A few years ago, I almost lost my faith.
Seems I never had a strong hold on faith to begin with, despite all those mornings I showed up regularly for Sunday school and worship services. I just didn’t realize how weak it was until my family faced a series of crises. As our trials dragged on for year after year, stress and grief consumed me and left me wondering where God was, and if he really cared for us.
I don’t mean to suggest that what my family experienced was anything unusual or special; at some time in life, everyone suffers when a loved one dies, or when there’s a traumatic injury or illness. Job loss and broken relationships are ordeals for anyone who experiences them. Being human means encountering pain.
But sometimes, suffering can go on for so long, or run so deep, that faith begins to falter. We can be desperate for God’s presence, but in our confusion and fatigue, we don’t know how to find him. We long to hear a word from him, but we’re surrounded by chaos, and there’s no quiet place to retreat and listen for his voice. That’s when some of us wear out, give out, and give up. We decide, in our despair and anguish, that either God doesn’t care, or he isn’t even there at all.
Sadly, that’s what I decided.
I decided that God did not care for me even though I had attended church for years. I started wondering if he was real although I often read books about spirituality and religion, and I had several Bible translations sitting on my bookshelves. I doubted him although I’d sung in the choir and taught children’s classes, although I’d joined prayer groups and women’s circles and completed Bible study courses. I’d done all the standard things we think characterize a life of faith and trust in God—but none of them made a difference when my life imploded, because my faith, as it turned out, was green and untried, as weightless as air, as fleeting as a breath, as insubstantial as smoke.
When my mother died and my father became ill; when my husband lost his job; when I shattered my shoulder and couldn’t work for months, I called out to God for help, and I thought I received nothing but silence. “Why?” I demanded of him, deeply hurt, at first, by my loss, but later, bitter and angry that God would take so much away. I couldn’t see any hope. Sad and sick at heart, I finally turned my back, ready to walk away. I was finished, I told myself, with this false and misleading thing, this ridiculous hope, this lie called faith.
But here is the good news: God didn’t let me go. He didn’t let me walk away, anymore than he lets any of his broken, lonely, sad, hurting children go when they honestly seek him. God sends Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to find his sheep and bring them home when they wander.
God called me back to faith in a hundred ordinary little ways: through a friend’s loving words; an encouraging phone call; a timely note or card in the mail. He opened my eyes to see and appreciate his myriad daily gifts: the freshness in the air after rain blows through; a wren’s nest, built in an old motorcycle helmet atop a pile of trash; the sweet, gritty taste of pears; the deep shade in a grove of pecan trees; the cool, damp feel of morning fog; fat blackberries hanging from prickly vines; my son’s laugh; dark nights that helped me sleep; the sound of a rooster’s throaty wake-up call. God has given me a wake-up call through all these tender mercies and many more.
I’m not perfect. I still stumble and doubt and question, but I believe God is big enough to handle our questions, and I believe he understands and forgives our doubts and fears. He comforts us with the promise that no matter what, Jesus will wash away our sins and make our hearts as pure and clean as snow.
I went out looking for God, and thanks to his grace, I found him. Then again, it’s probably more accurate to say that he found me.
Now that I have faith back, I don’t want to lose it again. I want to be steadfast, sure, and confident that God is always at hand, no matter what my circumstances, because the Bible says that his nature is to be faithful. “If we are faithless (do not believe and are untrue to Him), He remains true (faithful to His word and His righteous character), for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13, Amplified). Or, as The Message translation says so perfectly, “If we give up on him, he does not give up—for there’s no way he can be false to himself.”
When Peter, also called Simon, felt himself weakening, and shortly before he denied Jesus three times in a single night, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32, HCSB). It’s comforting to know that God lets us turn back, because he’s the God of second chances, or third or fourth chances, if that’s what it takes. Now that I’ve turned around, I’d like to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ by saying, hold on. God is real. He cares. Believe in him, and believe him.
The Scriptures tell us that a tiny mustard seed can grow into a plant strong and sturdy enough to shelter God’s weakest creatures. My prayer is that my faith, and yours, will grow strong enough to shelter our lives. May you always have the limitless hope, the lasting joy, and the perfect peace that comes from knowing God’s deep and abiding love.”
– from Mustard Seeds: Thoughts on the Nature of God and Faith (B&H Books, 2008), by Lynn Coulter. www.MustardSeedsBook.com