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Finding Faith in . . . Faith

Butterflyby Jessawhy

As a child, I understood faith very simply, as a hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

In high school and college, I remember praying for answers to specific questions (including whether I should marry my husband) and not getting a yes or no answer. My answer always seemed to be, “Have Faith.”

Even my patriarchal blessings speaks about my need to have faith. The number of references to that specific virtue far outweigh any other topic.

Sometimes I look back on this part of my life as if it were the life of someone else. At the risk of being melodramatic, I no longer remember what it feels like to have that kind of faith. My doubts have become so large and heavy over the last 2 years that they block me from seeing the hand of God in my life, or the lives of others.

Indeed, I struggle most with finding faith that God has a hand in my life.

What used to be easy, explaining the good and bad events in my life as the will of God, now seems like bizarre mental gymnastics. I don’t want to try to make cruelty, injustice, and tragedy fit somehow into God’s plan. It just doesn’t seem right. On the other hand, when I look at my blessings and compare them to 80% of the developing world, I can only attribute the disparity to luck because I can’t imagine a God who would bless some and curse others even in this “short” life.

And yet, I’m not happy with this perception. I was much happier with my simple faith.

As I look around, I find that this is true for others. Those who hold on to the notion that God directs everything and has all of us and our choices woven into a grand tapestry seem to have greater peace in their lives. My friend who lost her baby a few months ago is a great example of this.  She strongly believes that her son was called home and that he stayed on Earth only as long as God wanted him to.  While she struggles with his death, she finds some measure of peace in knowing that it wasn’t random, that his life and death had divine purpose. I greatly admire her belief.

So, I step back and look at my choices. Perhaps there are more than these, two, but they’re the only ones that come to mind.

1. No Faith-I can shake my head in confusion and despair over the way life unfolds for myself and those I love.  Sometimes this feels like quicksand.  Eventually, I may find peace in the chaos of life without direction. I know that some people do.

2. Faith- I can assume God will use all of the good and bad to make a masterpiece. When I get the bad, I can have faith that God knows better and move forward.

Thus the second option sounds better and is the logical choice. My only hang up at this point is my grief over the greater suffering in the world. I’m not really sure how to resolve this, only to realize that some people don’t want or need my pity. Also, part of choosing faith is to allow that God has  a plan for victims of unspeakable atrocities. And, perhaps part of his plan is having those of us with means, help our brothers and sisters in suffering.

Admittedly, my desire to have faith (even if it is only a desire, much like the seed Alma explains) is really pragmatic.

I don’t want to feel hopeless anymore. The same kinds of bad events happen to people with faith and without. It seems to me (now feeling strangely like an outsider) that faith is the easiest way to move forward, to not be stuck in trying to find out the whys.

So right now, I’m trying to have faith in faith. By acknowledging that my understanding of God is very limited, I’m working on taking the practical approach, the one that I see leads to greater peace. On one hand, choosing faith sounds trite, like a Sunday School answer, but on the other hand, my view of faith has changed and I’m sure will continue to change.

For me, this is just one step on a long road toward God. I just want to know that He or She is really at the end, with some explanation. Believing this makes the journey seem a little easier. For now, that’s good enough for me.

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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  1. cornnut32 says:

    what a thought provoking post.

    i have recently struggled a lot with my concept of faith as well. like you, i grew up with that simple faith, trusting that god had a plan for me. as an adult, after going through some very difficult things, i am questioning whether or not god even listens or cares.

    i miss that peace, and that reassurance i had when i had that simple, almost unquestioning, faith.

  2. D'Arcy says:

    Jessawhy,

    I have felt the same sorrow for my faith transition.

    I go back and read my missionary journals sometimes
    just to see how different I am. To see how happy
    I was believing in so many things that were so
    clear and simple to me. And now…a big void.

    I haven’t yet found how to fill that or how I should
    fill it or with WHAT to fill it.

    It does sound pretty depressing. But at the same
    time I don’t get lost in despair, I just process
    things differently.

    I look forward to following your journey.

