Tag Archives: growth

On Faith

“What is faith?”

Hearing a friend recently ask this was shocking and it pierced my heart.  If I’m being honest, it pierced for a few reasons:

  • I have no good answer to provide; no tangible comfort to give, only an ear to listen.
  • I’ve come to realize that concepts of faith are hyper-personal and often hard to translate into meaningful words in times of counsel.
  • In the world we live in I find it difficult to know how my faith experiences can soothe the fears so prevalent in our world.
  • My approach to faith is hard to translate because I live in a space where my doubt lives equally alongside and is as prevalent as my faith.
My Faith Story

I’ve experienced incredible moments of what I would call ‘high faith’.  I’ve lived in moments where I put everything on the line for the hope something others may have seen as small.

One of those moments in having the opportunity to live where I do, in New York City, where I’ve seen more than I thought I ever would.  I’ve experienced far beyond what my imagination thought was capable eleven years ago.

I’ve taken great leaps of faith in moments where I chose to remove safety nets placed there by either myself, others, circumstance or mere privilege.  Moments where those I trust told me I was foolish or taking bigger risks/steps than the ‘smart’ person.

Sometimes the path leads where I think it will and other times I’ve been shocked by what I find.  But I know what it means to have faith in a bigger purpose/need.

Our world and Judeo-Christian teachings have left us to believe that faith is equal to success, wealth and comfort and that doubt and questioning is bad and unhealthy.  Yet, I think it’s important to note in any conversation about faith that our valleys of doubt and challenge are still real and are an intrinsic partner in our faith journeys (whether we talk about it the concept of having faith in a higher power or having daily faith in ourselves/humanity).

I’ve experienced this in a unique way:

For the last few years I’ve been walking through a season, though different from others, of coming out as a gay (and Christian) man in my thirties well after many of my social peers have found their footing and are well into trusting their identity.  This process has resulted in the clash of new and old viewpoints of faith and doubt resulting in life’s ever present waves of challenge, discovery, and insight.  It seems these waves always create moments of faith and doubt in all people with each wave containing the opportunity to precipitate surges of growth in our lives.  To step into these waves takes faith but, yes, they come with doubt.

Letting ourselves hold light and truth to the doubt and challenge that comes with faith may be one of the cornerstones that truly give us the strength to stretch and change our world views that are meant to be shared with each other.

With all of the intricacies of faith, I know four things to be true:

  1. Faith is unique to each person.
  2. Faith is complex.
  3. What faith is, is not what we think faith is.
  4. Faith exists on the same plane as doubt – and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as one might think.
Faith In Doubt

I know faith and I’ve seen what it brings but, as much as I’ve experienced the contentment that faith can bring, I’ve known the doubt that is close by.

While many of my early years were filled with pure faith (perhaps on the verge of naive fortitude) I’ve come to realize this pure, high sense of faith is not real because it erased the notion that doubt can exist on the same plane.

Imagine for a second that life is a two lane interstate highway with two separate sections of life, going the same direction, separated by this dashed, white line.  On one side is faith and on the other is doubt with each being as accessible and passable as each other.  One plane but two unique spaces.

Our society tends to look at faith and doubt as separate roads leading to different destinations but in my  experience this is not the case.

Faith and doubt are simply different ways to experience life’s journey — different filters that allow different colors to shine through.

In the highest seasons of faith, doubt or questioning is possible and it can be a healthy equalizer.  One the flip side, even in the deepest seasons of doubt where conversations with God are most likely to be one-sided yelling matches it’s a sliver of faith that pulls me out.

In these moments when I’ve laid my despair out on the table, taken God to task for the challenges and turmoil and I’ve lashed out with threats to give up and move on without Him there have been few times where I’ve lacked a moment…

…Where I don’t cry out his name.

…Where I don’t long for renewal.

…Where I don’t just want the comfort of past seasons.

Is that not faith shrouded in doubt?  When we question and don’t believe but part of us keeps coming back is this not faith?

That’s faith.

Back to Reality

As my friend finishes his question and story, I struggle as I process my thoughts.  I sense in my friend what I’ve felt in my own life – a tension between two equal forces and the desire to describe one as fully positive/healthy and the other as negative/unhealthy.

It’s tempting to want one over another but in the high seasons of faith it’s irresponsible if we don’t recognize that doubt and questioning can have a healthy place in our worldview.  And it’s reckless in our periods of doubt to not recognize that faith can still be alive and practical.

This struggle is not unique to me by no stretch of the imagination and I’m by no means settled in this respect.

From my vantage point, there aren’t many polar opposites in our lives – there’s a lot of fading from one emotional need/feeling to the other and back again.

I see it so many times where doubt and faith are viewed as two separate places of being and I truly believe that this practice is detrimental to one’s spiritual growth.  It’s an endless journey sometimes with no destination.

