Gripping at Faith

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What is this unbelief anyway and why does it have a strangle hold on my life?

Why is it so hard to believe what I believe?

In the past few years I’ve been grappling with these questions and maybe you have too. Maybe you’ve been hurt by your family, friends, a spouse, or even a pastor, or you’ve lost a little one or an older one, and you’re finding it hard to receive God’s love in the midst of so much pain. And maybe your greatest temptation is to stop believing that God is good and that He’s for you. You don’t see or feel the evidence in your life right now. Others don’t value you, or don’t take time for you, or remember you, so you think God doesn’t either.

I’ve been here and I want to shed some layers before you now and talk about my own trials and temptations with unbelief and how keeping it hidden only makes the pain worse, paralyzing us from the freedom we desire.

But first, what even is faith?

Webster’s defines faith as a strong belief or feeling in something or someone, i.e. God or religion. By this definition, our faith might change based on what we feel or when circumstances have us in the pluff muds of putrid smells.

The book of Hebrews in the New Testament has a different definition:

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1

My Bible’s study notes (NLT) expand this definition. “The beginning point of faith is believing in God’s character: He is who he says. The end point is believing in God’s promises: He will do what he says.”

This expansion is key in understanding biblical faith, which begins and ends with a God who never changes. This is good news. God’s plan doesn’t change because of our whimsical feelings based on circumstance, our various opinions or questions over doctrine, what someone does to us, thinks about us, or vice-versa, what we do or think about others. God cannot be manipulated.

Yet I’ve been guilty of thinking an individual or the group’s collective thought and how they treat me is how God must think of me. I’ve isolated and hidden my face, ashamed, though I’d done nothing wrong. At times my faith has been lacking, left me wanting, self-effacing, but not in the good way.

This season has taught me that faith in God alone is the greatest act of selflessness and self-love. This kind of faith doesn’t approach “woe is me” or “look at me – hello Gaston (Beauty & the Beast).” It doesn’t approach me at all, and it results in total freedom, being conscious in an unconscious world. The result is fearlessness or at least courage. But it’s only by getting to the end of ourselves, when there is no other way, that we find this way.

“I do believe; help me in my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

By the time the dad in this story says this, he’s already brought his deaf and mute son before the disciples and asked them to heal his child. The disciples couldn’t do it. They’d done it before but they couldn’t do it now. Why?

Maybe because their faith was shaken by the religious leaders taunting them, probably some guys quoting Isaiah and saying things like, See you have no power, you false prophets and the man you follow is a lunatic and then a lot of woes and thees and thous and heretic this and blasphemer that.

But what does Jesus do when he comes upon his disciples arguing with these teachers of religious law? He rebukes the disciples, not the religious leaders, saying,

19You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.

I mean harsh on first read, right. But there’s a boy in the background who needs healing. If we look deeper into this passage we see a broken Jesus, a man pained by a people who waver in their faith based on what others think of them, or who’s around them, or what they think of themselves at the moment. The disciples are distracted from doing the greater things. Can you relate?

Jesus wanted his followers to have the kind of faith to move mountains, heal people from sicknesses, go into bully-laden lands where injustice was the norm and women were property and preach the good news, turning people back to God, and away from corruption and destruction. He wanted life to be restored, eternally.

Get Me Some of That Faith

When those closest to Jesus didn’t believe him, betrayed him, sold him out for money and slept while there was work to be done, he didn’t allow his feelings or his weariness to effect his ministry. Instead, he moved forward, and in this case, asked the dad some questions about his boy’s condition – like a doctor might.

Jesus:           21How long has this been happening?”

Dad:             22Since he was a little boy. The (evil) spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.

Jesus:            23What do you mean, ‘if I can?’ Anything is possible for the person who believes.

There he goes again, saying audacious things no commoner can relate to in their own flesh. Jesus is telling this dad if he believes, his son will be healed. Like magic.

So the father responds, I do believe but I need your help.

Have you ever been desperate? I have. Many times. And sometimes it begins with a giant dose of faith, like this dad must have had to bring his son to Jesus in the first place.

