You don’t just wake up one morning, light streaming in from the window, birds fluttering about, and jump from your bed with exuberance declaring “I have a faith!”
No, it’s more like a slow crawl from your bed as you try to slam on the snooze button one last time.
Getting faith isn’t easy, even though people put the phrase “have faith!” on repeat like it’s no big deal. It’s a slow, sometimes agonizing process that many people give up on, but in truth, it’s worth the wait. Having faith puts that pep in your step when you feel like you’ve busted a kneecap. It gets you to try one more time towards your righteous desires and keeps you smiling when all you want to do is crawl back into bed. Faith is the end result of a long journey, but makes the trip bearable.
But sometimes it can be hard to see the road to faith, or at least the end of the road. If you’ve found yourself in this spot, Martin Luther King Jr. has some wise words.
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
So what is the first step? Honestly, it’s different for everyone. But if you’re having a hard time viewing that staircase, here are a few steps to get you started.
Identify the Doubt
What’s causing you anxiety right now? What’s making you worry? What’s filling you with doubt? Pinpoint an area of your life that’s weighing you down and take some time to ponder why it’s so hard. If you need to, find a quiet space to meditate or pray about the things that are bothering you, and ask yourself why these things are having an impact on your life.
Why are we doing this? Because in order to identify a solution, we need to identify the problem.
Find Your Mantra
Having a little saying you can repeat to yourself in times of trouble is a great way to dispel fear. Faith is a concept that’s been around since the beginning of mankind, and you can find motivating quotes across the religious or spiritual spectrum. Take some time to search them out and find a phrase or quote that speaks to you. Put this quote somewhere you can see it often, like your phone. Then when you feel that fear or anxiety begin to rise, just take a deep breath, and repeat after them:
“Having faith does not mean having no difficulties, but having the strength to face them, knowing we are not alone.” – Pope Francis
“If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry, and if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use.” -Dalai Lama
“For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” – Luke 1:37
Now that we’ve identified the problem and have a mantra to keep us focused, let’s work on that solution. Write your problem down and start brainstorming ways to fix it, even the hard ones. What are the obvious ways you can fix it? The not-so obvious? Make bullet points until you have a solid list, then go through and find the solution that would be the most effective.
And now you’ll take action. You might be afraid, but that’s okay. Faith isn’t about not having fear, it’s about acting anyway. So take that solution and run with it, not looking back.
Faith isn’t a one-step process, and it’s also not a one-stop shop. In order to find and keep faith, you’ll need to practice over and over again. But that’s okay! With each step you’ll become stronger and stronger until faith is your first reaction to challenges, not fear.
As a writer, believer, and chronic Pinterest fail-er, Maddy believes that everyone has a unique message to share with the world, and enjoys finding new ways to strengthen her faith through different perspectives.
Habits: The Building Materials That Shape Your Life
It’s well known that humans are creatures of habit, but how many of our habits are leading us toward our greatest potential? Whether we realize it or not, every human life is largely the sum of the habits of that individual. Our habits are the building blocks that shape our lives.
Do you love your life? If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, take comfort in knowing that turning things around may be as simple as changing a habit or two. Although, we all know that “simple” isn’t always the word that describes the process of changing an ingrained habit. It can be really hard! But it’s worth the effort.
Turning your life into an experience that you love to wake up to each day, all boils down to observing the daily habits that aren’t serving you well and then making small changes to get you moving in the right direction. American author, John C. Maxwell was spot-on when he said, “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” Sounds simple, right? It can be if we’re careful to focus on our present efforts vs. the potentially long journey ahead.
Faith: A Key Ingredient for Positive Change
Change requires a leap of faith. The first step to changing your habits is believing that you can. If the thought of change or starting a new habit overwhelms you, start smaller. We can easily trick ourselves into giving up before we even get started because change can be extremely overwhelming. Concentrate on small, manageable changes in habit and celebrate every success. For example, if you never exercise, but know that you should, don’t start with a 5K, go for a short walk instead. If you struggle to keep your temper, take the edge off of your next tirade by counting to 10 first. Healthy habits require discipline, and they’re always rewarded with more personal strength to do even better the next time.