I’ve seen doubt and question pushed aside as if it’s the plague because anything less than perfect and sure is looked at as heresy.

I’ve also seen faith (or a different interpretation of the word, ‘goodness’) pushed aside in the face of our world’s 24/7 focus on murders, hate, and joblessness among others.

We need to be encouraged now more than ever that it’s OK to let the tension between faith and doubt be real.  Let it be real and tangible.  Let it be something that doesn’t live in the space of ‘black and white’.

If you find yourself in this space, where the tension is more than real, just tell yourself that it’s OK.  I’m big supporter that the most growth occurs in the middle of the tension even though I need to be reminded of this on an almost daily basis.

We’re in this together.

The Consequences of a False Appearance

You know, in spite of the fact that Christianity speaks of the cross, redemption, and sin, we’re unwilling to admit failure in our own lives.  Why?  Partly because it’s human nature’s defense mechanism against its own inadequacies.  But even more so, it’s because of the successful image our culture demands of us.  There are some real problems with projecting the perfect image.  First of all, it’s simply not true – we are not always happy, optimistic, in command.  Second, projecting the flawless image keeps from reaching people who feel we just wouldn’t understand them.  And third,  even if we could live a life with no conflict, suffering or mistakes, it would be a shallow existence.  The Christian with depth is the person who has failed and has learned to live with it.

– Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

 

If you deal with this as I do – you are not alone.  If you fall prey to the expectations of other – it’s OK.  Don’t be distressed.  You don’t have to do it on your own.

Let’s walk the path together.

Half Built Walls

As I write this I’m looking out the window of a coffee shop in my neighborhood at a building being built.  It’s about half completed and it looks ugly.

Some walls haven’t been completely built.  There are no finishing aspects such as windows, air conditioner units, or landscaping.  Floors are visibly unfinished with wall studs open to the outdoor elements.  Construction debris litters the ground.  The exterior of the building is partially covered in ugly gray stone that clearly doesn’t look right and should be rethought by the design team.

I pass this building on my daily commute twice a day and every time I see it I wish they would tear it down and restart their efforts or at worst abandon the project altogether.

With cranes, scaffolding, and other sore sights this building could as easily be a dilapidated building as a brand new construction.  I can draw only two conclusions of the finished state by looking at what I see:

  1. I could be completely right and the building could be a complete architectural fiasco.  Much like this finished architectural anomaly on 23rd Street.
  2. I could be wrong and it could turn out to be a well designed and visually pleasing building that will add beauty and purpose to my daily commute forever and ever and ever.

Maybe that second opinion was slightly over the top but the fact remains that I can only see what I see.  I’m not the designer nor am I the architect with the master plans.  Moreover, I have a vision of what it could be that may or may not line up with the final outcome.

Seasons of renewal and transformation bring points of this important architecture critique (OK, it’s really fairly trivial, right?) to bear in my personal life.  These are the seasons where things are moving and changing, the times of life where I feel most uncomfortable because I am dealing with the tug of war in my heart, with my faith, in my being.  It’s the place of personal importance where I play critic to a process that is not entirely mine.  It’s the place where I want to give up pain for fleeting pleasure.

It’s the tug of war between something being made out of nothing.  It’s about change versus the status quo.  The moments where beliefs are being formed where nothing existed before.

I want to pass judgement, I want to make hasty changes, and most of all I want to believe that my opinion about my current state is in actuality fact.  The truth is that during these times of my life I have very little idea of up from down, let alone the prowess to critique my current state.

When I look at the past, I can see that growth comes often in a messy, chaotic, and disorganized form.

However, when I look at the present I want life to be ideal and orderly – most definitely without complications.

God knows we are broken vessels but from day one he has striven for us to live more fully and completely.  He is the architect and the designer of our lives.  He, not me, holds the vision of the final product – every intricate change, every minute adjustment, and every moment of growth.  Don’t be fooled by the sometimes cliche movement of God’s work.  When you look at the course of human history he has spent more time participating in the formation of mankind than any other endeavor.

Embrace the messy.

These seasons are painful because they challenge me to surrender control in areas that I would rather not.

They hold a bigger vision than what I can see.

Maybe the moment that everything click comes after this season or after the next or even at the end of a lifetime of seasons.  No matter when, today’s moment is worth it because one day you’ll look at it and see the beauty created under such unsuspecting circumstances.

The mess and disorder – the pain and chaos – in our lives might well be indicators of something beautiful, something profoundly important still to come.

Lent – Preparation for Renewal

During Lent we remember the silence that the cross beckoned.  For the disciples, life turned from revelry to a season of silence and reflection of their hopes, dreams, and future hanging on a cross.

