Faith Lessons in the Dark

As part of the launch of her new book Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, Addie Zierman is hosting a synchroblog sharing stories of faith in the dark. I haven’t read the book yet, but I have a sense that much of it will resonate with me. This is my contribution to the collection of stories, and you can read others here.

In life and in faith, there are different kinds of darkness.

Some is sudden, all-consuming, like the flicking of a switch.

Some is gradual, gentle, like the fading from day to night.

Nearly all darkness is confusing.

When what was once so easy to see becomes murky and unclear, it can be tempting to become angry at the dark.

 

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Photo Credit: Flickr User heyFilbert, Creative Commons

For a longer time than I can keep track of anymore, and a much longer time than I would have expected, I have been in the shadows of faith. Not always, not completely, but often. I’ve never been able to pin its coming on any one specific instance or circumstance, it just arrived, all on its own, uninvited. But sometimes even uninvited house guests have their merit, and while I am not yet to the point of being able to say I’m truly thankful for the darkness, I am beginning to develop a hesitant appreciation for it.

It turns out there are more people in the dark than I thought, and being there myself has made me seek them out in ways I wouldn’t have before. Having questions, not feeling like God is there, struggling to understand why God does and doesn’t behave in certain ways–there are, and have been, many people who have been in the same place of wondering and wandering. Though I grew up in a Christianity-saturated environment, these weren’t topics that were wrestled with often. Since I didn’t struggle with them in any sort of significant way for most of my life, the absence of those conversations didn’t bother me. Darkness feels a little less lonely when there are others in it though. It’s not that I would wish darkness on other people, but if they’re in it too, it’s better to know we are not alone. Blogs and books, like Addie’s and many others, are a gift for the darkness.

As valuable as reading about people in the darkness can be, experiencing it is something different. Defining the darkness of faith is a tricky business, because it looks so different for different people. For me, the darkness has made me realize much of faith is not black or white but myriad shades of grey; it’s made me more okay with uncertainty, and helped me make room for other’s uncertainty as well. I still believe most of what I used to believe, but I cling a little more loosely to some of it. There has been a lot of value in being forced to reexamine how I approach my faith. Not “feeling” God has frustrated me, but has also made me realize that, like all relationships, there will be seasons in my relationship with God. During some I’ll feel close to him, during some I’ll feel farther away, and neither of those are objectively a result of me “succeeding” or “failing” at doing faith well. For all the good that reading the Bible and praying are, they are not magic ingredients to a faith I’ll always feel. True faith doesn’t work like that.

Perhaps the most valuable thing of all that I’ve found in the darkness is that God is enough. Even when it doesn’t feel that way, even when I’m sick of trying so hard and feeling nothing, God is still enough. Enoughness is who he is, part of his very essence and being. Always and ever, he is enough.

I forget that daily. Almost always, really. I want more of him and from him than I may ever get, but it’s because I already have enough of him for all that I need. Even in the dark.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What faith lessons have you learned in the darkness?

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Doubt is Not a Bad Guy

The other day as I was driving, I happened to be listening to a Christian radio station. I have a hard time not nitpicking Christian music as it is, and this lyric jumped out at me:

I don’t wanna ever doubt You

It’s a noble goal in theory, but in the face of real life, real problems, real heartache, it immediately struck me as unrealistic.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User Barbara Walsh Photography, Creative Commons

No matter how well we strive to follow Jesus, there will always be moments of doubt–maybe not doubting his existence, though that’s certainly a possibility–but doubting his plan, doubting his goodness, doubting how things play out in our lives and in the lives of those around us. I don’t think we’ll ever fully escape those kinds of doubts.

And, I’d argue, that’s not a bad thing. There are times when we learn more through doubting than we would in any other way.

Wrestling with doubt can be holy.

It can also be treacherous, which is why it gets portrayed as the Bad Guy. If doubt causes us to only seek out people and places that tell us our doubts are all valid and everything we’ve believed is a lie, it’s problematic. That kind of doubt is only enforcing what we may already want to hear. Perhaps even more dangerous is the kind of doubt that does nothing at all. Instead of doing the slow, hard work of confronting doubt and examining it from every angle, ignoring it moves us nowhere. It’s a grand stalemate, a lazy kind of doubt that’s afraid of finding any sort of answer, because those answers may be uncomfortable.

But doubt can also spur us to action. It can force us to reexamine, rethink, and possibly even renew what be believe. There is value in exploring how other people have dealt with similar doubts, no matter what conclusion they reached–there is good to be learned in seeing their process, in seeing echoes of ourselves reflected in other people’s stories. It doesn’t mean that our process or destination will end up looking the same, but there can be comfort in the commonalities.