  3. Caroline says:

    I take a couple of different approaches to the problem of evil, which you touched upon.

    a) I generally attribute good things to God, while acknowledging that random chance might have a role too. And I never attribute bad things to God, but instead to chance. This may not be logical, but I think it’s healthy, since I think we get into big trouble when we attribute bad things to God.

    b) Another way to look at this is the way process theology tackles this issue. It views humans as co-creators with God. Thus if there are bad things in the world, it’s because we humans are creating that in the world around us. God is simply constrained by our human choices, while always wishing for the best for us. And in the case of natural disasters, once again God is constrained by the natural rules behind his creation – he is not willing disaster upon us. I’m sure I’m not explaining process theology’s take on this all that well, but I think it does present the most satisfying explanation for the problem of evil that I have ever encountered. And it actually coalesces with Mormon thought pretty well.

  4. John Dehlin says:

    Jessawhy,

    A few excerpts from a bit of reading I’ve been doing (Parker Palmer’s “An Active Life”). For me, this perspective helps me realize that there is a 3rd option (in addition to 1 and 2 listed above).

    “Why, if God and Jesus could predict the denouement, does Jesus suffer and doubt and sweat and cry out that he has been forsaken, when his moment of death arrives? The human side of the Gospel story makes sense only if this God is a participant in the struggle with us, a God who, like Jesus, is uncertain of the outcome, but still willing to take risky actions of love. Otherwise, Jesus is simply play-acting in a theatrical production whose conclusion is never in doubt, and a play-acting Jesus is not a helpful companion on the human journey with its very real doubts and fears.”

    “Some Christians have reacted with anger and even violence to the filmed version of Kazantzakis’s ‘Last Temptation of Christ’, a novel that explores the human emotions that Jesus might have struggled with. Apparently, these Christians find the humanness of Jesus offensive, despite the church’s insistence that Jesus was as fully human as he was divine. But the point that I want to make may be more offensive still: God is not all-knowing and all-powerful. God depends on partnerships with various beings to accomplish the Great Work here on earth. Jesus, it seems to me, is a prime example of such a partnership.”

    “I find a profound flaw in the image of a God who has set everything up, past and present and future; who knows exactly what has been and is and will be; who has absolute power to control and change any of this; but who simply lets the script play itself out into eternity. In part, such a God is boring, quite unlike the God I experience. But the deeper flaw is that I cannot love such a God — nor can I feel that such a God loves me. Love is a dynamic relationships, a two-way exchange of energy. When God is conceived as an omniscient and omnipotent Primer Mover, no such energy is generated. Entropy ensues, the universe becomes a cold and empty place, and the Great Work will never be done.”

    “Entropy seems common in religious life today. Perhaps because we are too often taught to worship a God whom we need but who does not need us, who is said to love us but who is too powerful for us to love. Only a God who is vulnerable and even needy will evoke our love in a way that completes the circuit of human-and-divine, the circuit in which each of us becomes a carrier of love’s energy, a co-creator of the Great Work to be born. Whenever that circuit is completed, we are jolted out of our illusion of isolation and into the knowledge that we can find right action only in relationship, in communion, in community.”

  5. Jessawhy says:

    cornnut32,
    I, too, have been questioning God. I like this quote from John’s comment.
    “But the deeper flaw is that I cannot love such a God — nor can I feel that such a God loves me. Love is a dynamic relationships, a two-way exchange of energy.”
    I’m not sure how to find this kind of God, but that’s what I’m looking for, a two-way exchange of energy.

    D’Arcy,
    A void left by our understanding of God is a pretty big void. What else can fill it? Perhaps another understanding of God. I’m not sure. Interesting questions. Thanks for your comment.

    Caroline,
    I think the passage John quotes dovetails with your thoughts here. God’s purpose here is more complicated than the duality I presented. The more I think about it, the more I try to reject the binary thinking of right/wrong, yes/no, faith/doubt. God is so much more than we can understand. Perhaps I really just need to feel more faith in his love. Then I won’t have to worry about theodicy 🙂

    John,
    Thanks for that passage. It really is refreshing to see a new take on such a familiar concept. This is one reason I love the idea of magic in the early church (still trying to tackle Quinn’s work on this subject)
    Magic, from my understanding, is the work of humans and God toward a common goal. I suppose there are many actions that could fall under that definition, priesthood or compassionate service perhaps.

