Finding faith in the desert
For many of us, Lent starts out with some faith. You can imagine faith like a plant. It could be a seed, dormant in the winter. It might feel like a dying seedling, needs a little attention and love and care. It needs time. What happens, though, when your faith doesn’t seem like it’s there? When God seems silent? When there is nothing to grieve because you don’t remember even what it was like to have that relationship? What happens though when you’ve lost your faith? When the ground is so frozen you can’t imagine anything growing out of it. What do you do?
With instant gratification for everyone, and new philosophies and world views for sale, it seems like we can’t even hold on to anything for a long enough time to grieve its loss.
It seems like we lease our faith, we lease our commitment, until it’s time to sign another lease. Owning the whole thing is intimidating and we let the other “church people” do that. I hope this Lent can be an opportunity to reengage our ownership.
The big philosophical question that surrounds faith is, largely, a Western phenomenon. For most of history, human beings did not have the super amount of information and technology to believe that the only thing that existed was what they could see. The material world being all that we have is a little bleak. I’m not sure most of us believe that. In fact, the most ardent atheists and materialists I know are post-Christians, usually rebelling from something or another; they changed worldviews, but kept the evangelical dogma. Those folks seem to be the exception. Most people seem to be open to some sort of faith, but don’t know how to get to it. Or feel bad about where they are. Or they are just confused and they just can’t see another option.
I just want to relate to that confusion and doubt for a moment. We might feel bad about ourselves for our lack of faith, for our doubt, for our wonder even. The people with real faith, like the people that talk into microphones at our Public Meetings, well, I’ll never be like them.
It’s OK to have questions. Questions are good. Questions deepen. I’m not sure I have all the answers and I don’t necessarily strive for that. I like the process of faith, which I think is a journey, more than it is filled with right answers all the time. In fact the more rigid we are, the more dichotomous we are, I think the more likely our faith and relationships are to suffer.
My suggestions for finding some faith this Lenten season:
Try to get to a place where you don’t believe you are the center of the whole universe and that your mind is all there is. I don’t think many of us think we know everything in the world, or that no mystery is worth leaving unanswered. The universe is big. The material world is even infinite, it would seem. There is more to it than what we can observe. So just beginning there is a good starting place if you have doubt.
Move into more flexibility. As we begin this journey of faith, I want you to consider whether your rigid faith broke. If that’s the case, let’s move toward softening it and see if it can withstand some flexibility. Did the upbringing or even the media’s portrayal of dogmatic Christians “break” your faith? Did it push it to a zone where it couldn’t be recovered? Go back and consider your past and see if you can soften aspects of what you have been told are absolute and move and see if that doesn’t move you closer to God.
Ask yourself what your motives are. Are you like the Pharisees? Asking Jesus rhetorical questions to justify your rebellion? Are you questioning and resisting God and looking for a good reason not to follow him anymore? Is your question about proof really just a way to prove to yourself that faith is foolish? Are you looking for a reason not to believe? Ask yourself those questions. See what is happening in you that is not so readily apparent and maybe you will start to have faith in another thing that is not always readily apparent.
Ponder what philosophy you do have faith in. Who has won you over? What has crept into to undo your faith? Where are you filling what God used to fill? Are you experiencing pain that you are coping with in one way or another? Lent is a great time to free yourself up of a variety of encumbrances, of living more simply for a season, to see what has pushed God out of your life.
Get into the incarnation like Thomas. Experience Jesus. More than just being removed waiting for him to show you his wounds after he’s resurrected, let him come to you. The Body of Christ, hopefully, is a breeding for faith. Our PMs, our cells, our teams, hopefully inspire you to believe.
Prayer, as well, is the ultimate Lenten discipline for faith. If you are doubting and you are wondering and you can’t move into faith with God. If you don’t feel it and you are afraid of that, offer a prayer to God. Begin by trying to relate. This might be hard to do because you aren’t sure if there’s anyone on the other end listening. But try. And try to do it with words. I love the silence and meditation of contemplative prayer, but this time try to address God directly and maybe audibly.
Finally, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Have a little faith in yourself. Believe that you have the capacity to believe. Push yourself beyond your own self-image and see if a little self-care can’t make room for God, too. Believe that you deserve the love of Jesus and that it is available to you.
You don’t have to be one place or another, you don’t have to evaluate your faith to wonder if it’s deep enough or not. Jesus is OK with who you are. I hope you can work to be too.