 
This may not be a popular opinion in Christianity. There are no guarantees when we set out on a journey to examine our doubt, because doubt is messy and complicated and painful. But saying it’s always bad only makes us afraid of something any Christ-follower will encounter at points along the path. Presenting doubt as the objective Bad Guy makes people hesitant to talk about it, and can leave people feeling as though they are the only ones who have ever struggled with it. When doubt is presented as a likely part of the faith journey instead of an aberration, we create space to talk about it honestly in community, instead of struggling through alone. Talking about it doesn’t mean we, or our faith, will come out unscathed–there is far too much mystery in God and faith and grace for me to understand how two people’s seemingly similar paths can have such dramatically different outcomes–but it may mean we won’t come out alone.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you encountered good in doubt?

The Freedom of Uncertainty

As part of the launch of her new book Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey is hosting a synchroblog exploring the idea, “I used to think ______ but now I think ______.” This is my contribution to that project. You can read other entries here.

Usually, when things fall apart, there is a reason. An ugly fight, a giant shove, a shocking secret.

And sometimes, things fall apart for no foreseeable reason at all.

It’s just what they do.

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Sarah Bessey’s new book Out of Sorts starts out with these words that so perfectly sum up my story of faith:

“Once upon a time, you had it all beautifully sorted out.

Then you didn’t.”

For most of my life, I thought I had faith pretty figured out. Having been raised in a Christian home and sent to Christian schools, faith was my first language. It was the way I was taught interpret the world, which, while in many ways a blessing, carries baggage of its own kind. Christianity was laced through everything I did. There was, and still is, something in it that rings inherently true to me, a knowing I can never fully describe.

That, at least, hasn’t changed.

Many other things have, though.

There was no inciting incident, no major tragedy or triumph to set me off on a path of wandering. It just…happened. And one day I realized, or perhaps finally admitted, that I had moved and no longer knew exactly where I was.

I’ve taken up residence here, though I still don’t exactly where this “here” is. It has a lot less certainty than wherever I was before. But I’ve come to a restless kind of peace with the uncertainty.

For as much as it is uncertain, it is also freeing.

Because I used to think there were far more wrong ways to follow Jesus than there were right ways, and now I’m not sure I, or any other humans, have quite so much say in that kind of “wrong or right” as we often think we do.

I used to think doubt meant I was failing at my faith, and now I think doubt can be good. It’s a sign I have something at stake, something worth wrestling with, something I’m not ready to give up even when there is more that doesn’t make sense to me than does make sense. Doubt means I’m still thinking, still engaging.

I used to think reading the Bible and praying and going to church earned me credit of some kind. They’re important for spiritual growth and community, certainly, but salvation doesn’t depend upon them. My faith does not cease to exist when I fail to read my Bible or pray consistently.

I used to think God likes me more than he likes other people, and I’m still working on losing this idea. He doesn’t like me more because I go to church or because I don’t do certain things. Following Jesus is not a race—there are no winners and losers, no competition to beat. Grace is wide, and long, and deep.

I used to think feeling distant from God was all my fault and was always a result of major sin or failing. It might be sometimes, but now I think there are seasons of faith, and they change sometimes regardless of what we do or don’t do. True faith exists beyond feelings and in spite of a lack of them.

I still believe in right and wrong, that there are ways we are to follow Jesus and ways we think look like following him but are actually the opposite.  The edges of what I hold to be absolutely true have blurred though, more so already than I ever thought they would, and I’m learning to hold those absolutes less tightly. “Different” is not as scary as I once thought it to be. There is deep value in exploring ideas we disagree with, even if ultimately we end up in the exact same place we started. At least we stretched ourselves, learned to see things from different angles. As Sarah puts it, “If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.”

Because life, I am certain, has more questions in store for me yet. It’s both a wonder and a terror that I will never be truly done sorting through faith, will never truly arrive. So these words, from the oh-so-beautiful Benediction of Out of Sorts, are one ones I will cling to, return to, and take as my own.

“I pray you would be an explorer, you would recover delight and wonder and curiosity about your faith, about God, and about the story with which you continue to wrestle.”

I’m never going to have this faith thing all figured out. But I will keep showing up, because I believe that God is bigger than my wrestling and wandering.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How has your understanding of faith changed?

A Change of Faith

Some people are thrown into Strange Spaces of faith because of a major crisis, perhaps an illness or a death, or maybe some large question that has barged into their life and refuses to go away. These, I understand, can absolutely see why they send people into a tailspin of doubt and anger and questioning.