    Still, the two-way exchange, a God who isn’t all-knowing and all-powerful. . . that’s mind-bending stuff.
    Thanks.

  6. Flygirl says:

    Ahh…one of the questions that first started my questions. I think whatever works for you is good. For me, I think there are more possibilities than the two you presented, though they may be the most obvious, coming from where we are.
    For me, I no longer believe in the personal god who is an old man in the sky. Coming to this realization was difficult and sad to me. But I have realized I don’t believe there is nothing out there and that everything is just random chance. I’ve realized that I still believe that there is meaning in life, and that people are divine, and there is at least a positive force working toward good, not bad. I have found more eastern philosophies interesting and helpful.
    I think this is my new idea of faith, and while not as concrete, I think it avoids the false dichotomies that I really struggled with, and allows me to think AND hope.

  7. David Murphy says:

    Jessawhy Your problem isn’t faith it is the lack of forgiveness and rejection of God. Your loss of faith is he result of the other two.
    When someone sins against us; we are told to always forgive. We should remember it no more. Not dwell on it or blame God for letting it happening.
    When you prayed if you were to marry your husband and you got nothing it might have meant do nothing. You might have prayed “How will I recognize my husband?”. This would have helped build your faith. You already knew you were going to get married. You just wanted the Lord to let you know to whom. True faith is knowing not just hoping.
    When you know the surety of something; like you are definitely to marry this or that person when bumps happen they don’t matter. When your husband cheats or smokes, drinks and cusses or any number of things guys do they are easier to forgive and forget. You know God gave that person to you and you to him. You know you have to deal with the problems.
    Then again; sometimes he chastens the ones he loves. When we are puffed up in pride or try to instruct God on how he should run His kingdom. Even when we jokingly say God he or she will explain His will. Do you think He will talk to you if you don’t even know his voice. Where have I heard that? I think I also read that when you reject His word you can lose that which you had.
    I’m positive you are going to be ok. I have faith enough for both of us. I just hate to see anyone have to go through these things. But I guess it makes the joy so much greater when we realize He loves us in spite of our selves.

  8. Kim B. says:

    Absolutely beautiful post. So many times I have wished for the simple faith that comes from not questioning everything.

    I have no suggestions for you, only good wishes. You will find your way and touch many people for good on your journey.

  9. Jessawhy says:

    Flygirl,
    I’m glad that you’ve found a way to think and hope. Perhaps some people with what I see as simple faith would say that they do both, too. Letting go of an old man in the sky is a sad image, but also a liberting one. I have a friend who calls God, “Mr. Energy.” I like it.

    David Murphy,
    I do think I understand some of the ways God speaks to me. It’s usually an increase in my inner dialogue, or my noticing parallels between my life and my understanding of God’s role.
    You bring up a great point, though, one that I meant to include in my post.
    Sometimes God gives answers to people that make them very unhappy, that appear to be WRONG answers. I’m not sure how to reconcile this, without changing my definition of good beyond recognition.
    One example is like the one you gave. A friend was told by God to marry a man she wasn’t in love with and knew wouldn’t make her happy, and didn’t treat her as well as past suitors. After many years, she has a mediocre marriage. I don’t understand (and neither does she, for that matter) why God would do that. I felt the same way about Emma Smith as I read her biography, Mormon Enigma. It’s crazy to think that God would direct something that has negative repercussions for everyone. But, then again, Abraham sacrificing his son is totally absurd as well, so I guess we don’t always get to know the whys.
    Thanks for your comment anyhow. I’m glad you have faith for both of us. Maybe I’ll pay you back one day.

    Thanks, Kim B.
    I talked to a friend who has been through the valley of doubt and is back at church, full-throttle. Hearing his story has given me a little more faith that this can and does happen to people like me.

  10. M says:

    Jessawhy,

    Thank you for this post. I also no longer have the simple faith I had as a teenager and college student, and I grieve the loss of it. I think for me the loss came from realizing that God does not intervene in my life or in the world to prevent suffering, and if that is so, what is the point of praying for help?

