Sunday, December 19, 2010

What is faith?

Three and a half years ago we were preparing to move.  My husband and I and our seven children were packing up and saying goodbye to our church friends of six years.  We were moving to be closer to my parents, who were getting up in years and didn't have anyone near to help them out.

It wasn't a move that we really wanted to make.  My husband was leaving his work as a minister.  We didn't know at that time if he would seek work with a church again.  Our denomination had no established churches within two hours of where we would be settling.  It would be a difficult career change.  We'd never lived near family before.  How would we handle so many children and take care of elderly people as time passed and their health declined?  How would our children adapt to such a change?

As we worked toward our move, we began looking for a new job and a house to purchase.  Jeff made several trips to the area to try to arrange both.  Time passed, and nothing came into view.

We couldn't really delay our move, once the wheels had been set into motion.  The last paycheck would come, and I was half-way thru my 8th pregnancy.  To top things off, we had learned that I had a rare blood isoimmunization.  The baby appeared to be fine, but the remainder of the pregnancy would require a high level of monitoring.  I needed to get to our new location, find a new doctor and specialist who would take my case, and begin to settle in before the baby arrived.

We felt we were doing what God had asked us to do.  We felt we had made some hard choices - choices to give up what we "knew," to do something we didn't really "want" to do.  We were quite clear that we were doing what God had asked of us.  We continued to prepare to move, continued to look, stood strong in our belief that God would show Himself on our behalf in a mighty way.  Privately, deep inside, I was sure that He would come through in a really big way.  I was sure that He would honor our obedience and would use this opportunity to show everyone how GREAT He was and how He rewards those who obey Him.  I also wanted a little coverage for the "crazy" label that we wore.  Yes...we heard the whisperings that we were "irresponsible."  They hurt...but you know, we HEARD God, and we just wanted to obey Him.

Well, the time came  close to the move.  I did find a very wonderful doctor.  But the house?  Only one possibility came into view.

And it was the FURTHEST thing from glorious that I could imagine.  It was a foreclosure that needed a new roof and complete gutting and remodeling.  And to add insult to injury, it sat smack dab in the middle of the ONE TOWN I had told God that I would not live in.  And it was 100 degrees for weeks straight when we moved in.  And we only had a couple of window units.

I was so angry at God.  It only lasted for a brief time, but I was very upset.

"Really?  Is this the best that you can do?  We have faith, we make the hard choices, do the difficult thing instead of the easy thing - and this is the reward?  This...house?  This filthy, broken-down thing?  Is this how you show your glory?  What are all of those people - the ones who already think we're crazy - going to think?"

"You could have really blown 'em away with your power, God.  I don't get it."

Well, this story could go on for a long, long time.  Jeff was unemployed for five months, and when his job finally did come, it was a job with long, long hours and not great pay.  The remodeling work was long and slow.  It still is.  We struggled to find a church to fit into.  We had medical emergencies - some very serious ones that we are still emerging from.

So much has happened.  Some very good things too.  But my view of faith has been upended.  It was changed, fleshed out, and deepened during Jeff's illness this summer.

See, my faith was boxed.  I never knew I believed in a formulaic God, but I did.  I thought that if "I did this (obedience,) God would do that (reward.)"  My desire to please God and do the right thing was sincere, but I think that I misunderstood.   

2+2=4

Predictable.

Good rewards for good behavior.

I think that's too simple.  Yes, sometimes life does work that way, indeed.  Maybe that's how it is when we begin, because we need the encouragement to continue in our faith.  But at some point, God asks us to go deeper.

If faith was so formulaic, Daddies would never get so sick.  Our relationships would always be rosy because we'd put in the hard work and done the right thing.  Babies would never die.  Children raised "right" would always turn out "right."   Husbands would always love their wives more than their own bodies.  Meth would not rot teeth and steal food and love from children. 

Retaining a formulaic view reduces God, and it sets our faith up for an epic fail.  When hard times hit, when bad things happen even though we have done right, we find ourselves clenching and clutching at that faith.  Somebody failed!  God?  Us?  At that point, we are forced to examination and conclusion.  Some, thru trials, will drop God altogether.  If we remain in our faith, we have to make a choice.  We will either try to continue to make the formula work, or we will choose to see Him with wiser eyes, a more accepting heart, and a broader view of eternity and how He works in this world. 

Faith is not just "believing enough."  It's not just doing right and then believing, like a child, that you get your sticker or your candy (or even safety or health or a nicer house.)  That makes God like a genie, someone who is bound to our demands and our expectations.  That would mean that we could manipulate God.

Faith doesn't always come that easily.  Faith comes by believing in Him when things don't go right and relationships fail.  It is believing God when we suffer depression or  when our children are wounded or even when dressers tip and toddlers die.  (How I grieve with them.)  Faith is believing that in the end He works all things out, that on the whole He can be trusted.  Faith means that even though He allows us to hurt, even though He might slay us, He will one day set all things right and heal all our wounds and restore our devastating losses.  Faith is married to hope.  Sometimes it is hope for today, sometimes it is a future hope, yet to be realized.
 
