Faith, but Whose?
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
Sometimes we know the way.
Sometimes we need to be shown the way.
Sometimes the way is apparent.
Sometimes the way is not a way at all,
but a jumble, scramble, ramble,
and so bad we need a guide.
Sometimes, once we are pointed
in the right direction,
we can do it on our own—sometimes.
Have you ever known you could do it
if you could just figure out how?
No map, no compass, and clouds
passing in front of the North Star,
and you peering wearily,
just trying to get some kind of a reading
so you could continue.
Scared, in danger, isolated, trapped in a bad situation,
and you just knew you could get out of it
if you could just find a door.
I think it is about timing—being ready—
to jump, to run, to flee, to decide to change.
It’s about that moment when we are finally ready
to choose our salvation and trust in faith.
Surely not our non-existent faith,
so weak, so finite it has withered
before it even had a chance to break through and grow.
I am thinking that the faith that actually saves and heals
is the faith that Jesus had
in the one he knew as Abba, his father, our God.
I think it is the only hope
for those of us who can only hope
the healing and salvation is for us…
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Have you ever been in an ongoing situation where your self-image took a beating? I mean a beating! Have you ever just looked at yourself and you seemed a stranger to the person you once were, and whomever it was you once were was a quickly fading memory?
Sometimes we just take a huge hit, a broadside to our egos and self-esteem and we are crushed! It doesn’t take much to do it either. One bad choice, one wrong decision, a seemingly silly detour, that negatively changes the course of the rest of your life.
We may be extremely intelligent, thinking people, but we are all at risk at some point in our lives. It could be something we can’t foresee, or expect. Like taking a wrong turn at night, getting lost, ending up in a bad neighborhood, and in the midst of a gang event. Opening your door to the wrong stranger. Letting your mind wander as you are driving at just the wrong moment. Seeing a good business opportunity or partner that destroys your finances. Choosing the wrong life’s partner, and living in abuse and fear and danger for years.
For me it was the business decision that turned upside down and capsized me for close to ten years. I was a commercial advertising photographer who hit the street running after my apprenticeship/schooling and went straight to the top, working on national accounts and magazine covers out of my livingroom studio.
I wanted a studio, got the opportunity, made the deal, moved in, set up and went to work. It was a portrait studio, but I made the conversion to commercial, and began bringing in clients. It was ideal, and just what I needed for expansion. I had the room to work. I had a kitchen for the food stylists to prepare. My clients loved it! It all went fine until I got to thinking how I should optimize my business potential by taking advantage of the portrait goodwill that came with my purchase of the studio. WRONG!
At that time I had very few people skills, and no personality with which to make good portraits. You can’t deal with average, everyday people in the same way that you deal with cars, concepts, hotdogs, cheese, models, or rockets. I tried. I put more and more energy into what I could not do and considered a challenge, and less and less time on what I did really well. As my energy and focus shifted, so did my clientele. However, I went from happy advertising and marketing clients, to unhappy and confused portrait clients. It was a battle I lost so thoroughly and devastatingly that it was five years before I got back on track again, and another five before I could say I was healed from the experience. But it was not until I was able to find a road map for my life that I was able to fully escape from my low self-esteem and regain my confident past.
I am reading Hoda Kotb’s book, Ten Years Later. She writes about six different people who went through their own forms of hell and not only survived, but thrived. Hoda writes of Amy Barns who had four academic degrees, and who got into a controlling, abusive, violent relationship, and went from being only one hundred pounds overweight to around four hundred pounds overweight at five hundred pounds. Amy shares of being systematically beaten for periods lasting days and being shackled while her abuser rested up so he could beat her some more.
What is interesting is that for both Amy and for me our turn-around moments were in prayer. We looked beyond our own faith, our own lives, and we looked to the one to whom Jesus looked when he prayed, God.
Paul writes that we cannot be saved by our works, and that we must be saved by faith (Romans 3:28). This text has troubled me, because, while he was contrasting keeping the Jewish Holiness Codes of Leviticus and the Ten Commandments of Exodus, with pure and true faith, it has always seemed to me that if we rely on our own faith, it too becomes a work in a way analogous to both the Codes and the Commandments. And if that is true, then how is salvation possible at all?
