Look, you’ve got a lot of gifts Scott. I’d hire you tomorrow to work in Campus Ministry.” Then he paused. “But I can’t hire you.” “Why’s that?” I asked.  “Because,” he replied, “You’re not confident in what you do.”
It would be no exaggeration to say these words have changed the way I look at myself. The more I thought about it, the more I realized Fr. Jim was right.  I couldn’t make big decisions because I didn’t believe I had the capability to make them. In other words, I didn’t believe in myself. I realized I had been handicapped by my desire to make everybody happy. And this desire had hindered my ability and confidence in making decisions, decisions that may have been right but also difficult for people to hear or accept.
During the retreat, I learned very quickly that you can’t make everyone happy. I guess I could have if I had remained guarded and revealed only a part of myself into the process of planning and execution.  But that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to pour all of myself into that retreat. 
Jesus too did not make everyone happy. Although he led his disciples with truth and love, he made some people so mad they crucified him on a cross. C.S. Lewis writes in this capacity: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.”
So I’ve realized leadership, if done well, does not invite us into an ivory tower, but into vulnerability. Henri Nouwen comments, “I wonder if not all creativity [and leadership] asks for a certain encounter with our loneliness. And it is fear of this encounter which severely limits our possible self-expression.”
I realized I had been fearful of leading because I had been incapable of being vulnerable and opening myself to some of the hardest realities of life: criticism, failure and the loneliness that comes with these experiences. But, despite all my fears, Fr. Jim believed in me. And I still ran the retreat.
I think Fr. Jim reminded me of a deeper reality too: God always believes in us. There is nothing we cannot accomplish in Him. If we take a leap, He will not abandon us. He will support us as we discover ourselves and, most importantly, will give us the wings to fly.
Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at
[email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.