Fitness guru Jillian Michaels said, “It’s not about perfect. It’s about effort. And when you bring that effort every single day, that’s where transformation happens. That’s how change occurs.” Speaking of failure, she also had valuable advice for those who get upset when they fall short. “Part of abandoning the all-or-nothing mentality is allowing yourself room for setbacks. We are bound to have lapses on the road to health and wellness, but it is critical that we learn how to handle small failures positively so that we can minimize their long-term destructive effects. One setback is one setback—it’s not the end of the world, nor is it the end of your journey toward a better you.”
A Writing Exercise
So, where should you start? How do you identify the habits you have that are keeping you from progressing? To find out, try this helpful writing exercise:
Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit down with pen and paper, or if you have an aversion to primitive writing materials, any modern device with word processing capabilities will do. Ask yourself this question: What habits in my life are keeping me from my potential? Think about it. Be honest with yourself, and write down what comes to you.
Tapping into your internal reservoir of wisdom will quickly reveal how much you really know and understand about your habits and how they’re shaping your life. Habits, large and small, affect our daily living in either positive or negative ways. It’s the habits that are holding us back that need our careful scrutiny. It’s the habits that have led us to places we never really wanted to be that we’ve got to tackle first. Once you’ve identified these habits, the next question to ask yourself is the following: In what ways can I change or replace the habits that are keeping me from my potential? Write down what comes to you. There, now you have an action plan. But remember, start small.
The Best Habits
Life is about improvement and growth. Each day, each moment is a new opportunity to do a little better, get a little stronger, and be a little happier. Your habits should be working for you, not against you, and the exciting part is that you have the power and ability to use them right now to mold your life into a joyful experience. It’s all up to you.
A bit of online research revealed that countless others are using the following habits to lead them to more happiness and productivity in their lives. Perhaps developing just one of these habits could have the power to change your life.
Wake up early
Create and follow a morning and evening routine
Meditate or pray daily
Express daily gratitude
Eat a healthy breakfast
Set daily goals and actively work on them
Save and invest
Get adequate sleep
Keep a journal
Read 30 minutes a day
Look your best
After all, “We first make our habits and then our habits make us.” –John Dryden
Linda Clyde is a devoted wife, proud mama, and a lover of uplifting things. A few of her favorite things: lasagna, farm animals, t-shirts and jeans, babies, and notebooks—lots and lots of notebooks.
I hate the “D” words: Discouragement, disappointment, dissatisfaction, depression. Like all of us, there are moments in my life where I feel stuck in a rut. It’s so easy to become unhappy with where I am or what I have. It’s “the grass is always greener on the other side” mentality.
Things really started to change for me after a religious conference I attended. A leader of my faith said, “Take an inventory of your life and look specifically for the blessings, large and small, you have received” (Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings”).
After hearing those words, I decided I would start a gratitude journal. In a little spiral notebook, I wrote down at least one thing I was grateful for every night. It started off being easy; I mentioned my family, living in America, and my faith. Soon I had to start getting more creative. As I kept doing it every night, I noticed a huge change in my happiness. I have come to realize that happiness and gratitude go hand in hand for me.
This is not a new concept. Religions around the world have taught us to be grateful for centuries.
In the Tanakh, Jewish scripture, it is written, “Come into His gates with thanksgiving, [into] His courtyards with praise; give thanks to Him, bless His name” (Tehillim 100:4).
In the New Testament, Paul wrote to his fellow Christians, “With thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).
The Quran teaches, “God always rewards gratitude and He knows everything” (Quran 4:147).
The Book of Mormon says, “Live in thanksgiving daily for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you” (Alma 34:38).
A Buddhist writing says, “Reverence, humility, contentment, gratitude, and the timely hearing of the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha — this is the highest blessing” (Maha-mangala Sutta: Blessings).
Believe it or not, scientific studies have even confirmed what religion has been teaching us for so long.
According to the Harvard Health Publications, two psychologists have conducted studies showing the positive effects of gratitude. “In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them” (Harvey B. Simon, “Giving thanks can make you happier”).
If we all lived what our faith taught about gratitude, we would be much happier!
Matthew Havertz loves storytelling and has worked for years in the media industry, specializing in videos and social media. He has a degree in digital media from Weber State University. He blogs his spiritual thoughts at HavertzPonders.blogspot.com.
