Monday, February 4, 2013

The sucky part of faith (a.k.a. doubt)

I’ve been reading God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew, aloud to a seventh grader at The Victory Project, and it is changing my life. I hope it’s also teaching him good vocabulary and maybe also teaching him about God, but if not, it’s still worthwhile for the ways it’s impacting my life.  

It’s about a Christian missionary in the 1950s who smuggled thousands of bibles into communist countries, and his journey to faith and the crazy miracles God did in his life.

The following is an excerpt that really hit home with my summer of doubt and searching:

“What I was worried about was a relationship…If I were going to give my life as a servant of the King, I had to know that King. What was He like? In what way could I trust Him? In the same way I trusted a set of impersonal laws? Or could I trust Him as a living leader, as a very present commander in battle? The question was central. Because if He were a King in name only, I would rather go back to the chocolate factory. I would remain a Christian, but I would know that my religion was only a set of principles, excellent and to be followed, but hardly demanding devotion.
Suppose on the other hand that I were to discover God to be a Person, in the sense that He communicated and cared and loved and led. That was something quite different. That was the kind of King I would follow into any battle.”

I want to see God work powerfully in my life. Like the kind of unbelievable, make-seeing-eyes-blind and ring-the-doorbell-with-all-my-worldly-needs miracles that Brother Andrew experienced in his missionary work (you really have to read the book). But I realize that in my life as a reporter, I don’t have the kind of needs that require such dramatic acts of God.

So I think, well, how about I give away all my stuff and hit the streets as a missionary. Then God will definitely show up, right?

And then this weekend, during a wonderful retreat with some amazing women from my bible study group, I heard a fantastic message from Beth Moore on overcoming fear. Now, as a person who has led 20 college students into a river in search of a rope swing with no more instructions than, “It’s on the other side of an island” or gone skinny dipping in a canal in Amsterdam in the middle of the night, it might surprise some people to know I live in fear. But as Beth pointed out, the most frequent command in the Bible is “Don’t be afraid,” or some variation of it, and I am far from immune. I love the adrenaline rush that comes with facing physical fears, like jumping off a cliff or riding roller coasters.  But when it comes to my future, my financial security, my decisions, or something as simple as hard conversations, I am often paralyzed in fear. And that fear is evidence of a lack of trust.

But it’s not enough to trust that God’s not going to let your fears come true, because, lesbehonest, He never promised that. But he promises He has good plans for us, not to harm us, but to give us hope and a future. He’ll get us through whatever He throws at us, so why are we living in fear?

In high school I was asked this question. “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” At the time I thought about some crazy cool traveling career, or going skydiving or something, but I think now my answer would be different. I think one of my biggest fears is rejection and being alone, and so with that removed, I would actually do what this song says and shout it, go on and scream it from the mountains that [Jesus] is God!

But I keep coming back to these thoughts that God has some powerful destiny planned for me, but it couldn’t possibly be here in Dayton, or at least not where I currently work. What can a 21-year-old do? And how will God show up in my life if my basic vitals are all pretty well taken care of by the paychecks that magically show up in my bank account every two weeks?

That’s when the impact of a sermon I heard at Apex Jan. 27th really hits home.

When we pray, Jesus taught us to start with Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

The glory of God’s name comes first. In prayer, in life, in everything. Not Olivia’s desire-misconstrued-as-need to see miracles. Because God never promised to give us proof of all the things we doubt. Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The key point being we don’t get to see it. For someone brought up in a culture that teaches ‘seeing is believing,’ this becomes the part about faith that really, really sucks.

Faith is supposed to be the firm foundation built on a rock that sustains even hurricane-force trials. But my faith often seems so fleeting, that I’m wasting half my emotional energy trying to nail my Jell-O-like-convictions to a wall in the good times, and when the winds of adversity start blowing I’m already half spent.

If this all seems like an unrelated stream of consciousness, just know it’s unified in that it’s pointing out my ever-present need for God. But maybe some of it’s resonating with you.

Today I made an important decision. I agreed to start the process to mentor a kid through Big Brothers Big Sisters. I hope that I will be able to impact some lives through this, and more importantly that God will be glorified through it. I’m sure it will change my perspective.

But the decision had a lot of significance because I’ve been putting it off for months. I came to Dayton with a pretty confident plan to leave after two years. And while I have poured myself into fun activities to find friends, and found a place to volunteer for the time being, I’ve avoided anything that would tie me down here any more than absolutely necessary. Sure BBBS only asks for a one-year commitment, but the goal is that you’ll stay in a kid’s life for much longer, and I think if you formed a close connection and then left after a year you could do more harm than good.

It’s not so much that I’ve decided to stay in Dayton for a certain period of time longer than two years. It’s really that I stopped pretending like right now I have any say in deciding when I leave and where I go. God’s plan for me in two years is so beyond my control, but what matters is what I do now. And leaving my options ‘open’ so that I could up and leave in two years was turning me into a vapid consumer of life, instead of making the most of my time here, no matter how long or short that may be.

I want to blog about this weekend’s retreat, with magical snow falling for hours on end around our cabin as we hunkered down in snuggies and footie PJ’s, but my heart is too heavy to dwell on the jokes, the pranks and the laughs. It’s days like today when I’m convinced that Satan is real because I can feel his attacks, but God still feels so far. In the same weekend as I fell in love with my community, I also discovered that it’s full of sinners, just like me, and I’m hitting phase two of the following relationship cycle, but unsure how to get to phase three…

(This excerpt from was shared with me by a dear friend and housemate from my last year at UNC.)

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, has written, “Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional -people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. During this time everything becomes dark; people no longer see anything but the faults of others and of the community. They feel they are surrounded by hypocrites. Life becomes intolerable.  The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase — ​that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people — ​each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.”   

I know that Satan desperately wants to keep me from getting to that third stage, because he’s put in me a cowardly fear of the hard but good conversations that will take my relationships to the next level, and establish mutual trust within this Christian community that I know I need to encourage me and keep me accountable in this crazy Christian journey.  

My thoughts are so tangled tonight I can’t come up with a coherent way to wrap up this post. But if you’re with me on any of this, send up a smoke signal or something and maybe we can figure out this stuff together. 

No comments:

Post a Comment