Monday, November 28, 2016

When you struggle with Faith

For those who may not know much about me, my family has been involved with the Christian church throughout all of my life. My father is a pastor for the protestant United Methodist Church and has been since I was in elementary school. I enjoyed the innocence of youth for as long as possible, but existential questions continued to periodically disturb me. I recall being unable to go back to sleep as a youth, talking on the couch with my mother about worries that Heaven may not even exist and fears that religion was just a giant story that made people feel better when they feared having a meaningless life. Yes- my mother did not have it easy!

Her response was always a calm confidence, a subtle shrug of the shoulder as she stated that she just never doubted the existence of God and Heaven and that she has always concretely and securely held the Bible to be the true word of God. I found a comfort in her confidence, but it never lasted long as I was painfully aware that even my mother was simply a human and was capable of error.

So what do you do when you struggle with your faith? Do you find yourself coming to a cross roads in your mind, attempting to deliberate what is factual and what is fantasy? Do you ever find the concept of faith requiring blind trust to be just a bit too convenient? Do you ever feel that shame is used to keep minds from inquiring or asking too many questions? Do you ever feel that you would be a better human if you could just blindly trust?

Because I have felt that way. And I don't think it makes any sense.

In fact, if God created us humans in His image, our curiosity and probing thoughts are most likely by the Creator's design and something quite intentional. I feel more convicted of this reality when considering how common the experience of either avoiding existential thoughts/debates or struggling through such thoughts is for all of us. Why would all humans (or at least many humans) have this same experience if it was not intended?

Consider your own parenting techniques- or the way you were parented or educated if you have not attempted to raise your own children. We encourage curiosity, an inquisitive nature, in our children. We want them to learn from mistakes- to not fear making mistakes. We understand that there are some lessons that cannot be taught with words alone and that experiences must be included. We recognize that things written as knowledge are often temporary and should be updated and amended as new discoveries are made in this world. I often hear myself challenging students I have taught or clients I work with to attempt to prove their opposition's points instead of only focusing on proving their own view. My argument here is that this practice will either expose one's own biases or deepen one's convictions- but either way, the effort put in to this process will deepen understanding and lead to a more ethical and fair existence.

Now imagine your child growing just as you lead them to and they come to you, questioning what you have taught them- attempting to argue against the values and beliefs you have raised them with. Maybe you have already experienced this. How do you respond? Do you shame them for questioning your integrity or validity? Do you reject them due to their lack of steadfast faith in your teachings? Unfortunately, I am aware that many parents and teachers do just those things, but of course those choices are bad. Hopefully, if one is not a hypocrite and actually desires to encourage growth instead of stifle it, a parent in that position must welcome this argument and value their child for examining so closely.

And if God is my father, and so infinitely stronger than I, I am certain He welcomes my doubts and my questioning. I am certain that He does not feel threatened by my questions or struggles- why would He? Is the existence of God diminished in any way by one questioning it or saying that it is not real? Of course not.

In fact, I feel that God's intentional design for all of us to inherently question in our existence is a giant gift to us all- a level of freedom that He wants us all to have. He did not have to give us the ability to think in such ways. He has designed so many other creatures and organisms in this world that do not have the burden of these thoughts. Only us, created in His image.

I wonder next what His intention must be with having us struggle with Faith. I doubt any of our design is by accident as all of Creation is so beautifully constructed. Is it to evaluate our religion? To examine our leaders to ensure they are actually following God's design for our lives? To model a way of living that requires analysis and appraisal and critical thought before moving forward? A way to connect us all as we ponder and discuss these things? God and religion are not mutually exclusive in my opinion. I have been too intimately connected with too many 'religious' people who were corrupt and abusive of their position.

Now, I am not saying that all religious leaders are corrupt, but I have developed a healthy need to closely examine any religious institution or individuals I connect with. I heard it said many times before that the biggest barrier for other's to come to Christ are 'Christians', and unfortunately I think this has much truth to it. If you have ever struggled with your faith and come to a church or religious individual to talk about this and experienced shame or a smug display of unrelenting steadfast faith, you likely know what I am talking about.

I believe God wants us to ask questions- he so often engages in questioning dialogue with his children in scripture. And my response to 'struggling' with my faith is to re-frame that and to cease considering it a 'struggle', but instead to embrace the constant questioning and exploration that living a faithful life brings. The very fact that people feel the need to say they 'struggle with faith' implies it should be easy if only they were somehow 'better' at being a faithful person. I suggest we all challenge our Faith routinely, examining our thoughts and ensuring we know what exactly we believe and why we believe it. I won't struggle with that.