Making Your Faith Your Own

The movement from naïve optimism to cynicism is the new American journey.
Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life

broken glassThe day I understood my own cynicism was the day I first heard my son’s heartbeat.

It was late fall and sunny, and his heart beat quick and strong, like hummingbird wings.

I lay on that white-papered exam table, listening to static and sound – listening to my first baby for the first time, and it felt like relief and euphoria and first love all at once.

I heard that wild, beating heart, and I wanted more than anything to protect it from all of the sharp things in the world.

And all at once, it occurred to me that I had become one of those things – sharp and angry. Hardened and removed. I was sitting, arms crossed, at the edge of things, daring those Church People to impress me. I was looking at the world with narrowed eyes, and all I could see was the cracks.

Somewhere inside of me, there was a new person, flickering to life – soft and fragile, his tiny heart beating against my heart. And more than anything, I wanted to be well.

I wanted to be a soft place for him to land.

*

Here is what I know: our hearts get heavy with so many things. They turn into pendulums, swinging from one extreme to another.

We are wild for Jesus, on fire for the Lord, and then – swing –we are burned entirely out, and ash coats everything black.

We go from instant, simple belief to deep-rooted doubt, from t-shirt wearing certainty to sharp, corner-table critique. From Yes, Lord to Oh hell no.

One Big Thing happens to us or a lot of things happen, one after another. And then there’s this moment of stunning clarity, and we see that everything that we once thought was so entirely perfect is cracked to its deepest heart.

And listen: this is good.

This is such an important moment, and without it, we’d spend our whole lives swimming in some man-made lake instead of the Living Deep.

Maybe you had a moment at age thirteen, when you walked up to the big, last-night-of-the-week bonfire at Christian camp and “rededicated your life.” Maybe you saw something exciting and magnetic about faith and it drew you in, and you “made it your own.” And that’s part of it.

But the other part is found here, in that space when you see all the holes. When the darkness creeps like fog and covers everything up and you can barely see the Light anymore.

The moment when faith really “becomes your own” happens after you have seen the whole God thing for all of its uncertainty, all of its hardness, all of its pain and brokenness and hypocrisy…and choose it anyway.

*

Dane, my first baby, will be four in May, and he is tall and lanky. A kid. A little boy. He is skinning his knees and jumping on the couch and testing all the limits. He’s making me insane; he’s making me laugh-out-loud happy.

His heart beats wild and kind inside of him, and I don’t hear it any more. But I see it every day.

This morning, his younger brother, Liam, woke up crying (he is cutting those two-year-old molars; he is inconsolable in his pain). We piled tired on the couch, all three of us, and Dane leaned over and said, “It’s okay Liam. God is here! He’s everywhere, even though we can’t see him!”

And it occurred to me that somewhere along the line, I started believing that again. That I started saying it aloud to him, speaking it sure and clear like Truth.

And I think it’s because one sunny, fall day, I heard the heart of God alongside the beating heart of my baby, and I started on the journey back home.

I thought the mad season would last forever. I didn’t think I would ever start really believing again. I thought that it would always feel hard and a little bit forced. I felt like it would always wear me out, this act of moving forward in imperfect, resigned faith.

But sometimes all it takes is a decision: I want to get well. Sometimes all it takes is one tentative arm, reaching to touch the edge of the holy.

And usually, it comes slow. Usually the miracle is not instant but a simmering Something beneath the surface of your heart.

It’s not a light-switch that you can just flick on and forget about. It’s another Sunday that you get up, and you don’t want to go to that dang church, but you go anyway. It’s a Sunday that you stay home in your sweats with your mug of coffee, and you open a book about faith instead of the Bible itself…because you’re not ready yet.

It’s one more angry rant over margaritas, and then it’s picking your tired, cranky heart up and walking a few more tentative steps.

Maybe you don’t even see it happening until one day, four years later, you get quiet. You expect to hear the cynic voice in your head, and instead you hear something else entirely. Something old and familiar. And you could almost cry because it’s been so long since it’s been loud enough to drown out your snark.

But there it is: unmistakable. Beautiful.

It sounds like faith and hope. It sounds, most of all, like Love.