I’m writing this article at a desk surrounded by two calendars, a planner, and a to-do list angrily glaring up at me. I have never been a person that likes to “wing it.” When I’m stressed, I make even more lists to help me organize my rushing and jumbled thoughts. I make plans to help manage stress, but when they fall through or don’t go as planned, I become even more stressed.
We can all relate to this. Besides all of our day-to-day tasks that we plan for, we all have a plan in our heads of how our life should be. We imagine a big white wedding dress, a new car when we graduate, a job that pays well and getting to retire early. I thought for sure I would get married right out of high school and never have a career. This isn’t wrong by any means, in fact, these plans give us hope for the future. Hope that after a bad day we will still have good days ahead. But we aren’t perfect, and our plans fall through. Things change, people change and life is unpredictable. We CAN’T plan the way we wish we could.
But there is someone who can.
There is someone who knows all things and knows us each personally. There is someone who is perfect, and who has a perfect plan for each and every one of us. Why would this perfect being, who knows us each so well, leave us on this earth to plan for ourselves? Why knowing all he knows, would He leave things up to chance?
And the answer is simple. He doesn’t.
We all feel lost, confused and battered at some point in our lives. We all wonder how we can possibly go on from loss, sorrow, heartbreak, and disappointment. we wonder, how in the midst of all the war, terrorism, hatred, and intolerance there could possibly be a plan for us.
In a world that is so unpredictable, we can focus our faith and energy on finding the path that our God has laid out for us. He knows our thoughts, our hopes, and our prayers. He knows what makes us happy and loves us so much, that he would do anything for us to be happy.
But he can’t force His plan on us.
We have to have faith and be constantly seeking guidance and inspiration from God to truly gain understanding about what He would have us do. And sometimes the path isn’t clear. Life is hard. Things change. And we wonder how these events could possibly be for our good and help us. We may not know in this life, but I know with certainty that we will know. We just have to keep trekking. We have to keep walking down the road less traveled and know that our God will never lead us astray in His perfect plan.
Megan Miller is a BYU student with a passion for social media, writing, and her dog. Contact her at email@example.com.
I was gripped by terror. The sign next to my foot, marking 10 feet of water below me, made me feel like I might die. My brain screamed at me to not jump into the pool, but I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was too scared to jump into the pool at swim class. On the other hand, I didn’t want to repeat my near-death experience of my last jump in the pool. As I stared at the clear water, I remembered that this time, I knew how to swim, so I swallowed my fear and jumped.
And I didn’t drown.
I was ten when I took that first leap of faith and jumped into a pool after my near-death experience when I was 4 years old. Taking that jump after waiting 6 years in fear taught me about the relationship between my fear and my faith which helped me in my decisions throughout my teen and early adult years. I learned that sometimes we have to let our fear motivate us to have faith.
When I figured out my fear motivated me to have faith, it seemed like a contradiction. I always thought the definition of faith was believing and trusting in things we cannot see. Others around me said because I believed I shouldn’t fear. I was under the impression that being filled with fear meant I lacked faith in God and faith in myself.
However, I know now that the relationship between faith and fear is different for me. I can believe and trust while still being afraid. The fear of the unknown and unseen will always be a part of who I am, but I find comfort in my faith because I know even if I am afraid of what might happen next, my faith in God and the people around me is stronger than my fear.
I have learned to always let my faith become stronger than my fear, just like when I jumped into that pool when I was 10. I allowed faith to be stronger than fear each time I moved to new schools and had to be brave enough to make new friends. My faith overcame my fear of what would happen when I left my fragile, broken family to pursue my education. Faith beat my fear when I flew to Mexico City to learn Spanish I was nineteen. Faith conquered fear when I decided to continue college when I only had $4 in my bank account and I didn’t know where more money was going to come from.
Many of my major life decisions started with fear, but having faith gave me the courage to make the jump anyway. And if I had believed the idea that I only had faith if I wasn’t afraid, I’m not sure I would have accomplished anything in my life. I’m grateful every day I let my fear motivate me to have faith.
The next time you are afraid of life decisions set before you, remember that faith in yourself, in God, in people, or in whatever you believe will always overcome fear. Be like my 10-year-old self at the edge of the pool. Remember that you do know how to swim, take a deep breath, and jump.
