Prompted by church and church small group in the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about the temptations of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11.
I explored one angle on these temptations last year, over at Feminism and Religion, in a piece called The Gendered Temptation of Jesus (based on Luke’s version of the story). I reflected on the gendered differences in how power and authority operate in our world, and I wondered how the devil might have tempted Jesus differently had Jesus been a woman.
This year, I find myself reading the story of Jesus’ temptations and thinking about how frickin’ insecure everyone is. Okay, maybe not everyone, and maybe not all the time—but most people, much of the time.
Is there a nicer way to say that? Probably. But maybe it’s helpful to say it bluntly. Most of us are a walking pile of insecurities.
I feel like this is one of those things that is true but isn’t always obvious to me—probably, at least in part, because everyone expresses their insecurities in different ways.
Other people’s insecurities don’t look the same ways mine do. So I don’t always see it. And most people don’t talk about their insecurities directly.
Most people, most of the time, don’t say “I’m feeling insecure about my job performance at work right now. I’m not sure whether my supervisor thinks I’m doing a good job, or whether my coworkers respect me.”
Instead, someone might say, “Ugh, my supervisor is the worst, she never gives me any positive feedback. Who let her manage a team?” Or, “My coworker Bob is so annoying. He talks about himself all the time, and does he even get any work done?” Instead of saying, “I’m worried people think I talk about myself too much at work, or that they think I’m lazy.”
These are just a couple of examples. I’m sure you can think of other things people feel insecure about and other ways they (indirectly) express those insecurities. Some people (hi) get quiet. Others get loud. Some flatter and fawn. Others speak harshly and abrasively.
This year, as I read the Bible story about the temptations of Jesus, I notice that the thing the devil keeps coming back to is this big chubby “IF.” “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the temple.”
As in, Are you really the Son of God? If you are, then prove it to me. Right now. In these very specific ways I want you to prove it.
When Jesus resists these temptations, he’s saying, in effect, No, I’m not going to do that. Of course I’m the Son of God, but I have no need to prove it to you. I know who I am. God knows who I am. That’s all I need. That is enough for me.
I think this is helpful. It feels helpful to me in my own insecurities, and so I offer it in case it’s helpful for you too. We aren’t exactly the Son of God in the same way Jesus was—but we are God’s beloved family. We are created by God, known by God, loved by God. This is powerful.
We know who we are. And that is enough.
So when we feel insecure at work and feel the urge to turn it around and blame Bob somehow, perhaps instead we can pause, take a moment, and reflect. We can decide we don’t need to prove our own usefulness at work by calling Bob lazy in comparison.
We can also remind ourselves that our insecurities are human. Maybe we can even find the courage to talk about our insecurities directly—to share them with people we trust who can remind us that we don’t have to prove ourselves, that we are enough.
Communicating honestly and kindly about our insecurities can forge closer bonds between people, whereas acting in unkind or unproductive ways because of our insecurities tears people and communities apart.
It’s okay to feel insecure. But we don’t have to act harmfully out of it. And when we do, we can acknowledge the harm and seek repair. This is all part of what it is to be human, and to be in community together.
Like Jesus, we are God’s beloved. This is the truest thing about us, and it does not change. We do not have to earn love.
When we feel insecure, may we learn to rest in this belovedness, this enough-ness. And may it free us from the need to operate out of our insecurities in ways that harm ourselves and people around us.