Faith is fragile, like fine china or the delicate bones of a tiny bird. Faith needs to be nurtured, held closely and gently. Hold faith too tight, squeeze faith too hard and it breaks, it dies. Mistreated, abused, and neglected faith will wither and bring bitterness.
We have a new minister for the first time in a bunch of years at First Presbyterian of Waco. Over the last months I have tried to move from attending rarely to attending irregularly, like every other week or something like that. On one of my more recent irregular visits the wise Leslie said something that caught my attention, she talked about having “our faith squeezed.”
I’m not sure I retained the deeper theological meaning of the phrase but the comment struck a nerve with me. It describes exactly how I feel about faith, faith in God, faith in myself, faith in others.
The phrase rings so true because the last years of life my faith in all things has been more than tested; my faith has been squeezed so tightly it can’t find a breath and comes close to being crushed under the grip of life.
Growing up I was lucky, things worked for me, most of the time. It’s easy to have faith, faith in yourself, faith in others, faith in God, when life comes easy. But, even as a somewhat charmed young fellow, I started hearing people talk about faith, God and religion in such a narrow way you could feel the very subtle squeeze, a pressure that felt like God was being squeezed out of my faith.
Then time, life experiences, real life adventures and foibles started to put the squeeze on my life. As you get older, as you become an adult and you miss out on that job, that partner, that love, your faith in all important things starts to get squeezed more and more. As you gain knowledge and understand things heretofore ignored or not understood, faith gets squeezed a little more. Then life really hits you and someone gets really sick and the vagaries of human life start to strangle your faith in everything.
In the days after Marty’s first stroke I could feel my entire life being squeezed. Doubts about what I wanted and doubts about what I believed were being pressed so hard against the wall of reality faith in God, faith in life itself, was squeezed so hard faith began to vanish. I couldn’t understand how I could be standing over this woman with the tubes running into her and this massive wound in her head. How could this happen to us, we had faith, we had confidence in ourselves and in our God? How could God reward our faith by ripping from Marty those things that were most important to her?
Over the ensuing days, weeks, months, through more surgery, through countless illnesses it didn’t get better. I did begin to get used to this new baseline, this new baseline where faith in all things important teeters on the edge of questioning and unbelief. Faith, believing was no longer easy, not something to be taken for granted.
Nothing magical has happened. I still struggle with faith, with faith in God, with faith in others, with confidence and faith in my own capabilities. Life has squeezed my faith really hard.
And then I see Marty.
She doesn’t necessarily restore my faith in God or push me to a new optimism. She restores my faith in living, simply living within one’s self, living with the difficulty of life, living with the faith and belief that we can and will continue.
She has faith, faith in me, faith in her caregivers, faith in her doctors, faith in a God. If she can have faith, and she was a doubter, if she can live her faith with life squeezing her so hard, with everything in life pushing her to doubt, to not believe, maybe I need to find some faith, some courage, on my own.
Every time one of us puts our arms under hers and pulls and lifts her to standing, she lives her faith. Every time we go to the doctor and she sits and listens to us talk about what we need to do, she lives her faith. Every time she takes another deep breath or her heart beats one more time she lives her faith and her faith grows.
Life squeezes us and makes us doubt. Sanctimony, intolerance and hate squeeze us, makes us doubt and drives us away from those things we cherish. Part of faith, part of life is overcoming, overcoming reality, overcoming the haters, overcoming ourselves.
Life squeezes, it can squeeze our faith until it’s hard to find, hard to hold on to it sometimes. I am amazed by Marty, she believes, I struggle.