I’ve been thinking a lot about faith lately, and wondering if my faith is getting stronger through this process of healing…or weaker.
Faith is a difficult thing to define. I remember being in church as a little girl, and the pastor told a story about a tightrope walker that asked his audience if they believed he could walk across the tightrope without falling. The audience said yes and he did it. Then, he asked if they believed he could carry a chair across the tightrope successfully, and they said yes to that as well, and once again, he was successful. He asked if they believed he could put something in the chair and carry it to the other side of the tightrope, and impressed by his previous accomplishments, they all said YES YES! He did it. Then, the tightrope walker asked if they believed he could carry someone over the tightrope while they sat in the chair. YES YES YES…replied the ‘faithful’ audience. And then, the tightrope walker asked who would like to be the first carried across. Not one person volunteered. Despite their ‘belief’ in his abilities…and the observations of what he really could do…no one had enough ‘faith’ to put themselves in his control. I’ve thought about this story a lot as I’ve grown and aged…and wondered if I would be able to put myself so willingly into someone else’s hands to where my very being depended on them. I don’t think I could. I just wouldn’t have enough faith in this person to risk it.
So…did the people really have faith in this man? They believed he could do all he said he could do, until it was their turn to be a ‘test’ of it. And then, the ‘faith’ left them. This can’t be faith, can it…when it’s so easily discarded when the cost is personal.
In my Sociology classes, my students and I study the Donner Party. I’m sure my American readers are familiar with this true story, but let me summarize for anyone who isn’t: the Donner Party was a group of 90 emigrants who left Springfield, IL in 1846 to go to California to seek a new life. Unfortunately, they were told by a ‘charlatan’ that there was a quicker route to California that would save them time and miles as opposed to the regular route other emigrants had been taking for years. For some reason, even though the route had never been proven to be safe or even possible for wagons, the party decided to take it anyway. Perils confronted them along the 1000’s of miles they had already traversed, and by the time they reached the Sierra Nevada mountains…the last range to cross until their final destination, it began to snow (eventually totally about 25 feet) and the people were trapped at the base of the mountain range for the remainder of the winter. The amount of snow made crossing the mountain impossible. The emigrants food quickly ran out and they ate anything and everything they could to survive…bark, dirt, leaves, cloth, hides…anything, but it wasn’t enough. Finally, when everyone was literally to the point of starvation, including young children and nursing mothers, they began to cannibalize the dead. Had they not, no one would have survived. No one. As it was, 45 survived, including many children and babies.
I use this story in my class to talk about deviance, groups, etc. but what I’m most amazed about when I study the Donner party personally, is that throughout this incredibly horrid ordeal in which their very physical and moral beings were being challenged in ways most of us will never experience, the members of the party never lost their faith in God. Letters and diaries were kept so we have true insight into the thoughts of these men and women, and know firsthand how their belief in God never wavered, regardless of the hell they were experiencing. Look at this (and the spellings/punctuation are as they are found in the original diaries):
“Their feet were greatly bruised, and so swollen that they had literally burst open, and were bleeding so much, that the fragments of blankets with which they were bound up, were saturated with blood. But a merciful God assisted them in a wonderful manner; and after struggling all day, they reached the top, where they encamped.”
“…may God relieve us all from this difficulty if it his Holy will Amen”
“Calm but a little air from the North verey pleasant to day Sun Shining brilliantly renovates our spirits prais be to God, Amen”
“Wind about S.E all in good health thanks be to God for his Mercies endureth for ever…”
Look at this! They thanked God for his mercy even after their feet had burst open and were bleeding profusely. They asked to be relieved from this terrible situation BUT only if it was God’s will. They had been suffering for months and were starving but praised God for a sunny day. Their bodies were broken down and emaciated, yet they still thanked God for their ‘good health’ because they hadn’t succumbed to death yet.
Wow. So many of us face things in our lives that are very much less than what these people endured. They lost family members, children, they starved, they lived in make-shift cabins under 20’ drifts of snow so that they were basically buried alive, etc. yet their faith never diminished. They still thanked God for what they had and asked this HIS will be done, not theirs.
