For many people the search for faith is a simple process. A clear path is set out before them and they follow it with little hesitation or uncertainty. For people like this, the journey of faith, while not without problems or challenges from time to time, is a precious gift that is freely embraced with openness and gratitude.
Yet for others, people like myself, the journey to and with God is a bit more problematic. The source of the difficulties, of course, is not God but us. We think too much, worry over matters too trivial to mention, and avoid simple answers like we would a coiled rattlesnake. Folks of our ilk could complicate a postage stamp.
Speaking for myself, I can certainly relate to the following words by Brian McLaren, candidly speaking about the travails he has experienced along the way of his spiritual sojourn:
Looking back over the subsequent years, I would say that “crisis management” described my faith experience. It was a cyclical story of hope followed by disillusionment, elation at finding “the answer” or the ultimate faith formula followed by depression when the easy answers and formulas didn’t work. At several junctures I imagined that I would live the rest of my life without faith – finding and keeping faith was just too hard.
But somehow, in the process of seeking a faith that is real and makes sense, I ended up with a faith that has sustained me. That faith still involves crises from time to time. It hasn’t provided me with an exemption from life’s ups and downs, nor has it given me a “get out of doubt free” card. But somehow, my faith has evolved from being a part of the problem of my life, something I was always trying to resolve, to part of the solution for my life, something that most often sustains me and gives me resources to face life’s challenges.
I especially relate to the words about faith evolving from part of the problem in life to part of the solution. Resolving issues of faith has probably burned no less than 75 percent of my mental energy over the years and, as I reflect on this, it is a real shame. I can’t say it was a waste of time, because I don’t think dealing with these sorts of spiritual/existential questions is ever a waste of time. However, there can be situations where ruminating on spiritual conundrums, tossing them about in our minds over and over like a cow chewing its cud, are less than productive. After an extended period of engaging in this sort of mental mastication, my brain begins to feel like it is made out of molasses.
Later on, McLaren discusses the fact that for the truly committed, the search for a transformational faith is often a difficult undertaking, necessitating the involvement of all aspects of our functioning.
To begin with, you are going to have to think harder and bigger than you ever have, because although good faith isn’t limited to the mind, it requires the mind to be fully engaged…..It forces us to face some ugliness in ourselves, some hard facts about life and our world, requiring courage, honesty, and determination.
McLaren’s point is that a consecrated walk of faith is no stroll through the park. We are called upon to encounter ourselves and the world we live in at a level that is most likely deeper than our comfort zone. No one likes looking at the seedier side of their character – I know I don’t. I would prefer to see myself as that nice Christian man who loves God and his neighbor and his church and even the occasional panhandler, drunk, or street urchin. You know him – that generous fellow that is frequently seen putting a buck or two in the Salvation Army bucket outside Wal-Mart and who always, without fail or fanfare, opens the door for his wife. I would prefer not to see the guy who is selfish, lazy, and who has a marked tendency to live by the law: “Why do today what can be put off until tomorrow?” And at all cost, I don’t want to stand at my mirror in the morning and look into the eyes of the guy that can’t help thinking about the shapely legs on the Japanese woman who lives just up the street. Yet it is just this sort of self-examination that a deeper discipleship calls for. McLaren continues:
Faith involves admitting with humility and boldness that we need to change, to go against the flow, to be different, to shine the harsh light of scrutiny on our cherished illusions and prejudices and face them with candor, and to discover new truths that can be liberating even though they may be difficult for the ego, painful to the pride. To search for a faith that makes sense has been the most challenging and life-changing quest of my life. Nobody should expect something this important to be easy.
The veracity of those last words, “nobody should expect something this important to be easy,” is so obvious that many of us miss it altogether. Perhaps the most important decision any of us will ever make is what we are going to do with Jesus Christ, once we encounter his name and his place in history. Beyond that, if we decide that Jesus was indeed exactly who and what he said he was (and is), then we should full well know that being a disciple of a being so radically different from the status quo is going to be a difficult.
Yes, Christ told us his yoke was easy and his burden light, but I don’t think he meant it was going to be a cake walk, either. Just ask the rich young man how easy the yoke of the wandering Galilean was. Jesus doesn’t ask for a portion of us, he asks for the whole package.
I fully recall a time in my spiritual journey when I was at a point of desperation – true desperation – and a significant part of me screamed from every pore of my being to just chuck this whole faith thing and go on a blazing bender that would have even the most hard-core hedonist green with envy. Another part of me, equal in intensity, wanted nothing more than for the Lord to reveal to my over-taxed brain the solution to the intangible but all-too-real existential puzzle that had me spiritually paralyzed and stone cold stuck.
“Lord,” I cried in absolute earnestness. “What in the world is it that you want from me?”
“Surrender,” came the answer, not on the loud rumble of a thunderous voice, but in a soft, gentle whisper barely audible but all too clear.
(c) L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved