There is a part of me that is very carefree, that doesn't mind winging it, that's ok with the mystery of unanswered questions. This part of my persona is totally fine with relying on my intuition, gut feelings, and faith to address lingering issues. For example, it has never been a huge struggle for me to accept the existence of God. I know very scientific types that have a hard time with this because they need to understand all of it: the hows and whys. For me, I prefer the perplexity of the deity. If I could wrap my little mind all the way around his being, then I think it would diminish the awesomeness of it. I love that he is the beginning and the the end, that he has always existed, that he knows all things, and in him all things hold together. I love to try to think about those things, and I love that they are beyond my comprehension. I love that there is a God whose very existence completely blows my mind!
Conversely, there are times I ask questions and seek answers. In this kind of seeking, a complete paradox in my personality emerges: I find myself very analytical, a perfectionist, and in need of concrete, tangible proof. Sometimes I just want it all spelled out for me in plain letters, numbered in steps 1, 2, and 3. At times, God has humored my "need" by quite literally spelling it out, usually in the form of the word, a post, a book, or website that came across my path. But I think that most of the time, what he really wants is for us to feel our way out through our faith. I'm pretty sure of it actually. When I think back to those Israelites wandering in the desert, I think that there is more that I can learn. I think that perhaps the best tool for navigating the wilderness is faith.
Don't Choose Certainty Over Faith
So, God did all kinds of crazy miracles for the Children of Israel when leading them out of Egypt. For one thing, he parted the Red Sea and let them escape Pharaoh's army. Then he sent the waves crashing down on their enemies and annihilated them. That's pretty awesome! Then he sustained them by sending their breakfast down from heaven everyday for 40 years...equally awesome! He protected them from their enemies and made their water drinkable, even once by making it come out of a rock. He did all of this while manifesting himself to them both day and night through a cloud and a pillar of fire. So why did they continually doubt?
They lacked faith. They did believe in God, but they just didn't believe he would do what he promised...lead them into a land that they couldn't even imagine. There was even a time that they longed to go back into slavery in Egypt because at least they had better food there. They knew what Egypt was like, and even though it wasn't desirable, they preferred it over the ambiguity of the journey.
It's easy for me to be critical of those kids when I read their story from a third person perspective, but if I am really honest, I'm not much better. I know that God exists, and better than that, I've felt the nearness of his presence and seen his hands at work in my life. God is with me, of that I am certain. But when he asks to me to follow him to my future or trust him with something I'm not equipped to navigate alone, its another story because I have this undeniable need for certainty. Shauna Niequist describes faith in Bittersweet by saying:
"I believe that faith is less like following a GPS through a precise grid of city blocks and more like being out at sea: a tricky journey, nonlinear and winding, the wind kicking up and then stalling out."
I like my GPS. I like that I can zoom out and see the whole route neatly highlighted on the map with turn-by-turn directions the whole way. The sea or the wilderness is unpredictable, and I don't like surprises.
I used to think that faith meant that if you believed something really hard, it would happen. If it didn't happen, you must not be believing it hard enough, and there must have been some doubt that crept in. I don't always think that is the case though. The opposite of faith is not doubt, it's certainty.
For the most part, we would all rather be certain. I read this study in which participants would rather definitely receive a shock now, than maybe receive one later. The actual shock is less stressful than wondering if/when a shock will come. There is something that social scientists call "irreducible uncertainty" and it has been directly linked with high levels of stress and anxiety. When faced with an unpredictable circumstance, the brain releases hormones, namely dopamine. This process is foundation of the fight or flight response. Marc Lewis, neuroscientist and addiction expert explains:
"The dopamine system has become famous because of its role in addiction. We know that addicts have a hard time resisting temptation because drug-related cues send dopamine geysering up to the striatum, a deep (and relatively primitive) brain structure often labelled the “reward centre”. But the striatum isn’t just about reward. More accurately, it’s an action centre. It not only propels behaviour toward positive outcomes like getting high; it also propels behaviour away from negative outcomes – punishments and aversive consequences. That geyser of dopamine activates the striatum just as much whether good news or bad news is coming your way... the striatum has developed an additional talent. It not only anticipates good and bad consequences; it also performs a unique mathematical feat: it predicts the odds of those consequences. And it chimes most loudly, most urgently, when those odds approach 50%."
I am kind of a neuroscience nerd, but I find it so interesting that our physical bodies are hardwired to so vehemently reject uncertainty and thus work against the nature of faith. But if you have taken the first step of faith towards salvation, then you know that we are to take on a new nature, a spiritual one. Like the Children of Israel, I totally trusted that God would save me, but then why is it so hard to believe in the plan, the stuff that happens after the saving, the keeping? Why is it so hard to believe in things that are out of my control like healing? I don't know about you, but when I can't see my next steps, my dopamine levels start to rise, along with my anxiety. There have even been times I've said, "Just give me the "shock" of "Egypt" now. I can't take the uncertainty! At least I know what that feels like." So, to avoid uneasiness, we sacrifice our dreams for slavery by choosing what is certain. We settle.
I can tell you from experience, while having faith during uncertainty is a little uncomfortable, settling for less than your promise is certainly the most miserable place on earth. I've learned that surviving will never take the place of living. The ok things will never be a substitute for the very best things. Here are a few things that have helped me with this whole faith thing, steps if you will, that are helping me navigate the wilderness to my land of milk and honey:
1. Close your eyes!
Number one rule of faith: stop looking only at your circumstance. Faith is all about what we don't see, the assurance of it! Peter walked on the water with Jesus, and only started to sink when he started looking at the wind instead of the Creator of the wind. Stop looking at this one moment or this season. Close your eyes, and imagine what it could be like! Close your eyes, and start to dream of what will be!
2. Open you ears!
The Bible says, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." I always know that when I start feeling really antsy, impatient, and weak that I need to go back to the source of faith. Stories are like food for faith. The Bible is full of stories that inspire it...Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, JESUS! Read and relate. Times may have changed, but people and their nature have not changed. I can assure you of that.
Find a good church where the pastor preaches the word in a way that keeps your attention and sheds light on things you have had a hard time comprehending. I am so thankful to have found all of the above!
3. Open your mouth!
When you share your testimony or your story, you build faith in others and in yourself. You never know what you have been through that someone else is going through right now. Your survival story is powerful! If you made it through that ugly divorce, if your heart is healing from the loss of someone close to you, if you have found a way to with debilitating anxiety, if you have been delivered from that addiction, or if you have been healed of that disease then it gives me hope that I can too. And sometimes retelling our stories reminds us of the goodness we have experienced and renews our strength for the next stretch of road that lies before us.
I wouldn't say that I am out of the woods yet (pun intended), but I have picked up a few new tools that have made the journey a little smoother. Faith is my compass, and even though I can't yet see my promise through the trees, I will rely on it to get me there just the same!
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
2 Corinthians 5:7 For we live by faith, not by sight.
Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Hey! My name is Andrea. I'm a teacher by day in a small Texas town, but in every other aspect of my life, I consider myself a learner. This blog is about life: learning through experiences, sharing through stories, and growing through faith.