Several years ago, I heard a story about a woman who quit her job after she heard God tell her to while she was on an airplane flying home from a work conference. Although this detail was just a small aspect of the much larger message being shared, it stuck with me. And in the years since hearing this testimony, I have unintentionally taken the experience of this woman and incorporated it as an idealized version of what my faith should look like. In my own life, I will occasionally have a feeling, a conversation, a nudge that feels as if it might be the Holy Spirit working its way through me. However, in the secretiveness of my own thoughts I will ask, “Do you believe strongly enough that it was God that if he had told you to up and quit your job on a plane ride home you would do it?” And when the answer is inevitably “no,” I will either discount the entire experience OR I will judge myself for not having strong enough faith.
I’ve done some additional reading that has fed a fear that my at times cautious faith is somehow faulty. Some Christians imply faith “works” as long as you really believe in it. In one devotional, an author wrote something along the lines of: faith is asking for what you need, and then trusting that it will happen. If you continue to worry about it after you ask for it, then you don’t have faith. Or, another devotional proclaimed that God provides for you, as long as you know that you deserve it. Just walk out into the world, and say I am a person that is (insert: strong, rich, in love, happy) and then if you really, really, believe it is true, God will provide.
The problem with these statements is that I think they are false at best, harmful at worst. Where’s the line of trusting God, but also recognizing God’s plans may not be the same as ours? That God often works through unexpected detours? That God works through flawed believers? That God is bigger than our doubts? Granted, maybe sometimes it is God we feel in our gut, pointing us in a direction. But, what if sometimes it’s not? Is taking time to process that, or even feeling doubt, the opposite of faith? I would argue, no, doubt is part of faith. Similar to a twisted vine, faith and doubt meld together to create a connection with God. For Christians to suggest that doubt prevents success or God’s will from being fulfilled would imply that doubt doesn’t coexist with faith, or that somehow our human doubt is stronger than our God. I disagree. I like to think that faith, even faith with doubt, is much more about connecting with God, being the hands and feet of Jesus, and letting our lights shine to those around us.
It’s hard. Faith is complex. And so personal. So, I get a little stuck in the muck of comparing my own faith experiences to someone who hears a voice on an airplane and changes her entire life. And that comparison speaks to my own doubts. And, those doubts carry me away from confidence. Confidence in my own faith and confidence in the big decisions that I make. Because, maybe, it is easier to believe that I am just an ordinary individual, making day-to-day decisions as best as I can, living a relatively quiet life. This is an easier route than believing I am capable of doing something great, of being used by God to create an impact in an unexpected way. However, if I never take the risk, and lean into doing something outside of my safe day-to-day, am I missing the point, or my purpose? If I don’t hear a voice beckoning me to take a leap into the unknown, am I choosing fear over faith?
I imagine the answer is somewhere in the middle. Maybe faith is believing in the best next step, despite doubt and fear. Maybe faith is also believing that God is with us in the mess, in the missed opportunities, in the failures, in the doubt, in the success, and in the celebration. Maybe faith isn’t about successes or facing big decisions without fear. Maybe faith is about leaning into our relationship with God when we are facing big decisions and we are scared; leaning into our relationship with God when we find success and when we find failure. Maybe faith isn’t about comparing ourselves to the person next to us, maybe it is about spending time remembering that life is messy, unexpected, and full of doubt, but through it all, God is with us.
I want to end with sharing a blessing I recently read. It feels like a new starting point for me, a reframe to how I understand faith. In the end, for me, when it comes to understanding faith, I am still just at the beginning.
A Blessing for Beginning a New Spiritual Practice found in Good Enough:
40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection
By Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie
“Blessed are we who are trying a new thing, though we can’t quite see the whole of it. That’s the beauty of the life of faith. We start in the middle, at the heart center of an unspoken desire to live into the glimpse we’ve had of You and Your goodness.
Blessed are we who ask You to be the guide as we begin to build from here and create a stronger, more flexible rule of life. Trusting that you are trying to foster life in us.
Blessed are we who remember that we will fall short. We will fail, but that doesn’t mean we are ruined. We simply pick up and begin again.
Blessed are we, willing to be beginners all over again.”
Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.