“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!”
Two weeks ago, this picture was taken at Black + White Modern Creamery in San Antonio, Texas. I had a wonderful conversation with the owner Kat, and we had a heartfelt discussion over freshly made ice cream about the struggles and victories that God has seen us through thus far in our short lives. It was a rare, beautiful moment with a stranger whom I felt as if I had known forever. She’s a beautiful soul like that. At that time, I had no clue that my faith that I professed so freely that way would be tried so heavily a short time later. But I suppose you can’t write a book blog on faith and doubt without having to be shown which one your heart holds more.
I attended a personal growth conference in Austin this past weekend. I left solidified in the clear message of God's love for me. I was on a Spiritual mountaintop high, and no hiccup would make me forget the beautiful experience I had witnessed or the feeling of the rekindled love of God in my heart. I was a brand new woman when I left the conference at 5 pm, ready for whatever adventures God led me to. By 5:25 pm, I was broken down on the roadside in front of a strip club in a rough part of Austin after my newly replaced defective tire exploded as I was driving down the freeway. The atmosphere was gripping: a lady scantily dressed talking to a coconut, an angry guy on a bicycle with a large wooden staff talking to who knows who, among a variety of other interesting characters. All of this was accompanied by a sea of leftover debris from various vagabonds who had lodged there, if only for a moment. All normal for Austin. However, it is not an ideal location to be stranded as the sun is setting as a lonesome female traveler.
The silver lining is I witnessed how much my boyfriend loves me in that he made a 2.5-hour drive in less than 2 hours to make sure I was safe, and he sat with me while we waited 4 hours for the tow truck since the damage was extensive. Even throughout all of this, I never lost my peace and the feeling that God loved me. No, it only took 48 hours for that to happen. Bring on rental car problems, child support court on Zoom, an angry ex-husband's drunken venomous verbal barrage, my house alarm going off twice in one night for unknown causes, a defective repair on the car leaving me stranded in San Antonio requiring a second rescue within 48 hours, and last but not least, the discovery that the conference I attended left me with the parting gift of COVID. Did I mention I already had COVID in January? Oh yes, my already irritated employer was absolutely thrilled. She still hasn’t called to check to see if I‘m alive four days later. I suppose she’ll figure it out. Unless I fake my death and move to the rural desert of New Mexico and live like a gypsy for the rest of my life like I'm tempted to do at the moment.
This second round of COVID was way more brutal than the first, despite three vaccines and supposed immunities. As I lay there in a fever-induced fog with my head hurting so bad that I couldn’t read or watch TV, I was left with no choice but to talk to God. To say I had a cynical view of Him would be an understatement. In John Ortberg’s raw work Faith and Doubt, he states: “Scratch the surface of any cynic, and you will find a wounded idealist underneath.” Pg 127. I read these words at the conference before I knew I had the plague, and they struck me like a lightning bolt. Only I understood them better now as I lay there wreathing in misery. I am cynical towards God (and often my loved ones) because I have endured a lifetime of shattering disappointments. People and circumstances are wildly unpredictable. In my struggle for control and security, I had built walls in hopes of creating the castles of my dreams but instead was left with walls surrounding my heart, keeping God and everyone else out. Ortberg tells us that it isn’t just doubt that leads to cynicism, but the wrong kind of faith can as well. That, my friend, is where the root of my bitterness lay. The wrong kind of faith.
Since I was born again almost four years ago, I have never lost faith in the existence of God. Yet I sure have doubted His goodness, and I most definitely have lost faith at times that He cares about the pain I’m in. When I was first born again, He over and abundantly reminded me of His loving presence, and I had the corresponding feeling to go along with my worship. The more I mature in my relationship with Him, the less I am given these reassurances. At times, the silence is more than I can take, and my emotions are often turbulent. I will say, though, that my roots are growing deeper with each struggle so I can better withstand whatever storms the future may hold. Although it feels like it‘s killing me, each trial is pruning me so I can abide in Him and not just the idea of Him. Ortberg wisely proclaims: “At its core, faith is not simply the belief in a statement; it puts trust in a person. We all think we want certainty. But we don’t. What we really want is trust wisely placed. Trust is better than certainty because it honors the freedom of persons and makes possible growth and intimacy that certainty alone could never produce.“ Pg 137.
Becoming a faithful follower of Christ requires that I lay my life down and surrender everything. All of my hopes. All of my dreams. All of the grand plans that I have envisioned. It requires death to everything worldly so that I can have eternal life with Him. Death is painful. This season is painful. Perhaps what is dying here is the prosperity Gospel inside of my cold, calculating heart. This is the Gospel the modern church clings to the most in our materialistic age. Christians during Paul’s time knew the real risks that they would face persecution, pain, and death by deciding to follow Christ. Yet their hearts burned on fire for Christ because He was more than enough. When will my heart learn the same? As rough as this week has been, a hedge of favor from God still protects me as I sit in my air-conditioned house in 104-degree air-conditioned temperatures in the South Texas heat. Although we have struggled financially, my children have never had to sleep without food in their bellies to nourish them. We have never seen the carnage of war in our backyard. I am surrounded with blessings and the painful reminder that I want more than just Christ when I am honest. I want comfort too. Sometimes more than Christ. I know this to be true because when comfort isn’t in abundance such as in weeks like this, my false faith is exposed at the roots. My doubts loom more prominent than my faith. Praise God for these tough lessons, so I now know what to pray specifically for.
I am encouraged by the story of John the Baptist in Luke 7, as he is wrestling with his own doubts. Things weren’t going as he had envisioned they would when the messiah arrived because the world seemed to still be falling apart around him, so he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” In typical Jesus fashion, He doesn’t skip a beat and continues to heal the people around Him. Instead of rebuking John for his doubts, He compliments his character by saying, “I tell you, among those born of woman none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.“ This encourages me because it lets me know that God isn’t offended by my doubts. He knew I would have them when He made me, yet He still loved me enough to form me with His loving hands. If anything, He knew my doubts would be used as a tool to continue pressing deeper into Him, which He wanted all along.
I pray that whatever doubts arise in the upcoming week, they serve to strengthen our faith. If you get a chance, please check out Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg, as this book has valuable insight into both camps. I do not know what tomorrow holds. I do know that I have choices to make today in the dark. Will I continue to hold onto my faith regardless of life’s circumstances? Will I surrender everything over to the nail-scarred Hands of the one who sacrificed it all? Will I choose to continue to believe in the goodness of God even when I can’t feel it?
I believe Lord, please help my unbelief.