Quite recently, over coffee, a friend I hadn’t seen in a while asked me a question I hadn’t heard in a while: “How is your faith journey?”
It was thrown out so casually that my first instinct was to give a generic church girl response then move on quickly to the next topic. Looking back, I feel ashamed. It was a loaded question, one so earnestly asked, that deserved way more than my petty nonchalance as if I had been asked to give her my thoughts on the weather. The truth is that I wish I had been more honest.
I’ve been thinking a lot about faithfulness lately, what it means and how it intersects with all the things that make me human. I was taught that faith is belief, an abstract force, a divine reverence, a spiritual sacrament. I was taught that faith in God is akin to an intuitive soul connection; this great intangible something that you carry in your heart. But slowly I’m realizing that that isn’t entirely true.
It started with the lights.
My roommate, Maggie, and I started stringing them around the banister last week — our way of ushering in the holiday spirit — when I decided to just give up and quit. The dexterity needed to twist them around and make them look pretty felt like too much of an effort. I collapsed on the sofa when Maggie pulled me back up and asked me to try again, insisting over and over that I could do hard things.
Being a notorious quitter is one of my more unfortunate qualities. But it is precisely during the times when my spirit feels most resigned that I’ve found myself thrown back into the ring by good people. They remind me to persevere and implore me to build up my backbone so that it doesn’t topple beneath the weight of life. They point me back to my own secret reservoir of courage and promise that I can rise up to anything, be it the complicated nature of Christmas lights or the mere complexity of this one wild life. This, I’m finding, is the true fidelity of love.
Because faithfulness, to God and each other, is not about religiosity. It’s not about how much we read the bible or how often we pray. It’s not about sentimentality either. Faithfulness is the continued choosing of each other. It is the commitment we make to climb back into the ring and stay in the fight even when we’re losing. Though everything else might concede to the swift tides of change, faithfulness is a desperate homage to permanence. It means mustering up the grit to continue binding ourselves to our commitments. And in a world that loves to lose faith so easily, to remain — onwards and upwards, for now and for always — can sometimes be the final act of rebellion.
As I re-strung the lights, more carefully this time, I thought about the different things I had been struggling with, things like work and my diet and certain relationships that were hellbent on reducing themselves to ashes. I thought about every terrible thing that could happen in this life and I wondered what the point of anything really was. By the end of the night, after all the setting up, we got to sit in the dark and watch our living room bathe in the soft glow of tinsel and warm lights. There was something magical about what we had put together despite all its simplicity. What I realize now in retrospect is that perhaps the payoff to remaining faithful to life, in not checking out just yet, is the chance to marvel at something forged straight from the depths of your heart. Perhaps we commit — to God and others and ourselves — because the journey, though imperfect, is better and richer that way than marching through it alone. Perhaps our faithfulness quells our loneliness and teaches us courage. It is the insistence of the heart that we can, indeed, do hard things.
And so now I’d like to finally answer honestly. To the girl with the earnest question, here’s my real response:
My faith journey is still very much alive. It is both good and bad; it is littered with doubt but it is, without question, ongoing. I am still in, still digging my heels in the soil of something larger than I can possibly understand. My faith journey remains in spite of myself. It is right here, right now, my fidelity to God and the mysteries of the divine still intact, glowing softly (and sometimes faintly), one of the only lights I can count when I’m lost in the dark.