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