42 thoughts on “Making Your Faith Your Own

  1. Addie,
    I’m so encouraged by your honesty and journey. After a night in with a dear friend on friday spent confessing our doubts and hurt and heartache I was almost annoyed to see hope poking in for the rest of the weekend! Sometimes I feel I’m not ready, that I want to wallow in my doubt and hurt just a bit longer until I’ve sorted how faith can be legit and worth relaxing into again. And yet, bits of belief, forgotten small joys start washing over my hurt like the beginning of the tide coming in over sandy toes, and before long I’m up to my ankles at the edge of the ocean of grace.
    I’m not sure I’m ready to swim yet, but I’m thankful that grace has rhythms that sync with my weary heart.
    Thanks for reminding me I’m not alone, for letting your love spill out onto sweet boys and into your writing here. It’s a beautiful gift!

    1. Thanks so much Julianne. I get that feeling of “wanting to wallow a little bit longer.” And actually, I think it’s a kind of important part of the process…all that ranting and raving and figuring it out. I think you know when you’re done. When it stops feeling cathartic and helpful and starts feeling icky. I think you can feel it turn. At least that’s how it went for me.

      And then you can make that hard, brave decision to take a deep breath and dive in. But for now, I think you’re doing just beautifully. Love the way you talk about how “grace has rhythms that sync with my weary heart.” Thanks for sharing here and for the kind words.

    1. Thanks so much Kirsten. It was a helpful image for me too — the pendulum. It helped me to understand this tendency we have to move from extreme to extreme instead of just taking a few steps back into a healthy middle.

  2. Thank you for this. I love this line:
    “The moment when faith really “becomes your own” happens after you have seen the whole God thing for all of its uncertainty, all of its hardness, all of its pain and brokenness and hypocrisy…and choose it anyway.”
    I am on my own journey of trying to find hope in the midst of cynicism. My fear is that cynicism overshadows my hope, and so I am trying to hold them both for what they are worth, for what they can teach me. I am trying to find space for the things that seem so hopeless yet still find reasons to continue and persevere in hope.

    1. Love this Jenna: “I am trying to hold them both for what they are worth, for what they can teach me.” Yes. Beautiful. Thanks so much.

  3. Tears. Yet again you’ve left me undone, friend. Grateful for you and your wisdom and your encouragement. Knowing you’ve walked this road gives me such hope.

  4. Love this. Love seeing glimpses of this journey in your writing. I love that you express the costliness of belief, the determination of decision.

    I especially love that once again I recognise myself in your words. For me, the cynicism and the desire to not be came all in a rush- dealing with my sudden deterioration in health and new-found disability at the same time as having a brand new baby. I wanted to rail and run but also sing songs of God’s goodness over my boy. His dedication service was HUGE for me. 3 months old, and I was publicly renouncing my sulk. Whilst not admitting to my sulk. Needless to say, I choked up at the vows – but I promised them, I promised again, I put those steps forward.

    (But keep drinking those margaritas anyway, yes? ) 🙂

    1. “I wanted to rail and run but also sing songs of God’s goodness over my boy.” – oh, yes, I so know THIS feeling. Those babies. They shed a different light on everything, don’t they.

      (And totally margaritas still. Just…you know…normal sized ones now. Less of the ones that were the size of my head.)

  5. Addie, what I love about your writing is the sense of redemption you bring to things that I used to find valuable but have since thrown away. I hear a lot of voices from those who have shaken off some similar things that I have, but they seem to be very much at home in their new place. But even though I think my old faith is ill-fitting, I do miss the beautiful things about it. “You expect to hear the cynic voice in your head, and instead you hear something else entirely. Something old and familiar. And you could almost cry because it’s been so long since it’s been loud enough to drown out your snark.” So hopeful and wonderful.

    1. This comment is so meaningful to me, Janice, because this is the heart of what I want for this space.

      It’s so easy just to trash the whole, broken, mangled thing. But also, I know that there’s beauty and Truth here weighed down under all this baggage. I want to do the work of digging through, finding what’s worth keeping, and then I want to hold onto those pieces for dear life.

      Thanks so much.

      1. Well, it’s working. I’ve started to have this longing around the idea of redemption. And I read a lot of blogs that confirm that my cynicism isn’t crazy but even though they leave me reassured, there’s nothing about that cynicism that makes me think, “Ah yes, THIS is what God wants life to be.” What I need are the glimpses like this post. The glimpses of the fact that even though so much is broken inside and outside of us, God is in the process of redeeming it. Not destroying it or fixing it, but redeeming it. Ok, I’m not explaining this well. But just know that I see that redemption that I’m looking for in your writing. 🙂

        (Here’s an old blog post of mine that might explain better. Sorta. http://inthetangles.blogspot.com/2012/04/moon.html)

  6. I’ve tried but just can’t articulate what I want to say right now. Just know that am right there too in the things you write about (except my ‘tinies’ are 20 years older!)
    Am thankful for your honest, beautiful heart in this moment

  7. I love this post! Thanks for sharing.

    I have definitely gone through phases where I think God was testing me to see if I would remain faithful. I felt like I was praying to a brick wall.

