The Strength of Faith
This week I found myself in a variety of conversations about health with different St. Paul people. In these conversations, I realized something about the way my own approach to healthy living has changed. When I was a kid, I would go to the doctor when I had a problem, expect it to be fixed, and move on. Sometime in my early twenties, my whole frame of mind on going to the doctor shifted. On fewer of my visits did I expect the doctor to solve an acute problem. Instead, I would go in with a list of questions that allowed the two of us to co-manage my health holistically, hopefully identifying possible steps I could take to improve it, with the doctor’s support. The older I get, the more this characterizes most of my visits to my primary care doc.
The more time I spend in the church, the more convinced I am that a similar shift in mindset is required to attend adequately to our spiritual health as well. Life has a way of showing us that faith is less about eliminating our brokenness, and more about living well in the midst of our brokenness over the long haul. Mistakes large and small, messy relationships, death, fear, self-centeredness, slips of the tongue: these aren’t the sort of things that just go away. Most of us are stuck with them, hard as we might try to give them up.
Perhaps this can teach us that the strength of faith is not its ability to solve life’s problems. Rather, the strength of faith is its ability to frame life’s problems in more constructive, honest, and hopeful ways. In his letter to the Galatians, for instance, the Apostle Paul points to these marks of God’s Spirit at work in our lives: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). At least three of these—patience, gentleness, and self-control—have nothing to do with eliminating challenges, and everything to do with how we bear them. How does God cultivate such traits in us? Not usually through quick visits. Rather, through worship and life in Christian community, God molds us slowly as people of gratitude, hope, playful flexibility, and togetherness. These are at least a few of the virtues of a faith that can weather all kinds of challenges life simply requires us to endure.