Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
— Kahlil GibranFaith makes things possible, not easy.
— Author unknownFaith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have personally known several people who have returned to church or, at the very least, begun to take a second look at their faith (or lack thereof), after having talked to me – after getting to know me in the last few years. No, I’m not patting myself on the back – far from it, in fact. But does this make me a miracle worker, a shaman, an evangelist? Oh, my, no. You see, I know a lot of angry, hurting people in my present line of work as a recovering human being. Many feel God was robbed from them many years ago. Many are simply too angry to remember they are hurt people. Some are simply too frightened to even look back to see why they’re angry. I personally fell into all those categories. Each described me at one time or another. All of them describe me, to some extent, still.
And yet, when I returned to the “right” church, I found myself irresistibly drawn back to a faith I’d discarded many years before. That’s true, in part, because I discovered I’d never really discarded that faith. Instead, I’d tucked it so far down into the inner regions of my being I’d all but forgotten it was there. And I wasn’t going to rediscover any of that without an invitation to take another look.
But, what do I mean the “right” church? It certainly didn’t mean finding what I thought was a place where they believed the “right” things. To me it was arriving at a place, whether it was an accident or grace, whose whole atmosphere breathed welcome. Admittedly, it didn’t feel quite so much like that the first day I showed up, but that wasn’t the fault of the people there. The fault, if we can call it that, was my own lifetime of fear of intimacy. I’ve almost never lived alone in my life, but that didn’t prevent me from living with one arm held out to keep you from getting too close.
The right church, as it turned out, was a part of the tradition of my past. It was also somewhat different from that past tradition. I think that’s what made it okay, though, for me to stay. It seemed just different enough to allow me to stay long enough to allow my own needs to surface after a long hibernation. I finally allowed myself just a little room to remember that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1]
I was allowed the room to remember that Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew 11:29] That’s an inside job, you know. I was surrounded by people who appeared to genuinely like me, but it was up to me to put down the weight of the world. They couldn’t do it for me. When I finally simply stopped and surrendered, I was weeding a labyrinth. It was the place where I could think and the place where I was least likely to beat myself up for all the previous years of my life.
What did not bring me back into a faith community was someone annoyingly quoting scripture in my face that they probably didn’t even understand. No finger wagging, no instilling me with the fear of hell. Frankly, if you’d lived my life, hell looked a little like a resort.
If you’re keeping count, though, you may have noticed I’ve quoted two scriptures already. That’s not because I think God requires me to believe a, b, and c or, well, you’re out. No, it’s because those lines apply to me. They apply to my life in 2011.
But, do you know why some of those people took a second look at their faith (or lack thereof)? I believe it was sitting with me as I described how my life was changing. More importantly, allowing them to see in my eyes how my life was changing. Some of those hurting people had been doing the same thing I’d been doing for years. If you believe you’re not good enough, you’re unlikely to show up at yet another place where you’re made to feel guilty. I am completely capable of doing a much better job of that simply sitting at home. Why waste the gas?
I wasn’t sitting there trying to sell these people a bill of goods. These were my friends, after all. These were people who also had already had their own front-row seats in hell. These were people who already knew that it can’t just be about securing a place in heaven after you’re dead. The God I know requires substantially more of me than that. No, the question is what can we do for our neighbor right here, right now. A loving God also knows I’m going to screw that up on a fairly regular basis. That, however, doesn’t excuse my not trying.
So I ended up talking to people who were surprisingly willing to pry open their minds, even if just a bit. I saw some of the same reactions from them that I’d seen in myself. I saw a more relaxed face, a body not so closed. I saw a willingness to look around again – to see things they’d not allowed themselves to see in a very long time.
I’ve now had the privilege of two pastors who don’t simply open a Bible and read scripture after scripture, pounding it out in an awkward, literal sense. No, they have helped me see what these things meant to those people then. It’s only then that I’m able to see how it may relate to me now. It’s helped me see how I was able to create hell on earth for myself. It’s also rekindled a love of reading in me. I’m fascinated by the many ways the traditions of the church evolved. How different faith communities developed their own traditions and how, finally, many of those traditions were combined into the ever-interesting, ever-confusing book we call the New Testament.
When was it that mystery and awe ended up getting such a bad rap? We continue to discover smaller and smaller bits of matter, only to find out later that there are even smaller bits. In the meantime, we remain convinced that we can explain it all, given enough time. Somehow, I suppose, we think if we’re able to explain it all, we’ll also be able to control it. But control is a fleeting thing, with very little satisfaction connected to it. It’s also mostly a lie we tell ourselves in an effort to feel safe.
So, if you’re interested in sharing your faith, my suggestion would be to allow the one with whom you’re sharing see that faith in you. If others see that your only real interest in faith is having your ticket punched in order to get into heaven – that it is simply fear that you’d probably better stay on the safe side (you know, just in case it’s really literally true), they’ll most likely turn and walk away. Being Christ to one another means far more than dragging souls to Jesus. It means attempting to adopt the ways of Christ in order to bring into being a just world. It means reaching out a hand to help. It means inviting another to see the loving God you see yourself. It means looking around and realizing that you are surrounded by miracles every day and not a one of them really needs an explanation. Wonder and awe are their own rewards and they’re there for the receiving.