The Hamster Wheel of Faith and Doubt

It began with a dream. Eight years ago, while pregnant and working in a newsroom, I came up with this idea for a local online village for moms. My background was in website production and writing so I thought I could pull off a small e-zine. My passion for this project was real and I believed because of what I’d been through growing up without a mother in the home, I was uniquely prepared to foster a platform to encourage young mothers. I bathed this decision in prayer, talked with many wise people, and then sat on it. I waited and doted on my newborn daughter, quite content to watch her tiniest movements all day long.

Six months after my first child was born, not even desiring the business, things started falling into place. Short conversations led to commitments from writers, the door opened for financing, there were advertisers who wanted to sponsor us, and the website was being built – a place where local moms could come together, gain encouragement, get inspiration, and find a calendar of activities for their kids.

It was a Step of Faith

The project was bigger than me and involved so many smart people: moms with professional backgrounds in fitness, medicine, journalism and skincare, along with a top-notch mom/dad web-duo living in Costa Rica. We launched in May of 2010 and thrived in the first year with monthly content updates, a newsletter, and television and social media campaigns.

By the second year it was clear that the website didn’t have a viable future without other ways to generate revenue. Now I had a baby and a toddler on either hip, a husband who started traveling more for work, and it was getting harder to find daytime hours to meet with potential partners. Advertising dollars began to dwindle and I needed more time to work during normal business hours.

And I was feeling exhausted, like a single mom without childcare, and a total failure at life. But I couldn’t give up (though I wanted to) since I had debt to pay off, a team of awesome moms I enjoyed working with and a growing readership (not to mention this website was an answer to my prayers to work from home). So I went into research mode and collected new ways of marketing. I learned about blog hopping and publishing books as a way to create buzz for the website. I wrote for larger e-zines, made connections for guest posts and wrote a non-fiction proposal for a new mom survival guide. My proposal was turned down. I didn’t have a platform.

Gripping at the Odds

On the side I was writing fiction. It had been something I had long wanted to try and an idea came to me after watching a PBS special on jazz music.

After the kids were asleep and on the weekends, I would write, finishing the first draft in about six months. For three years I would work on this book concept, getting revise and resubmits from agents, only to ultimately get REJECTION. Not marketable.

More self-doubt. More receiving and accepting messages that my work was subpar and that I wasn’t capable of reaching my goals. And my babies were growing and we had an accident that involved the emergency room and life and death. In the midst of this near tragedy I cried out for God to heal my son. My boy lived. But still there was guilt. I felt responsible for his accident. Like I failed him as a mom. On top of this my support system turned out to not have a solid foundation. I accepted the blame for my wrongs and others’ wrongs and felt alone and in despair. I cried for a solid week at noon during naptime and then got help in the form of a professional counselor.

Admitting Defeat

In 2014, after discussing with my team the state of our little engine that couldn’t, I let the new mom website go dormant. Another year later, the site came down. I managed to pay off the loan and close the bank account several months ago.

Through it all the self-doubt was intense but the God doubt was paralyzing. Was I doing something wrong? Did I hear correctly to step out in faith? Try something new? Get out of my comfort zone? Seriously though, do I even have talents or a vocational purpose or should I try harder to champion this domestic life stuff and devote myself to maintaining a dust free household? And on the subject of friends and family, and like PEOPLE, are my expectations too high, or do they just really suck sometimes?

Most of us have been here or we will be here. After knocking my head against this wall of doubt (again) I’ve learned that there’s fruit in unbelief if we allow there to be.

There is no faith without doubt. It’s been hella hard to go through this season in my life, but I’m stronger now. I got to my end several times over and saw God was just beginning and now I think the greater the doubt the greater the opportunity for belief.

“I tell you the truth {anyone} who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask anything in my name, and I will do it so that the Son can bring glory to the father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” John 14:12-14

Let those words sit with you. Say them slowly and out loud. I’m not going to try and interpret them. You know part of my story now, that I’ve had great defeat in my life, personal failures, desperate times, things I’ve prayed for that didn’t work out and some victories. Without stepping out in faith I wouldn’t be writing now.

So there are no easy answers and if anyone tells you there are, they’re lying. I’m not here to lie to you, or to make your pain seem pointless or like it has to have a point, but to share my life. So if you’re in despair, doubting yourself or God, join me here by candlelight. I have some stories for you, tales of old that will encourage your faith and lift you up. We can persevere together and find hope in unexpected places.

And most importantly, I do want to hear your stories: the funny ones, the sad ones, the desperate ones. My faith is increased when I hear from you.

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