Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More than a feeling

I began a six-week Bible study last Tuesday night and I think I’m kind of enjoying it. It’s pretty much the same as all the other Bible studies I’ve done – pretty basic stuff you learn early on – but basic is exactly what I need right now. I have a difficult time in women’s studies, because they sometimes feel very insincere and “plastic” (sorry, they do). It often feels like we claim to believe everything we’re “supposed” to believe, and sometimes, the reality of our faith falls through the cracks. I’ll explain. It seems to me that we excel at vocalizing our faith in God, but fail to vocalize those things we believe we shouldn’t feel as Christians. You know, the fact that we don’t always trust God; we don’t always believe He cares for us, and sometimes we believe He’s just plain mean. The warm, fuzzy things are easy to claim, but the negative feelings toward God that often overwhelm us get swept under the rug. So as I listened to the women in my group share their desire to trust God and to rely on His promises and to believe He has their best interests at heart, I came to a sudden realization that rattled me a little and yet, gave me an astounding hope I haven’t had in a really long time. Here it is kids…faith is not a feeling – at least not for me.

My Tuesday night study is on “The Testing of Your Faith.” We spent the first week sharing the times in our lives when our faith was tested and how we responded to the test. Nothing really struck me as new revelation; I felt like I had heard it all before. We’ve all been tested; we’ve probably all felt the same anger, resentment, hurt, frustration and depression during those times. Some of us have probably been fortunate enough to have found peace – through God – in the midst of it. Me? Not so much. Well, I’m sure I’ve had peace at some point during a struggle, but I probably attributed it to something or someone other than God and I think my definition of peace is probably skewed also. This week in my group, we explored the testing of our faith a little deeper and I was actually enlightened and consequently, encouraged. Somewhere in the midst of discussing what we believe – or better yet, what we fail to believe – when we’re tested, this idea of faith not being based solely on feelings crept up on me slowly and the longer I let it sink in, the more encouraged I felt.

I’m speaking only for myself when I say that faith is more often a choice than a feeling. When I’m burdened by some event or series of events, I stop believing. I don’t stop believing in God, but I stop believing that He cares for me and I stop believing in His promises. And that is an even more dangerous place to be. As a daughter cries to her father when she isn’t getting her way, “You don’t love me!” Such is my relationship with God. So I have to ask myself, “Am I going to wait for the warm, fuzzy feelings towards God to return, or am I going to choose to believe that He knows what’s best for me?” Faith is not a feeling; faith is a choice. When someone wrongs me and I confess to forgive them, I don’t always instantly feel forgiveness in such a way that I am able to forget the pain they’ve caused. Forgiveness is a choice. I choose to forgive and hope that trust will be re-built and the pain will soon diminish.

My feelings are very deceiving at times. The idea that I don’t need to rely on them when I’m being tested is actually quite comforting. When times are tough, I can choose to believe God cares for me and then rest on the hope that everything will work out for the best and I will be ok. I don’t mean to minimize the pain and suffering we feel when we’re being tested, but to shift the focus from my feelings to my response to those feelings seems to lift a burden off me I haven’t been able to shake in quite some time.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul tells the church at Thessalonica, “We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.” Wow! When God is testing our faith, He is actually testing our hearts. You mean, He may actually be more concerned about the condition of my heart than the actual circumstances I am trying to overcome? So when I’m tested, is my heart crying out for God or is it shutting down to Him and everyone else around me? Hmmm…do I really need to answer that one? It’s the difference between viewing God as the cause of my suffering and viewing Him as my ally and my friend, the one who will carry me through my suffering. Do I need Him or am I blaming Him?

Jesus asks Peter in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say I am?” Is it possible when God is testing me that He is asking me the same question? How I am feeling about my present situation may matter much less at that moment than what I believe about God. Do I believe He is showing up in the midst of my pain? Do I believe He loves me? Or do I believe He has left the building? I guess a more appropriate question for me now is will I choose to believe He loves me or will I choose to believe He has failed me? I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes the blame game feels more vindicating when we’re hurting, but it isn’t always about feelings, is it? And again I cry, “Father, where else am I to go? This world has nothing for me.”

Ok, so maybe this all seems very elementary, but frankly, I’ve always been too consumed by my feelings to look beyond them. And I truly believe that this time, it is God who is opening my eyes. And the beauty of it all is this: once again, for the first time in, oh, let’s say…forever, my response to this “discipline” was to utter, “I love you, Lord. Maybe not as perfectly as I should, but I really do love you.” And I did. This morning on my way to work, I actually felt led to cry out to God and I still do.

Artist Lenny Bruce said, “There is no ‘what should be,’ there is only what is.” Is it possible for us to forget the ‘what should be’ moments long enough to recognize the ‘what is’ in our lives? My ‘should be’ moments are usually characterized by an internal struggle with my emotions. I am attempting to sort out my emotions long enough to make sense of the situation and feel okay with it. But a ‘what is’ moment is not based on feeling okay with anything. My God says to be still and know that He is God. Knowledge is a product of our minds, not necessarily our hearts, which is where our feelings dwell. So what if, when my faith is being tested, I could do just that? I could simply be still and know, beyond all comprehension, that He is not just God, but He is my God and He cares for me deeply.

So who do you say that He is? Is He your creator? Is he your comforter? Is He your savior? And most importantly, is He your friend? Lord, help me to see beyond my complex feelings to the simple truth. Help me to be still and know.

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