Tag Archives: spiritual transformation

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.

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.

Everyday Resolutions

The New Year time is a difficult time of year for me.  Not because of holiday gluttony or sometimes deathly frigid cold.  Not because of the inevitable passing of the Christmas season.  Not even because of the mass clamor, at this time of year, of people seeking change in their lives.

OK, well, maybe partly because of the clamor of New Year’s resolutions.

I used to have ‘faith’ that on January 1 I could flip a switch and things could be different.  I had hope that January would wipe all that was bad the previous year, as if to delete the unwanted stuff and empty the metaphorical computer recycling container of life without letting it form who I was.  I fully believed but never saw it fully realized.  But, to be honest, things were never that simple and there was a season of my life I gave up on trying to change who I am.  This time of year hauntingly reminds me of that old self but it inspires me now as well because there’s still hope.

January is indeed a great time to let go of things from your past, strive for something better, and renew the spirit to keep fighting the good fight.  However – it is, as any moment is, a terrible time to let go of things without first dealing issues and situations that hold us back from greater things which I’ve done so many times before while looking for an easy, quick fix.

This does not mean I’ve given up on change, rather I’ve shifted my perspective and view transforming change as something that happens outside of the month of January all year long, taking a little longer time than I’d like.

I’ve learned through past New Year’s moments – and more importantly other learning seasons in my life – that the things that you want the most, the things that God wants you to learn the most in your journey, come with different expectations than what we attribute.  Our expectations can be framed around the thought that the easy, quick approach is not necessarily spiritually ordained, though God wants us to commit to long-lasting change in our lives.

You are not destined to be who you are today, tomorrow.  God has invited us on a journey that spans time, patience, diligence and steadfastness.  This is not easy – mainly because it requires us to learn from our mistakes…  It requires us to not simply let go but to learn, to live, and let go – using our past as building blocks for a future.

The best way that we can transform ourselves is to respect the past, learn from it, and embrace what comes next.

Instead of treating January 1st as a singular season of change in our yearly journey, my prayer for myself, my friends/family, and for you is that we resolve to live a better life with every moment within each year.

Embrace who you are but never turn away the desire for change.

Stick with it, you’re not alone.

Flexibility as a Spiritual Discipline

There is a lot of talk about spiritual disciplines – one of the strong points of being a Christian is choosing to move forward, be better, and look for ways embrace the change that Christ endows to work through us.  I have personally enjoyed books written by Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) and Dallas Willard (Renovation of the Heart) which cover such topics as fasting, celebration, meditation, relationships, etc. and while these are good it’s very easy to fit spiritual disciplines into a container, limiting the scope of spiritual transformation.

After studying spiritual disciplines earlier this year I began to think about how my perspective on spiritual development might change if I looked outside of this traditional container of practiced disciplines.  My mind circled around the concepts of patience and flexibility in terms of how these contribute (either positively or negatively) to my spiritual well-being.  Keep in mind, patience is a lifelong virtue that I am continually struggling to learn – just last week I found myself pacing up and down Terminal C at LaGuardia Airport frustrated at the lack of information during a Delta induced delay.

When I look at flexibility as a spiritual discipline that can be practiced, I see several benefits that contribute to a better spiritual life:

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?