Every year, about this time, I look forward to parades, corn on the cob, matching flag T-shirts (because, yeah, I’m that girl), and fireworks displays. They’re everything that’s great about the Fourth of July.
But lately, my thoughts have turned to deeper questions about freedom and what it means to be a person of faith in America today.
America has a rich faith tradition. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were men “with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” Those early patriots felt so strongly about the right to choose a faith that it became the first item addressed in the Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” They wanted to make sure all Americans were free to choose their faith.
But that tradition started long before those important documents were signed. My own family’s faith tradition in America dates back to the Mayflower. My thirteenth great grandfather Francis Cooke, along with his young son John, sailed to America in 1620 to practice their chosen faith, free from government force. His wife Hester, my grandmother, brought the rest of the family over from Holland in 1623 to begin a new legacy of faith.
Fast forward a few generations. In the mid-1830s, my fourth great grandfather Anson Call embraced a new faith, one unpopular with the masses. The test was on. Would Americans, those who had so recently fought for the freedoms we now enjoy, really live up to the promise? Some, unfortunately, did not, persecuting him and many others for their faith. Thankfully, the struggle didn’t last forever, and he built a life in a new part of America where his faith flourished.
In my own lifetime, I have seen, at least through a window, what it looks like to be denied the freedom of faith. When I was seventeen I visited Germany a few short months after the Berlin Wall came down. Even with my limited teenage American perspective, I still recognized the contrast between my world and the crumbling rubble, stark, gray buildings, and devastation of East Berlin. Ironically, I was in Germany on the Fourth of July that year, experiencing a deep desire to celebrate my homeland and freedom. Maybe the Wall reinforced that longing.
Today we live in a country with varied faith traditions. We don’t always agree on what faith should look like or if it’s even necessary, but we should rejoice in the fact that we are free to choose that for ourselves. And we should continue to fight for that freedom, even when—perhaps especially when—we don’t agree. Your right to faith guarantees mine.
So, this year, enjoy your corn on the cob, sweat it out at the parade, and stand in awe of the fireworks. But remember to keep the faith—whatever that looks like to you.
It’s what our Founding Fathers envisioned. It’s what people of faith value. It’s what makes America great!
Tiffany Tolman lives, loves, writes, reads, and plays through the window of faith. And that makes all the difference. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The more I learn about Islam, the more I admire the dedication and strength of its believers, especially during the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and lasts between 29 and 30 days. It is a month of intense daily fasting, prayer, and introspection, with the ultimate goal of growing closer to God through physical and spiritual purification.
As I read more about Ramadan, I found myself deeply drawn to the idea of spiritual purification. My faith in God has suffered over the past year after going through some difficult times, and I’ve been struggling to re-center my beliefs. Inspired by Ramadan and as time allowed, I decided to take two weeks to highly focus on my own spiritual purification. I am unable to fast from food and drink because of some medication I am taking, so I tried to “fast” from other things that play a big part in my life, like taking time off from social media and turning off my cell phone.
The first couple of days were quite difficult, as I kept getting caught up in my day-to-day routines and forgetting about my goal. When I’d remember to turn off my phone in the evenings to do some pondering, I found myself distracted by what I might be missing and wondering if anyone was trying to get in touch with me. I had to remind myself that spiritual health is more important than the latest photo on Instagram. My “fast” got easier every day and I was surprised at how much simpler it was to focus on my goal when I avoided those things, as I would imagine going without food gets easier and helps maintain the focus on mind (and spirit) over matter.
For the first week, I decided to get to the root of the breakdown in my faith, and that meant digging into issues that I had been purposely avoiding. Taking time to full-on face my spiritual weaknesses was painful. Admitting and accepting personal weaknesses is never a fun thing, but is necessary to progress and become stronger. I finished the week with a better sense of self, both good and bad, and a list of things I wanted to improve.
During the second week, I focused on my faith and relationship with God. Again, the beginning of the week was rough as I faced my doubts in God and some frustration I had been harboring. However, as the week went on I found myself looking forward to my quiet evenings of pondering and prayer. I was reminded of what I believe and why I value those beliefs. I can’t say that my faith is completely healed or that I have no more pain or doubts, but I am more aware and less afraid of my weaknesses, and my faith in God is in a much better place.