Lent brings us back to the practice of silence and reflection and in the midst of different seasons of our lives we stop to find Jesus where he’s been all this time – with us and preparing the way:

In the silence let me hear you.
In the silence help me find rest and be renewed in anticipation.
In the silence wash me in your presence.
In the silence allow my heart to feel and be transformed.
In the silence open my eyes.
In the silence show me hope.
In the silence let me find you at the cross.

The greatness of the story of the cross is that though silence falls, new celebration comes piercing our hearts with hope, renewal, and new beginnings.

Embrace the silence that the cross brings and prepare your heart for the coming season – the presence of silence is deafening but its rewards are saturating, promising to heal the brokenhearted and push forth renewal.

Preparation Through Failure

This season of Lent is finding me in a contemplative place.  One thing I’ve been lost in is how my desire for perfectionism destroys my relationship with Christ (and others).

One challenge I find on my heart is this:

Lord, when I fail, let me be ushered into your grace, protection, and restoration.

Failure should not be a negative state; why not let it be positive?

After all, if Thomas Edison had allowed thousands of flawed designs to stop him would we have ever seen the light bulb?
If Steve Jobs had let him being fired by his own company (Apple) to hold him back, would we have ever seen the iPad?

If Peter had let his denials hold him back what would the Church look like today?

Some of the best opportunities and experiences in my own life have been born out of the ashes of failure.  It’s not an easy path and it’s not necessarily quick but if you could ask anybody who’s come before, failed, and subsequently experienced success would they say that it was the effort and worth the trials?

They probably would.

On the other side of failure lies the peace, security, and provision of a Savior who gave much to let our lives to be fulfilled in him.

Maybe it’s just me but if I have a choice between failure and just getting by, I’d rather take the path of failure, redemption, and restoration than the path of the status quo.

Move With Hope, Together

I love what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans regarding change and moving forward.  Check this out:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Romans 8:18-27 (Emphasis mine)

A forward movement works both in what is seen, tangibly, and what is not, by faith.  We have hope, as the children of God, in the things that remain unseen and unknown to us taking time to manifest in our hearts through efforts cultivated by us and by God.

This hope is not easy… but that should not be where our focus lies.

More importantly: we’re not alone.  Groans may pervade our bodies, our relationships, our communities, and our world but we’re meant to be united first with the Holy Spirit and second with fellow believers – it is most definitely not about us doing things on our own.  We have a guide in the form of the Holy Spirit who walks with us in the difficulty and the joy that comes with the forward motion.  There is someone who meets us and helps position us for this transforming growth movement.

Have rest – you are not alone, forward movement does not happen by our own volition when we cling to God, when we seek him continuously with the help of others.

The Hardest Motion

The world is constantly changing.

People are classified as ‘movers and shakers’.

“I’m constantly on the go”.

 

These are are three quick thoughts that come to mind when I think about how the concept of movement influences my daily life.  So much of life is influenced by the constant goings on of daily life that you would think that the entirety of time is constantly advancing, changing under our feet.

Yet there are times that I look at all of that movement and wonder what progress I’ve made.  I wonder what progress, if any, that we’ve made as a collective of creative beings when I read about the hurt and discrimination that spreads through our world.

I wonder, given all of the time, if we’re any different as a world than what Adam and Eve experienced that day after their temptation.  Are we getting any closer to the God that we crave intently for or are we merely changing how things are without moving forward with intent?

There is this difference of lateral change (what I would call faux ‘growth’ that changes things on a cosmetic and verbal level without actual movement) and forward change (movement that propels us past where we are while at the same time changing things to better position ourselves and others).

When it comes to bringing effective change – to ourselves, to others, to the world – we have to recognize this difference and ask ourselves ‘is what I’m doing actually positioning me for real change’.  Or are we really saying ‘I’m just mixing things up enough to make it look like I’m moving forward’?

Moving forward and bringing real change either to ourselves or the world sucks.  It hurts, sometimes it doesn’t feel good, and often we won’t see the full results for a long time.  This is probably why a lot of us, first and foremost myself, don’t always choose this route.  Moving and pressing forward does not rest in what can be tangibly seen but is an act of faith that God will deliver on his promises while we act in concert with the Holy Spirit, walking into the unknown.

Change by itself is superficial unless it’s accompanied by a forward motion that moves us into unknown territories – stretching and testing, making room for the new.

But then, at the end, it remains a choice: will you choose to live in a state of moving forward or will you choose the simplicity of comfort?  Will I choose a life that I know or will I choose a potentially better life that I can’t see?

Discipline as an Art Form

Discipline, in the self-improvement and spiritual sense, requires change but more appropriately I believe it requires believing that things can be different.

Discipline is the mindful art of believing in a different, better self.

Yes, there is much more to discipline than this but if you do not believe that the potential exists to be better or different – if you’re satisfied with the status quo – than there is little that the act of discipline will do but to be a hindrance to your well being.

How does/has discipline formed your life in the past?