Anonymous wrote: What is the difference between spiritual confidence and other kinds of confidence? Is there any kind of confidence that is healthy other than confidence in knowing we are loved by God? Is it normal to feel less and less confidence generally the longer you are orthodox?
This is a matter of discernment, for a lot depends on what is masquerading under the guise of confidence. A tradesman, for example, must be confident in his trade. He must know well what he does, and what he can and cannot do. However, he has learned this by coming to know his limits, the limits of his tools, the limits of his materials, the limits of his skills. In a sense, this is a confidence born of humility. The skilled tradesman knows how to be careful and knows that a lot can go wrong, yet this knowledge does not freeze him. Rather, a lifetime of failures has taught him that to do nothing is to fail utterly; so he proceeds with confidence knowing that some failure is inevitable (and often, but not always, repairable).
Similarly in the spiritual life (all of life really), there is a confidence, a trust in God, that is born of failure and the fruit of failure: humility. We make our boast in God (with St. Paul) even as we glory in our weaknesses. This phrase, “glory in weakness,” means something like “know and thank God for my limits.” God is strong in the life of St. Paul precisely because St. Paul knows he is the least of the Apostles and not worthy to called an Apostle. God’s power is manifest in St. Paul’s care for the Churches precisely because he knows that he is no excellent speaker or wise teacher. St. Paul merely obeys his calling (i.e. does what God puts before him to do) and loves those God has given him to love.
This confidence in God born from humility is a good thing. Unfortunately, most of us have learned to base our confidence on our own righteousness (literally, our being right). We are confident because we are right. This is the righteousness of the Pharisee: pride masquerading as confidence.
As we become more like Christ (i.e. grow in our Orthodox Christian faith), false confidence is stripped away. We may even go through periods of feeling emotionally naked as God lovingly frees us of the false robe of our own righteousness to clothe us in the robe of His righteousness. We may have to accept as failures (or at least possible failures) past actions, attitudes, words, or beliefs that we sincerely held to be right, and that we even taught others and fought to defend. We also have to accept that our failures have had consequences that have hurt others and hurt ourselves (St. Paul–confident that he was doing the right thing–held the coats of the men who stoned St. Stephen to death).
Accepting my limits, my failures, my sin, my inabilities, I have no refuge but God Himself and those who are filled with God: His Holy Mother and the Saints. And yet, even a jar made of clay can contain gold. God fills and slowly heals broken vessels, and in spite of their baseness, makes them somehow honorable. Just as wood and paint become a holy icon, not because of the wood and paint, but because of the Image they portray. So we too–failures in just about every way–can be formed into the Image of Christ. “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”