At some point it struck me that it is not our faith in either Jesus or God that saves us, it is the faith that Jesus had in his Abba, father, our God. It seems that this is the only way out of the faith/works conundrum. The Roman Captain seemed to understand this. He did not need Jesus to come to his house and do anything. All he needed was for Jesus to ask for him and it would be done.
I have a friend who is an atheist. He will not/cannot bring himself to believe in any Force/Being/God that can do anything for anyone. Yet, when things go wrong in his life, he calls me and asks me to pray. I asked him why he does that when he does not believe himself. He told me that while he has no faith himself in any God whatsoever, I do, and because I do, he asks me to pray because he has faith in my faith. And so it is with us. It is not our faith that does anything in and of itself, but the faith Jesus has in the one who raised him from his tomb, the one he knows as Abba, Father.
Amy was able to discover the strength to cut loose from the abuse and rebuild her life to a place that was better than when she started her downward spiral. I was able to discover what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. Speaking for myself, it sure was not any faith I had that turned me around. It was a faith above and beyond anything I had, or could do, or come up with on my own.
So, what have I learned? The first and foremost lesson I have learned from my own experience is that while I could get all bound up trying to not make any bad decisions or choices, I can just relax and trust the God of all love and compassion to be there for me when I am ready to escape from those things in which I find myself trapped. This doesn’t mean that I can be frivolous in my decision-making, because I really need to try and do the right things. It means that after a thoughtful decision, if it nonetheless turns out to be a bad direction, if I ask I will be shown a way out that will not cause myself or others damage. I have also learned that the only times I can actually fail is if I either do not try, or if I give up too early and quit before I succeed.
I have also learned that I am a good person, and that I am worthy of success. I need to take life seriously, but I am still free to be myself freely and enjoy myself. But I have come to understand that my own personal freedom is concatenate to the freedoms of all those around me. I can only be as free as they are, and they only as free as I am, and if I impinge on their freedom for the sake of mine, then to that degree I will lose my own. It works like this: our experiences of freedom, justice, failure, triumph, bondage, pain, joy, hope, faith, and salvation all interact with all others at all times. My misery can make others miserable. My inability to break free of my bondage can hold others in bondage as well. Yet, my hope can make others hopeful, and my salvation can lead others to their own salvation. In this regard it is important for me to be very careful how and what I share of my own perceptions.
When I was failing and was miserable all I could be was a failure and miserable, and I gifted all those around me with a strong sense of my failure and misery. Now that I have experienced the glory of God’s compassion and deliverance, I have an obligation not to forget my experience of both the failure and misery, and the success and the joy. Should I forget the pain, I may also forget the deliverance. Should I forget the deliverance, it is quite possible for me to interpret small, current setbacks as failures and once again spread misery. Deliverance sets a precedent for deliverance. Joy sets a precedent for joy. Should I dare forget either I might forget God’s grace poured out on me.
I also have learned that this profound faith that Jesus had in God is a faith that is not mine. It is a faith that, unlike my own limited version of faith, is dependable and never wavers. It is not what I can do, but what God does through Jesus on my behalf that matters. It is this profound faith of Jesus that heals and brings us into the strength of the fullness of who we are and who we can be.
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Luke 7:1-10 — The Message
When he finished speaking to the people, he entered Capernaum. A Roman captain there had a servant who was on his deathbed. He prized him highly and didn’t want to lose him. When he heard Jesus was back, he sent leaders from the Jewish community asking him to come and heal his servant. They came to Jesus and urged him to do it, saying, “He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.”
Jesus went with them. When he was still quite far from the house, the captain sent friends to tell him, “Master, you don’t have to go to all this trouble. I’m not that good a person, you know. I’d be embarrassed for you to come to my house, even embarrassed to come to you in person. Just give the order and my servant will get well. I’m a man under orders; I also give orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Taken aback, Jesus addressed the accompanying crowd: “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.” When the messengers got back home, they found the servant up and well.