I have no excuse for my entry into a strange faith space, no major tragedy or question begging to be answered before I can move on to somewhere new.

Whatever the reason though, I’m beginning to think it’s needed. Socrates is credited with saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I wonder too if the unexamined faith is not worth having.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ella's Dad, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ella’s Dad, Creative Commons

It feels as though I have been taking my faith and examining it from every angle, holding it up to see each side and nuance. Not so that I can ultimately set it down and walk away, but so that I can come to know and embrace it more fully.

There are big questions to ask, of why I hold this faith and what it means for how I order my everyday life, how I approach the world and all the complexities that come with simply being human. There are questions of how I read the Bible, what place I give it in my life, what Christian community means and what it looks like on a very practical level. How do I make decisions, big or small? How do I treat people, and is it reflective of what I believe about the love of Christ? How do I answer the big questions of why we exist and what the purpose of life is?

So many people have attempted to answer these questions and will continue to do so, and I can’t help thinking that no one has or ever will get all of these faith matters completely right. Which is a jarring thought, given what I had subconsciously believed for much of my faith life. Because what if there is no one perfectly correct way to follow Jesus?

I’m becoming more okay with that thought, what it looks like for other people’s lives as well as my own. There are core pieces I haven’t given up, nor do I think I’ll ever. But even those must be revisited, reexamined, if only to reaffirm where I stand. So much though, more than I would once have ever thought, I’m learning to hold loosely. Different really can be okay.

A reshaping of faith is not an entirely enjoyable process. It can be uncomfortable, convicting, and confusing.  Examining often comes with reshaping, discovering pieces may not fit at all anymore or may fit in a different way. Yet, despite my issues with prayer and the Bible, my questions of the practicalities of how to follow Jesus (and what does that phrase even really mean?), I have never seriously considered completely walking away from my faith.

For all the confusion it sometimes causes me, there is something to this Christian story, something to this God and this Jesus, that keep pulling me back. To grace, to mercy, to forgiveness, to a love so big I will never understand even a fraction of it.

There is no other story I would rather wrestle with.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

The Only Way Out is Through

For some time now, I’ve been in a Strange Space when it comes to God and faith.

It’s not the type of thing you notice the day it begins, that you take note of in a journal. “Today, I entered a weird wilderness-type space in terms of my relationship with God.”

Photo Credit: Flickr User mypubliclands, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User mypubliclands, Creative Commons

It just kind of…happens. And then, one day, you realize you’ve been there for A While.

Throughout this While in this strange space, I’ve been on alert for other people who have been in similar situations, trying to figure out how they got out. A sense of wandering, of wilderness, of disconnect from God and faith does not seem to be uncommon–I’ve read books, blogs, and stories of people who seem to have felt the way I do.

The one thing all of those lacked, though, is an easy answer.
I’m beginning to wonder if this wandering lostness I feel is a case of the children’s rhyme “Going on a Bear Hunt.”

Going on a bear hunt, gonna catch a big one, here’s the river…can’t go over it, can’t go under it, have to go through it.

Of those options, “through” is not the one I’d pick.

And yet, it seems to be the answer: There are no easy answers. Reading the Bible, praying, going to church, being involved in Christian community–these are all good, but they’re not a magic fix to where I am. If they were, I wouldn’t still be here. Instead, the way out is to move through, not to pretend I don’t get frustrated with God for his seeming silence and the way that reading the Bible and praying don’t “work” like they’re supposed to. No. I have to move through the wondering, the questions, the frustrations.

As I do, it’s not with the guarantee that the answers actually exist in the form I’d like them to. Like I can’t pinpoint a day I entered the “wilderness of faith,”  I don’t think I’ll be able to pinpoint the day I’ll move out of it–if I move out of it. Because as much as I believe there are seasons of faith just like there are seasons in the weather, God never promised to be who I want him to be and to show up when and where I want him to and to fit my picture of what he’s supposed to be.

He’s God. That’s kind of the point.

So maybe my “out” will only ever be like more “through.” Maybe I’ll continue to learn what faith looks like when it doesn’t look like what you thought you knew.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have you carried on through wilderness times of faith?

Glimpses of God

Recently in church, I found myself with tears in my eyes.

Not tears of sadness, or even necessarily joy.

Tears of acknowledgment. Presence. Nearness.

 

For a brief moment, a glimpse of God.

 

Hours later, I was already unsatisfied with that glimpse. Not enough, I thought. I need something, something that more tangible, that sticks with me for longer.

It is not an uncommon cycle, at this point in my life or in times gone by. Life often feels messy, broken, confusing, and God seems silent. I flail my fists in frustration, and am simultaneously irritated and reminded of sayings like, “When God feels far away, guess who moved?”

