In the hallway, on the day of a wedding, I confessed to a friend that I couldn’t feel my belief in God anymore. This friend of mine, I’ll call her J, had long brown hair, a wide smile with effortless white teeth and a bohemian calm about her. J had recently finished her counseling degree in the Northwest.
“Can I ask you for some free advice?” I asked. We sat on rickety metal chairs against a dirty white wall, waiting for the wedding preparations to begin. J’s long brown hair brushed down her face in ringlets. I’d watched her careful, sure hands wield a curling iron to those strands hours earlier.
“Absolutely,” J said.
“I don’t know what to do,” I told her. “Something must be wrong with me, because I don’t feel my faith anymore. My faith used to be a solid thing, but now I struggle to believe. I feel like I should know better. It’s as if I’m in a liminal space –between faith and doubt—always shifting back and forth between the two. But I’m not getting any closer. Sometimes I wonder if I’m moving farther and farther away.”
I’ll never forget J’s face when I said this. She was nodding. She wasn’t offering help. She was listening like she had heard this question before—like other people had once said the same thing to her. Like I’d said: I’m not a fan of Chinese food, instead of that I didn’t know what faith meant.
“You know what?” J said, her voice calm and sure. “Every day I go into work as a counselor and I hear stories of abuse. I hear stories of girls whose fathers abused them, girls who are nowhere near getting better. I hear story after story and I have to hold story after story within my own story. I can’t even hold it all. I have to go home and do some yoga, or put on some makeup just to survive the stories of hurt. I have to go on. It’s painful. I don’t know how to reconcile it all.”
She paused. Her lips came together in a line. “I’m only twenty-seven and I don’t know everything; but what if you never ‘feel’ your faith again? What if it never becomes real to you again? What will you do?” She looked at me like she was presenting a challenge, turning the question over for me to answer.
I looked at J and thought; I don’t think I can live in that space. I’m not sure where to go if I can’t feel my faith.
But what I said was, “Do you think it would still be okay? Do you think I’m okay if I don’t ever “feel” faith again?”
And then J did something that I hope to do for someone else in the future, and that other people have done for me since; she gave me permission. She looked straight at me, brown eyes flaring, and said: “Yes. You are okay. You are okay if you don’t “feel” faith ever again.”
It was a brief moment, but it was a balm; she offered acceptance and compassion; it was a hand in the space between us, holding my own. She was giving me permission to be human, to be small, to be fallible; to fall through the cracks if I needed to, and in doing so, I felt a little stronger, a little more sure of my faith. It was if the permission to not feel faith gave me a flicker of something that felt like faith itself.
You are okay.
You are okay if you don’t feel your faith. You are okay if it feels like you dropped your faith somewhere between 12th and 34th street. You are okay if you’re scrambling, looking for it in drainpipes and alleyways. If you’re sure you could find it if you just looked hard enough. If you tried harder. If you were a better person.
You are okay if you’ve dropped to your hands and knees, if you’ve peered through manholes, with no sign of it; with no hint of that feeling of being known and loved. You are okay if you’ve cried on the streets, hoping for some stranger to run up to you and tell you they’ve found your dropped faith. “Here it is,” they’ll say, and you’ll clutch it to your chest in awe and gratitude.
You are okay if you no longer feel like you are being taken care of like a child. If you can’t find a hand to hold when you cross the street of religion. You are okay if you’ve felt abandoned and you can’t find anyone to blame but yourself. You are okay if the questions in Bible Study: How are you living out Christ’s call to forgiveness, how are you witnessing like Paul to the gospel? feel terrifying to you, if these questions scare you and make you want to hide somewhere safe, somewhere not church.
You are okay… if test questions keep getting harder and harder, and you’ve forgotten how to work out the equations. If all that you feel is behind and the clock is ticking, but you can’t conjure the answers out of something you don’t have.
You are okay.
It was exactly what I needed to hear. It is exactly what we all need to hear, that our feelings about faith, our wonderings and wanderings, are real.That they aren’t who we are, but they are a part of our real, lived experience.
This is how we are living in this Exodus narrative, in this space of exile, and you are okay; you are not alone.
Image source on Flickr: Beshef