A dear troubled friend recently told me she lost her faith.
Although I understand what she means, I don’t believe her statement. In the world I see, nobody loses his or her faith. If faith goes, it’s because a person gives it away.
To avoid semantic arguments, I’ll give my definition of faith: belief in and trust in something or someone. Since my friend was referring to spiritual faith, specifically faith in the Christian God, I will address that in particular.
Her father was a Methodist minister. He taught that if we do right, God will bless us here on earth. He wasn’t an advocate of what folks call prosperity gospel. Still, he proposed that if we are good, work hard and help others, our lives will be rewarded in material ways. So my friend grew up expecting that the degrees and honors she earned would lead to a satisfying and secure teaching job, and later that her attention to diet and exercise was bound to lead to excellent physical and emotional health. And so on.
Her expectations haven’t always been met. Neither were her father’s, by the way. So, either God is at fault or doesn’t exist, right?
Sure, an easy answer is: maybe her expectations were in some way misguided. I’ll buy that. But let’s dig a bit deeper.
I grew up with two parents who didn’t abide by any particular religion, a grandma who professed to be a Christian Scientist but paid little attention to the creed, and another Christian Scientist grandma, this one very devout, who was in my estimation an angry and demented person (The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles exposes my feelings about her). Anyway, with the exception of a mild dose of fear, I grew up having no use for religion.
But my mind changed (see Reading Brother Lawrence). And at a Billy Graham crusade, I made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
I believe my friend’s and my different backgrounds give clues to decoding why she feels faith can be lost while I maintain it can only be given away. Her faith was given to her, and given in a package with expectations. My faith was chosen, and not blindly as I had experienced enough of what else the world had to offer to make a reasonable decision that what faith in Christ offered appeared far better than living in any other way. I stepped over a border into another mysterious world about which I held no real expectations.
I’m not proposing that teaching our children about God is wrong, only that we should be careful what expectations we give them, and that we should allow and even encourage them to make their own decisions.