God asks us to love Him and believe in Him when 2 + 2 seems to = 5.  He asks us to go beyond the immediate and to look at the Big Picture.  He wants us to trust in His character, the core of WHO He is - even when things don't seem to go right.  (Especially when things seem to go dreadfully wrong.  That's when we need to believe Him the most.)  He asks us to take the long view, to look ahead, to believe in His love and His goodness overall.  He asks us to trust Him when He doesn't seem to make sense.  Our faith moves from temporal and immediate to all-encompassing and long-lasting.  It moves from "what we get" to "Who He Is."

That is faith, isn't it?

From Hebrews 11:

 1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.  3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 

and

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 

10 comments:

  1. This is so spot-on, Holly! You nailed it when you said, "Our faith moves from temporal and immediate to all-encompassing and long-lasting." The Object of our faith is what is crucial. When our faith is in the "temporal and immediate" (i.e. things other than Him, formulas), then we're a perfect set-up for disappointment and disillusionment. But when it is in the "all-encompassing and long-lasting" (i.e. God Himself), then we can rest assured that we will receive the "something better" that He has planned for us. This is such a precious, precious truth to learn. How privileged your family is to be blessed with this opportunity.

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  2. Thanks Violet - I amended the post a bit (and added a bit inspired by you!)

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  3. Fantastic post, Holly. And incredibly timely. Love you, Patricia

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  4. Though the nitty, gritty details are different, I've had one of those faith stretching years as well, Holly. Thanks for continuing to blog your way through it. Merry Christmas to your beautiful family!

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  5. Holly,
    I have no words. Great post is all I can say right now.

    Love to you and yours,
    Tracy E.

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  6. I read every one of you blogs. There have been times when I just lay my head on my desk and cry. (like the time you wrote about me-I am now famous!) I guess I just can't always find the words to write. I have walked through very deep pain in my life and 2+2 hasn't equaled 4 even though I have LONGED for that & believed that it would...this time. I guess I thought I deserved it.(humans!!!) My faith has been shaken to the core. I have learned that sometimes there is no happy ending like it was for Job. No extra land or children here! :)
    Thanks for your honesty and sharing your "messy" walk with God. It comforts those of us who can't see past the mess. Hope it is okay what I have posted. Must be the time of year...

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  7. Hey Lorraine, I'm so glad you are here. I miss you immensely.

    I've been thinking of you especially lately, remembering how hard this time of year is for you and Jeff and your family.

    Yes - sometimes there are no happy endings here. And that calls for a redefinition of our view of God. I've been going thru that since Ed died, I guess - and I keep going thru it as life passes by. Things just don't match up sometimes, particularly in the here and now....

    My life IS messy. More than I share, even. :) I wrote this post not out of great angst, though...more out of response to seeing a lot of "oh, I've been so good and obeyed God. See how he's blessed me!" mentality. Sometimes that happens! Often it happens, and it is very nice. But I don't think it is fully representative nor is it fully accurate. Sometimes things just don't work out the way we think they should.

    I think God is with us in ways that I usually miss, and don't usually expect. I still struggle to understand. Faith is hard sometimes. Who would know that better than you?

    We struggle, we wrestle - for our whole lives it seems. And someday? We will know Him and see Him face to face. Someday it will make sense. We seek the Kingdom and the King - and someday we will fully receive. (Future Hope.)

    I will be praying for your family as you approach the holidays. I'm praying for comfort and for closeness thru the pain.

    Love, Holly

    (I was going to write Love, Mountain Dew, and a King-sized Snicker's bar...but I can't say that since you've sworn off sugar.)

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  8. And Sarah, Patricia, and Tracy, Thank you. Thanks for hearing me - keep on keepin' on - and keep trusting and seeking Him! Your compassion is always so warm and wonderful and helpful. I think that's how God often moves and shows us His love and care - through our friends whose arms wrap around us and hold us up!

    (())

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  9. I was always struck by Job. After all my husband and I went through a few years ago, Jobs words, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!" were always an amazing testament to me. His first response after being hit by wave after wave of tragedy, was to get on his knees and praise and worship God.

    He showed me how far I needed to go. It's pretty humbling!

    As always Holly, your posts and insightful and spot on. :)

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  10. Mostly I find that I expect this life to make sense. I expect to be happy and for everything to move smoothly. Mostly I think that is what everyone else has and what I deserve. I think that I should be able to count on God to keep me from knowing pain. Perhaps that is the biggest lie of the culture we live in. Christians are not happier than anyone else on the planet, we just have more to put our hope in.
    I was just thinking of Job from the bible and Naomi. I find I love them, not because their stories are hopeful, but because they loved God and they were bitter. Reguardless of what God does or doesn't do for us, He is really the only answer. Even though I often wish I could get a glimpse of his big picture perhaps the hardest lesson to learn is trust.

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