    I also appreciate you sharing the story of your friend who feels God told her to marry someone she wasn’t in love with. I chose to marry my husband instead of another man I loved more in some ways, feeling that was where God had led me. After 10 years, we exist together, but it’s not the marriage I thought I would have. I thought I was the only one.

    John Dehlin – I have felt for a long time that my perceptions and expectations of God have been wrong. This sounds like a refreshing new insight – thanks.

  11. Hannah says:

    It seems that God puts each of us through the ringer at some point in our life when it comes to faith. I think each of us are to experience, as the Savior did, the feeling of being forsaken by Him. I don’t understand this concept completely or why we need to experience it but it seems to be part of the mortal experience and there are none to escape. We can see that even the Savior, who was perfect, felt as if His Father had left Him. When the fire gets so hot and seems to never stop burning us, we try to hold onto the faith that we had in simpler times. Many lose the battle and try to rectify their feelings of how they thought God was supposed to be by either 1) choosing to believe He doesn’t even exist or 2) accepting that He isn’t who we were taught He is. I have found that He is much more merciful and loving than I would ever suppose. Truly faith precedes the miracle but the Lord just doesn’t make it clear how long the faith has to last. We gain a personal understanding of the meaning of long-suffering, that is certain.
    God does listen and God does care and the light does come. Those dark days and nights have a purpose and even though we aren’t really interested in them, if we even have to just find faith in faith, then it is enough. The sun will shine again and it will be beautiful.

  12. Jessawhy says:

    M,
    I’m glad you can identify with my friend’s story. For many people, I think marriage isn’t the way they expected it. Perhaps I’m wrong. (that would make an interesting thread, wouldn’t it?)

    Hannah,
    I appreciate your testimony of faith. A part of me really holds onto the strength of your commitment to your beliefs. I want to feel that way, and yet so much of the evidence of my life points to a broader understanding of God. It’s hard for me to reconcile my thoughts, beliefs and feelings on God’s involvement in our lives.

  13. Hannah says:

    Jessawhy,
    I understand your feelings and struggles very well because I have struggled to understand God and why He does things that way He does. It can be an overwhelming task and make you feel hopeless. I have had some very sacred and personal experiences in the past recent years that have greatly opened my understanding of God. Interestingly, I was able to see His love and mercy in a situation that seemed He would not be so deeply involved as He was. I think through the struggles, the hopeless feelings, etc. if we can just hold to even a tiny bit of faith that God is a loving, merciful God and is involved in our lives to a great extent we will see at some point that it is true. I have personally experienced this insight through an extremely challenging situation in my life. There is much more to our experiences, our marriages, our relationships and our lives than we realize. Even though I cannot share the insight I discovered because of the personal nature of it, I can truly tell you that there is great hope for all of us and great joy to be expected and had as well. Having gone from hell and back I can guarantee God is there and loves us intimately and is deeply involved in everything we do. I discovered this in my life and cannot deny it. I hope that this helps to give you hope and determination to hang on to your faith.

  14. G says:

    jessawhy, this is a timely post. I’ve been thinking alot about the “faithful” person that i was… and in many ways missing her. Struggling to find new and explinations and motivations when everything that I had leaned on before to explain and motivate me is gone.
    I wish I had some good advice to give (or faith to lend you, like David 🙂 but I don’t. I’m just there with you. that’s all.

  15. amber says:

    Thank you.

  16. Ziff says:

    Thanks for this post, Jessawhy. It really resonates with my experience. I particularly like where you said,

    What used to be easy, explaining the good and bad events in my life as the will of God, now seems like bizarre mental gymnastics.

    I’ve had similar feelings. I like how you put it. I also like your pragmatic approach to wanting faith. I wish I had some useful answer, but all I can do is commiserate with you in feeling somewhat lost.

  1. April 13, 2009

    […] Mraynes shared beautiful and personal testimony of her connection with the feminine divine during her session. She opened the door for a discussion of how each of us experiences the divine and the peace or disappointment that can come when we do or don’t find connection with God. Again, having older women attend opened my eyes to the narrowness of my current experiences. Even though I may not have been touched by the hand of  God in recent memory, it’s possible for this to happen in my life, because I have much of it yet to live. That hope, and the stories of my sisters, lifted me beyond my own angst over my lack of connection to God. […]

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