In my church we have a tradition of inviting members to come to the pulpit and share their feelings about their faith.
Recently two women spoke back to back. The first was twelve years old. The second was grandmotherly.
Both women spoke in optimistic terms about their confidence that things tend to work out for the best for those who love God and try to live good, wholesome lives.
And yet they couldn’t have been more different.
The young girl was full of smiles and radiated confidence. She was just beginning to shed her childhood skin for the mysterious joy of adolescence. For her, the world was full of possibilities she could barely perceive, but knew instinctively would be glorious and fulfilling. She was strong and optimistic in her faith. She couldn’t wait for her future to begin.
It sort of broke your heart to see it. So sure, so strong, so innocently naive.
The next woman has lived in the congregation for years. She is well known, and well loved. But recently her husband died—cancer—and she now faces her remaining years without the support and strength of the man who had loved and cared for her for decades.
And yet there she stood, speaking in church for the first time after her final earthly farewell to her husband, talking about the relief of his final coma that saved him from the final pain. It was pretty quiet while she spoke.
Like the young woman who spoke first, she smiled, though it faltered a time or two. But she didn’t cry, and she expressed the same love and confidence in God that had been shared just a few minutes earlier.
It sort of broke your heart to see it. So graciously accepting, so vulnerable, so much at peace.
Both of these women possess the gift of faith, as do many of you. But as the years pass I’m convinced that faith is not a gift enjoyed by all.
In the New Testament, Paul talks about “the mystery of faith.” For some, faith is as natural as breathing. But for others, faith is a mystery that is never solved.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen those who possess the spiritual gift of faith sometimes look down their noses as those who don’t. This can cause rifts within couples and families. For those whose faith comes with simple ease, it is equally easy to be baffled by those who struggle to embrace the intangible. “You just have to try harder,” they say, with equal measures of encouragement and implied scolding.
In my experience, this approach doesn’t always work. I can play complicated guitar pieces with my eyes closed, but trigonometry reads to me like Chinese. Back in high school I actually managed to fail a class, despite truly trying, and despite a teacher who tried just as hard. You guessed it: trig. More than once the teacher said “I just don’t understand why you can’t get this.” He was being honest, but I was being me.
Religious leaders consistently preach that all can find faith in God by following basic steps. They offer their own lives as proof, as well as the lives of those who follow them.
And yet I’m not convinced that everyone will be able to cross the chasm of doubt to faith while in this life. Some of us are able to find the bridge. Others can’t, but I’m not sure they deserve criticism or dismissive judgment by the faithful if their eyes are not built to see what is so obvious to us. All of us are built differently. We all have great strengths and debilitating weaknesses.
In time, I have faith that a loving God will sort it all out. Meanwhile, a little understanding and compassion could be useful on both sides. But to the two women I heard in church the other day, I just want to say that I admire you both. Your faith inspired mine. In a callous and difficult world, there is room for both the faith born of optimism and confidence, and the faith born of patience and acceptance. Both are true. Both are beautiful. Both of you are blessed because of it, and bless others by possessing it.