At the church I attend, there is an opportunity for the members of the congregation to stand up at the pulpit to share convictions and testimonies of faith faith. It is called a testimony meeting.
I have been struggling with my faith in a significant way for the last several years, and each time this meeting arrives, I sit and listen, but usually find myself realizing that I “know” less and less. Within my faith culture, faithfulness and obedience are both highly prized and rewarded. We frequently tell stories of the most faithful, the most obedient, and the strongest, most dedicated saints. We also hear warnings of the teachings of the world, or the dangers of questioning one’s faith. If these messages aren’t explicitly stated, they are strongly implied. But, you know, I understand why this happens in some faith cultures. Painting a picture of faith in only black and white, and good and bad eliminates uncertainly, which is a feeling that we all try to avoid. It gives us the idea that there are solutions and answers to the struggles and difficulties we face. Ultimately, we turn faith into something it is not. We turn it into something certain.
This is a topic that I have wanted to write about for a long time, and yesterday, I sat at that pulpit in front of the whole congregation, and told them everything I didn’t know about my faith.
The new year always brings with it the sense of a new beginning and an opportunity to change, so naturally I have been thinking about what I want to change in 2017. “Courage” is a word that has defined my journey, not because it is an attribute I possess in abundance, but because every step I take seems to require more of it. According to researcher Brené Brown, The latin root of courage is “cor”, meaning heart. The word “courage” originally meant to tell one’s story by speaking all one’s heart. Essentially, it means to live and practice authenticity.
As I sat in front of the congregation, I told them that courage for me meant saying, “I don’t know” when it came to my faith. My whole life I have believed that faith is knowing something. There is a song that the children sing that states, “Faith is knowing the sun will rise, lighting each new day”. It’s a beautiful song. One of the hardest moments of my life was the moment I realized that faith is not knowing the sun will rise, it is believing the sun will rise. Faith is a choice, and is, by definition, not knowing.
This faith transition was painful because my life suddenly became filled with uncertainty. At first, this transition felt like an absolute crisis, an existential meltdown. At moments, I felt great fear and even despair as I courageously said to myself, “I don’t know”. This was during the early stages of my spinal cord injury when questioning my faith felt like a death threat to the last thing I had to hold on to: hope. Hope for a better outcome, hope for a miracle, hope that there is a life without pain. I spent hours consulting with friends, mentors, and wise therapists about the complexity of the realizations I was having. I counted on their strength for a long time.
As time marched along, hope crept back into my life and I found a form of spiritual faith and divine connection that currently supports me (by “faith”, I literally mean faith, as opposed to religion). I’ve slowly come to realize the strength and utility this type of faith has brought into my life. I now see life experiences in shades and hues of gray, and rarely in blacks and whites. This has made such a realistic space for a kind of diversity and experience that my past faith didn’t have room for. This kind of faith has made me far more compassionate, authentic, and open to the differences of others.
Yesterday in church I expressed that I think that church is for people like me, people who question, people who don’t always know what/if they believe. My story is as real as the story of those who have never questioned. There is room at the table for all of us, hopefully without shame or exclusion. This is what Christ taught, and it is how he lived his life.
I have a lot to figure out and the list of things I know is getting shorter and shorter. But for now, this is my testimony: I know that we are here to connect to each other, and bear each other’s burdens. I know that we need to belong and feel loved in order to thrive. I know that I am happiest when I am living courageously and owning my story, even though it’s hard and even when I wish it were different. And that’s about it for now. It’s not terribly religious, and that’s okay. I’m owning that.