Faith Like An Ocean
written by regular contributor, douglas humphries
Faith has always been a part of my life.
Central to who I am and how I define myself. But it wasn’t until recently that I learned I didn’t fully understand it.
I’ve come to realize that these moments always show up. When we think we really understand a thing, it’s usually then that it surprises us. It’s a good sign, though; it means we are moving further up and further in.
Let me preface all of this by saying that I believe faith is multilayered and multifaceted, that my story is not necessarily anyone else’s, and that where you might find yourself in your own journey is no more or less valuable than where I have found myself.
It may be that I am further in. If so, I am ardently turning back to show people what’s ahead. It may be that I am behind and only just learning what you already know. If so, I beg your indulgence; I am only a student myself. It may be that I am on a parallel path entirely.
If so, how wonderful that we could exchange notes like this.
For my experience, “Faith” was defined as holding on to certain truths in the face of doubt or uncertainty. When you didn’t know how things would turn out, faith meant you could believe that God was good even if nothing else was. And this works, up to a point.
But it occurred to me recently that this is not all there is to faith.
I believe that this is a part of faith, but, in the kind of faith communities I have lived in for most of my life, what this turns into, in practice, is having all the right answers.
In the face of pain, suffering, doubt, depression, anxiety, you always know the truth, you always have the answer. And if that answer ever feels unsatisfactory, well, there must be something wrong with you. You must not have enough faith, because that’s all you should need.
God can’t fail, so it must be you.
But what if it’s not either? What if you’ve simply come to the end of your answers?
This, I am learning, is faith, a deeper, harder kind, but one that allows us to grow. Because if you have all the right answers, why would you ever need to learn new ones? It’s only in meeting something that we don’t have an answer for that we can grow and learn, and this applies just as much to our faith, or our understanding of faith, as anything else.
Faith isn’t what happens when we have all the answers. If we did, we wouldn’t need faith.
Faith is what we need when we reach the end of our knowledge.
And I’m starting to realize far too little of my church experience prepared me for this realization. But I know why. Most of the churches I’ve been a part of are focused on having the right answers, not finding them. Faith, for them, is very much about holding on to what you believe when it’s hard, and that’s a part of faith, but it’s not the core.
It’s faith, on paper, but the real, hard, precious stone faith shows up when you can’t hold on anymore.
If you have all the answers, life naturally becomes a very predictable thing. You have the tools; there shouldn’t be anything you can’t handle. So, when you meet the thing you can’t handle, you either ignore it or you despair, wondering where you went wrong. That kind of faith says life should be smooth sailing so long as you don’t mess up.
Reality, we know, is not so easy. Doubts come, things that challenge our faith, in God, ourselves, or others, and it would be wrong to say every moment is our fault. The world is hard; life is hard. You can do things right and still meet difficulty. But we know that difficulty is a teacher.
We get better by being challenged, not by constantly meeting lessons we’ve already mastered. More than that, the idea that we can master faith like arithmetic takes something out of the experience. It’s a faith robbed of some of its life.
Faith is not a ship sailing smooth seas. It is the ocean.
It is wider and deeper and, at a certain point, you have to let yourself be swept up in it.
Faith isn’t denial of doubt. Faith is embracing doubt, recognizing it exists, and choosing to the do the best you can in spite or, perhaps, very much because of it.
And, if life lately is any indicator, I think we’re going to need that kind of faith. I know I am.
Like I said, this is my journey. It may not be yours. Or it might very well be. In which case, I hope you know it’s okay not to know. When you are at the place where you no longer know, that’s when faith shows up. When you have reached the edge of your understanding, that’s when you must leap. And learn how to fly.
Douglas Humphries is a full-time creative, part-time vagabond. Words have always been his primary creative interest, but, in large part thanks to #createlounge, he's learning to pursue the multifaceted nature of his own creativity and help others pursue their own. He's a NaNoWriMo enthusiast and recently self-published a memoir about the Book of Jeremiah called Fire In My Bones. But, if you’re really good, he might tell you more about his Harry Potter fan-fiction novel.