    Then one day I busted through that wall and felt a flood of grace and love, and it was amazing.

  8. So well put. Especially the light switch bit. That’s true. It’s hard when there’s no fire burning. It’s a slow walk to Jesus for those of us whose knees ache from all the sprinting we did back in the day. 🙂 Thanks for posting.

    1. I love how you put this Sarah: “It’s a slow walk to Jesus for those of us whose knees ache from all the sprinting we did back in the day.” Yes. Exactly.

  9. I’ve been wishing for a while now, that the anger and cynism would go away or at least fade. Then I find myself reading comments from Christians ranting against homosexuality or the preseident. The anger just wells up again and all I can say to myself is, “God I can’t stand these people! I can’t stand freaking Christians!” But I’m one of them. No not one that rants against homosexuals or people who want take away my second amendement rights. I am a Christian. Those are my people. I’ve been talking shit about them for several years and it feels like I’ve been doing it about a family member behind their back. I’m tired. “The church is a whore but she is my mother”, St. Augustine said. And I’ve been telling everyone about what a harlot she has been. It’s gotten old and I just want to heal and have peace.

    1. Yes, I remember feeling that exact same way. I think there’s a time when it’s necessary to the healing. Not so much the gossip piece, but the anger. The frustration. The realization that the things that Christians often do in the name of Christ aren’t really reflective of God’s love at all. I think the anger resulting from this realization is normal and essential to growth.

      But, yes, I also had that moment where I felt like, “enough.” At some point, it no longer feels helpful. It feels icky. And when that happens, it’s time to turn around and start rebuilding.

  10. Addie, this post is gorgeous and amazing. You find your way to the nuances that we can’t quite name or see, and they trip us up for years. Thanks for saying it for the rest of us!

  11. Addie, reading your blog helps me to be more ‘okay’ with my cynical heart. Having been ‘on fire’ for God, and then sinking into doubts and frustrations with God and church, it is hard to know how to reconcile this stuff. It just feels so painful, and there are times that I find myself without hope. I sometimes fear that I will always sense some kind of disconnect with other Christians – that I will never be the manufactured shiny Christian I feel church culture expects me to be.

    But reading your words makes my heart swell up with hope. I don’t know how on earth I will find reconciliation with all of this, but I believe that I will one day. Thank you for all that you do. Your honesty is so healing.

    1. I’m so glad that it gave you some little bit of peace. I know what it’s like to feel like this will always feel hard and a little bit forced. But I also know that somehow, miraculously, I have found my way to another shore. I guess this is my way of saying, don’t give up. Keep doing the hard work of working through the pain and the anger and the disappointment. Someday. Someday.

  12. This is beautiful. Someday I’ll find that place. Today’s another day where church is a place for tears and hungry hurts, and no courage to look God in the face. This helps.

    1. I know. I so know. Glad this offers a little flicker of light in the midst of all that is so hard.

  13. Wow. I just recently started following you and haven’t commented yet, though I’ve appreciated your posts SO much. But just yesterday I had this realization that I was rediscovering my Christianity. Not that I’d left the church or anything – I’m too much the people pleaser to hurt my mom like that. But the in my mind I was in a far country. And I’ve just realized I’m being led back, partly through reading bloggers – like you – of such aching honesty. I don’t think I’ll arrive at the same place I was before, but I think that in the words of John Donne, I’m learning to “doubt wisely” and to experience peace. Again, thank you for articulating this so beautifully.

    1. I love that John Donne phrase. I’d never heard it before. “Doubt wisely.” And yes — it is good to work through the pain and arrive at a some new place you never knew existed. Thanks for commenting.

  14. This has given me hope, Addie- as did your memoir. Thank you so much for sharing something so real and so vulnerable. It feels like I am alone in darkness, but your words give me hope that even if I am not just “reading my bible everyday” that God is still redeemer, still cares about me, and still wants me to cry out for healing and to cry out in my brokenness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

^
Back To Top