Have you ever had one of those days? Of course you have – we all have. What I should have asked was: Have you ever had one of those days that drained you to the point of exhaustion and made you examine your systems and strategies for coping with struggle and hardship? Today was one of those days for me.
There were several photos I was looking at as possible shots for the weekly challenge “Waiting”. After the emotional demands of today, I decided that a self-portrait would be the best illustration of this challenge as it pertains to my life and where I am right now. Today. At this very moment. Today I’m waiting. Waiting for strength. Waiting for courage. Waiting for freedom from the worries and struggles that are trying to rob me of all the things that get me through. It’s down to the wire and even though I’ve been in tighter spots and tougher situations, today I’m not sure exactly what I’m made of. I guess we’re getting ready to find out. Yesterday I was trying to be a rock and comfort to others – offering support and understanding, trying to be generous with whatever I could give. Today I’m having a difficult time finding any comfort for myself and my generous spirit seems to have left the building. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t the human condition a fragile, fickle thing? Did I always know it was this way, or does it take struggle and hardship to bring it into the spotlight? It’s amazing to me that 24 hours can create such a change in attitude and even more amazing, and disheartening, that I’m weak (and human) enough to let it.
I say that I’m a Christ-follower- a Christian – and I believe God takes care of me and provides for my needs. Since losing my job it has actually been affirmed again and again. Why was it easier on those days, when money was tight and the deluge of bills pouring in threatened to drown us? When unexpected costs were popping up every other day – I easily got through. When we thought we were losing our health insurance and worried about pre-existing medical conditions – I took a deep breath and kept my smile in place because I knew it would work out… Was I just stronger on those days? Somehow able to go on without feeling a sense of worry, without waging war within myself trying to determine what ‘luxury’ we could cut from our lives if necessary? Or is it possible that I waver like a fair-weather friend – extremely close the day that things are bad and I’m in need and then drifting distantly away the next because life is good…? The one who is inconsistent in their faith… claiming it when it suits or benefits them. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m the second.
Years ago I read a book by Donald Miller called Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (which I recommend to anyone). I think my brother gave it to me, and having a lot of respect for him and sharing similar tastes in books and movies I knew I would probably enjoy the read. In the first chapter Miller discusses the evolution of his thoughts on God and when the shift in his perception occurred. He refers to one of his earliest views as a “slot-machine God”. If things were going well in life he thought it was God’s work, but if things got rough he got on his knees to pray, thereby ‘pulling the lever’ on his spiritual slot-machine hoping he’d hit the jackpot and earn a bunch of tokens of ‘good fate’. He described what he was doing as “more in line with superstition than spirituality”. It’s easy to like a God like that. One that you don’t have to be involved with on any level other than the superficial. Kind of like having a private Santa Claus to give you treats when you’re nice.
After things got so stressful today my mind went back to the way I felt the first time I read that chapter and realized I had also been guilty of playing the slots when it came to faith and spirituality. It’s easier to talk the talk than to walk it every day. Most of the time I think I manage fairly well… but some days – today included – I am a miserable failure. Faith is difficult. It requires so much up front without the assurance of being able to hold something in our hands as a tangible thing. Reaching out with finite understanding for something that doesn’t fit into those terms – that was never meant to. I feel like Peter in the bible story (Matthew 14:22-33) when Jesus told him to step out of the boat and walk with him on the water. At first Peter was okay, but after a few steps he was overcome with fear and doubt and began to sink. On any given day I think I’d be capable of walking out on the water without a life jacket, leaving the ship behind me trusting everything will be okay – no looking back. On others, I flail about miserably afraid and confused as to why I’m drowning, waiting for the Lord to place me back in the boat so I can try out faith again… Neither is an ideal scenario because the first means I am perpetually waiting for a reason to step out of the boat instead of living that way every day. Scarcely scratching the surface of what I could do or who I could be because I’m anchored to my ship. The second scenario, when I find myself drowning, isn’t great because it means that fear got the best of me.
Why is faith so hard? I don’t really have an answer for that, but I’ve always heard it is supposed to move and change us. Always beckoning us from where we are to where we’re supposed to be. If that didn’t require any strength or courage or effort, would it still be faith? I kinda doubt it. Because, in a way, I think it’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to require something of each of us. It is, after all, confidence or belief in something that is not based on proof… In order to learn that we have to accept that it isn’t something we can study or research and just find, never to lose it again… Faith is something we acquire as we move through struggles and pain, hardships that make us reach out seeking comfort or support, guidance and wisdom. Each trial in life has the potential to either strengthen our faith in whatever we believe, or call into question what we have based those beliefs on. It is up to each of us to determine our course and actions – actions that are much more revealing than words ever will be.
So. Today was a battle. Even though I’m waiting for the inner turmoil to quieten and still, I know it eventually will. My husband and I will be okay and we’ll make it through this part of life just like we have so many others. Our actions will match our words as we walk in faith and let go of the side of the boat – no looking back…