Rector's Blog: When You Have Enough Faith
This blog is also available as a podcast
What does it even mean to have faith?
I finished my blog/podcast last week by asking the question, “What if you actually have enough faith right now?” because it’s my experience that people who believe faith is important generally don’t think they have enough of it. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you enter a conversation about faith with the assumption that you are lacking, insufficient, incompetent in faith. So, I asked then and I’ll ask now: What if you have enough faith right now, today? But, for you to even be able to imagine that you have enough faith right now, you need to understand what faith is. When you say you don’t feel like you have enough, what is it exactly you think you don’t have enough of? What do you think you’re missing?
I know what I think I’m missing.
I feel like I’m missing some deep sense of certainty. I mentioned this last week, as I opined about how I wish God had given us more certainty. I expressed annoyance that faith, by definition, apparently requires uncertainty – otherwise it wouldn’t be faith. When I was writing that I was thinking mostly about my frustration with God for not making things more obvious.
And, hey, it’s all well and good to blame God for things. But I often find that when I am blaming others or feeling resentful, I’m really just deflecting feelings about my own shortcomings. And I probably do that with God. So today I want to give God a break and turn attention toward myself and my own faith inferiority complex. Which is to say, somehow when the conversation comes to faith, I think I can be doing better. But I don’t really know what better looks like.
Maybe you experience this: the feeling that somehow, you’re supposed to be doing something you’re not, or you’re supposed to be “better” at something without actually knowing what “better” is. That nebulous ideal, better.
When it comes to faith, there’s this idea that you’re supposed to be more of something or be better at believing the right thing. Now, I’m all for growth and maturity. I want to feel like I’m deepening my relationship with God, that I’m not static. I want to feel like there’s some progress. And that’s fine. But it occurs to me that when I think like this, faith just becomes another thing on my self-improvement list, along with making more money and losing more weight. And faith in God is not about your self-improvement.
What is it then? What is faith? And how do I know if I have it?
Let me tell you my favorite story about faith.
I apologize for being cliché, but it’s from the Bible. And it’s a story you’ve probably heard about a man named Jacob. The story goes that, during a time of great uncertainty, when Jacob is actively fearing for his life and not sure he’ll live to see another day, he spends the night alone. And while alone, an unidentified man shows up and the two begin to wrestle. They wrestle all night. It sounds exhausting, and it doesn’t make sense: There’s not even a witness to impress. But they wrestle all night until it’s nearly dawn. As the sun is coming up, the man decides he’s had enough of this struggle, and with one deft move he whacks Jacob in the leg and hobbles his opponent for life.
In that moment, of course, it becomes clear that the man could’ve won all along, but he stayed in the struggle, and we don’t know why. But what’s even more fascinating is that Jacob doesn’t let go. He keeps the fight going after he’s lost. The almighty wrestler finally implores Jacob to, “Let me go.” But Jacob responds, “I will not let go until you bless me.”
I will not let go until you bless me. Maybe my favorite line in the whole Bible.
And the blessing the man gives is to rename Jacob Israel, which means “One who Wrestles with God.”
And some people read that story and think Jacob is wrestling with God. And some think Jacob is wrestling with an angel. And some think he is wrestling with his estranged brother. And some think he’s wrestling with himself. And while I have my own opinion, let’s say for a moment that he’s wrestling with all of these at once. Whoever, whichever, whatever it is – Jacob is relentless and impossible about one thing: his stubborn insistence on being blessed.
Throughout his life, Jacob is not portrayed as a particularly pious man. He is not seeking primarily to be the right kind of person. He isn’t obsessed with self-improvement. No, but every day Jacob has the audacity to act as if God’s blessing is for him.
And that’s faith.
Faith is not perfect belief, not certainty, not the right amount of prayer or worship: Faith is stubbornness. Faith is wrestling. Faith is the insistence that there is a place for you – that you belong in this big world. Faith is the decision not to let go, just for now, just for today. Faith is I will not let go until you bless me.
God has made a covenant of love and blessing with us, but we will not experience that love and blessing through flawless understanding or perfect attendance: We will know love and blessing through struggle and strife. We will know blessing when we stubbornly insist on the magnificent victory of love in our lives even when it’s dark and we’re alone and scared.
Can you be stubborn in love? Can you be impossible and unreasonable in your insistence that you belong? Can you choose audacity? Can you say I will not let go until you bless me? Then you have faith. So as to move mountains, you have faith – and plenty of it.
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