This humbles me more than I can say. After hubby 3 left me, I asked God over and over again “Why? “and I wondered if he even cared about me anymore. In the midst of the abuse with Sarge, I asked God why HE was doing this to me. How HE could allow one of his children to go through such an awful situation. And now, as I’m trying to recover and heal, it’s still about asking God, selfishly, to remove my ache and burdens quickly. As if I’m the one calling the shots and don’t have the faith that He’ll do what is right for me.
Really? Is my faith so weak that I question it whenever something bad happens? And what I call bad is all a matter of perspective. Yes, I’m in pain, and I’m not minimizing the pain all of us are in. Not by any means. But when my nephew was killed in August, and I saw the pain on my sister-in-laws face, I never had seen such hopelessness and grief to that magnitude in my life. And I realized, no matter what I was facing, I had my son and family and friends and that was blessing enough in my life. How I’m sure my sis wished she could change places with me in a heartbeat. I’ll heal. I know I will. Yes, there will be scars, but I’ll be able to go on in my life with lessons learned. But guess what? Her son will never be back. She won’t walk on this earth another day of her life not thinking about him and missing him with all of her soul.
I think faith is easy during the ‘good’ times in our lives. It’s easy to thank God when things are going the way WE want them too. But, I think when things start to go badly, we almost ‘blame’ God and ask ‘Why me?’ And I guess the answer is ‘Why not?’ I know it’s a cliché, but life is hard…it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be fair. It’s not even going to be something we can understand. So we blame God, and our faith wavers because of it. Is that true faith then? To only have it solid during the good? How can that be real?
My son is a self-proclaimed atheist. I absolutely hate that term, and it breaks my heart everyday that he lost the belief he had when he was younger. My son went to parochial schools because I wanted him exposed to religion early and to be in an environment where he could express his faith freely. I remember him beaming on the day he was baptized, and the first little book he read all the way through to me was a children’s Bible he had received as a baby. At one point in his childhood, his dad and I would tease that our son would become a pastor because he was so pious! I don’t know what happened. His faith left him around the same time his dad and I divorced and I fear it was because of this he stopped believing in God. He denies this, and says he just ‘grew up and realized the fairy tale of it all.’ He asks me how I can believe in something I can’t see. Can’t hear. Can’t touch. Can’t feel. And what he doesn’t, or can’t, understand is that I can do all of those. I see a rainbow or a gorgeous butterfly and I see God. I hear him in the music of a tide and can feel him as I rub my cheek against the face of a newborn.
I think my son wants God to prove himself. But here’s the thing. If I have to PROVE to my son that I love him, I would be offended. Because what level of proof would be necessary and how can he not feel and have ‘faith’ that what I say to him is true? I don’t want to prove it to him. He needs to accept it. And believe in it. And know that no matter what, I’m here for him. No matter what, my love will never waver. That’s faith.
When justifying their disbelief in God, people will say this to me: “If there is a God, why does he allow for childhood cancer? Why do good people get killed? How could he let the holocaust happen?” And to be honest, I don’t know. There is absolutely nothing I can think of that could justify any of these things. Nothing. And those things make me angry. And to be very honest, disappointed that my God WOULD allow such things to happen. But that doesn’t kill my faith. I have to have FAITH in God that his plan is the right plan. Faith. No matter what.
This is what I know: faith can be a very difficult thing to sustain during the bad in our lives. And for me, despite other losses I’ve encountered, recovering from narc abuse has been the hardest for me to endure. I’ve tried so very hard to keep my faith strong and to thank God for all he has blessed me with. But, I’m human. And at times I lash out at Him, and ask how he could allow this to be done to me. How he could allow it for any one of us. I have to believe though, that God is in control. That there’s a reason for this. A reason for everything. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. I don’t want it to happen. But real faith isn’t dependent on my own issues and situation. It’s dependent on my confidence there’s a God who is in control and needs me to give myself in to that control. I have to have faith he knows exactly what he’s doing. I need to sit on that chair, no matter how scared I am, and allow him to carry me over the abyss.