I’ve somehow come to expect God to burst in through the door, yelling, “I’m here!”, carrying a stack of gifts–giving me the precise things I’ve asked for, with blessings to spare. I look for big things, wait for the sound of a voice telling me exactly what I am supposed to do, and get frustrated when they do not come.

 

But maybe following God is not about the big things.

 

Maybe it’s not always FEELING; maybe it’s about KNOWING.

Maybe it’s not about perfectly crafted prayers, but about words of honesty.

Maybe it’s not about always, every second of every day, feeling that God is right there, by your side.

Maybe it’s about the glimpses.

 

The glimpses of God, cropping up in unexpected places, during songs we have sung time and time before, in verses we have read for years, in the lives of people we have known for decades.

Maybe that’s what following God is about. It’s not that he CAN’T or WON’T act in big ways at times, but I must learn to be content even when he doesn’t.

Perhaps true faith knows that God can move in big ways, but continues to believe, trust, and obey even when he doesn’t.

 

It looks for glimpses of God in the everyday.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Certainly Uncertain

I have this theory (only loosely formed) that Google is on the way to taking over the world, and I don’t even really mind. It’s the go-to search engine, their email system is great, and I LOVE my Google calendar. I have it synced to my phone, so I can easily add appointments on the go and set reminders for important things such as “Go to the Bank.” If it’s not in my Google calendar, I’ll probably forget about it. Whether it’s my class schedule, doctor’s appointments, or an Applebee’s outing for a friend’s birthday—in the Google calendar it goes.

So when you ask to see my Google calendar for several months from now, I’d probably show it to you. But it would be conspicuously empty. Maybe a national holiday here or there, or a wedding that I know about far in advance, but overall, it’s a vast wasteland of

empty.

Space.

No classes, no homework, no part time barista job to fill the time—nothing. My roommate and I joke that we’ll spend the summer watching the Olympics at her fiancé’s condo, and there is humor in our voices when we do it. Underneath though, there is fear that it will come true.

Fear that these years I’ve spent learning and growing not just in classes but in life will leave me with no visible outcome. No paycheck to help pay back the loans I took out to help cover the cost of this education that I couldn’t imagine myself not getting. It’s not like I had other plans—I’d never had ambitions of starting a career right out of high school. College was the logical option, but now I find myself, at times, questioning even that decision. Should I have worked some factory job for a year or so that maybe would have bored me to tears, but would’ve helped to cover some of the bills I’ll now face after the education is said and done?

I’m a planner, which is both a blessing and a curse. Friends turn to me for ideas and directions, assuming I’ll know not only what to do, but at what time the store opens, and to take the highway to exit 78 and turn left on Main. If I don’t know how to get there, surely my trusty Mapquest app does.

So I find myself in an unfamiliar place. Usually I’m in the know, of what’s going on and what time and where.

But now, I find myself certain of only one thing: uncertainty.

To find my only friend to be the one thing I usually try to avoid is frustrating, terrifying, and a little bit…hopeful.

Some of my friends have grad school lined up come fall, others are off to various parts of the world or are still finishing undergrad programs, and those fortunate few have a job lined up, even if it’s not in the field they’d like to ultimately pursue. When I look at them, with their future defined for the next year or five, I envy them a little bit: at least they know what’s on the other end of that walk across the stage.

But there’s a part of me that kind of likes not knowing. With no set plan, I have no way to fail at what I intend to do, because there’s nothing there. I’ll simply make it up as I go. This appeals to the spontaneous side that I know exists deep down inside of me, but that’s usually covered up by my tendency towards control. There’s an air of adventure to the uncertainty. I can do whatever I’d like, because I have no other plans to live up to. No one to disappoint or impress, no clock to punch or deadlines to meet.

I am both consoled and irritated by the words of Jeremiah, who assures me that the Lord has plans to prosper and not to harm me, to give me a hope and a future. It’s not that I don’t believe it; the knowledge that God has something worked out is what gives me the motivation to get out of bed, go to my internship, take my tests, write my papers. There is a point to this, even if I can’t see it.

I still have several months before I don that silly hat and walk across that stage, so it’s not as though this story is done; there is always more to be written. There’s a tension here, between embracing the uncertainty and being terrified of it. I will continue to live in the land of uncertain for an indefinite amount of time, but I will do my best to enjoy my stay here. To take the time to breath in the hope of good things, and to not be overcome by the fear of the uncertainty. And to take solace in that I am certain of not just my uncertainty, but of my God’s plan in it.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~