Ramadan ends with a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast-Breaking). It includes special prayers, meals with friends and family, and gifts. I think this is such a beautiful way to end what, I would imagine, can be an extremely trying month. After only my small two-week attempt I felt like celebrating, as my soul and faith felt refreshed, lighter, and stronger. Thanks to what I learned about Ramadan, I have an improved awareness of my spiritual health and a greater commitment to keeping it steady.
Katie Steed is a graphic designer who also loves to write. In her spare time she’s either biking, reading, or traveling.
I, like you, feel I’ve spent quite a bit of time in God’s waiting room. I could likely write a book titled An Impatient Woman’s Guide to the Universe! My tutorials began early. I recall trying to shorten a piano practice as a young girl— lunging over the keys, reaching the wall-mounted clock and moving its hands–as if changing the hour and second hand would speed up time! My piano lesson had ended, but my lesson about time had just begun.
Do you ever feel like things are taking sooo long in God’s plan for your life? Knocking has not yet yielded specific blessings or items on your spiritual hope list? Let’s face it. It’s easy to be like Uzzah–to step in and try to steady the ark of our lives–make it happen, isn’t it? (See 2 Samuel 6) But don’t such impetuous moments only seem to cause us to lose ground, waste time, or cause a mess from which our Maker must extricate us?
I’m learning that our life snapshot often looks the exact opposite of what God has promised—like a film negative in a darkroom–before He reverses it and gives us the colorful, pixel-perfect product He is producing in us and for us.
So Why Does God Wait?
Good question, right? Well, we know that the Creator is not wasting time. He’s too economical for that! My journals reflect that often He is:
Putting us in posture of dependence
Preparing us for what He’s preparing us for
Paving the way for us to know Him better
Posture of Dependence
Doesn’t it seem that our Higher Power often comes through after our reserves are spent, so He and not “we” get the glory?
Here’s a simple illustration: My daughter was performing with peers in a high-school performance of Seussical Musical. Several days prior to opening night, she contracted an untimely, persistent virus that stole her voice. My daughter’s peers came together, of their own accord, to fast and pray to the Father of Light for Talia to have her voice back in time to perform. Two days before the performance. No voice. The day of the performance. No voice. Dress rehearsal. No voice. Talia walked on stage with a prayer and promise in her heart. It was as she spoke her first lines that her voice returned. It’s true that God is sometimes and purposefully, “a Nick o’ Time God.”
You can probably recall lots of instances when God’s answer came through at the last minute to test and stretch your trust in Him—and on matters where the stakes were far greater, and the stage was real life. You’re not alone. Think “widow of Zarepeth” (See 1 Kings 17:10-16); “Moses” (Exodus 14); “Hagar” (Genesis 21:12-21), or of sacred stories in your own tradition. The universe’s pattern of fulfilling our hopes when we least expect it, when human help won’t cut it, or when it looks impossible, seems to be its hallmark.
It seems to be in that space in-between, when our own resources end and when God is all we have, that we learn that He is all we need—one anonymous writer said.
Preparing Us for What He’s Preparing Us for:
It seems God prepares us for what He is preparing us for—a work, a circumstance, an answer, a reward.
I think of the account of Joseph, shared in some traditions. He spent years in prison unfairly before he was placed as second in command for all of Egypt, so he could handle being second in command and be in a position to be used of God to save his family (See Genesis 39). Things changed instantly for him—once he was prepared for what His Higher Power was preparing him for. It took the pit to prepare him for the palace. Sometimes it happens that way with us, too.
One man of faith once candidly shared that he’d harbored resentment for a parent who’d abandoned him and his family when he was a child. He meditated about his predicament often and asked God to take his feelings of hostility away. He wondered why no recognizable answer came. Then, years later, it happened. He became a father himself and was playing with his son. He said, in a moment, he felt the loss his father must have felt—for he would never know the joy he himself was experiencing. His heart softened; he felt sadness and pity for his father; and his prayer was answered. This man of faith’s conclusion: Our Higher Power or Spirit of Light often waits until we are prepared to receive the answer He has to give. Until we have a place in our soul to receive it, an answer would be an unrecognized gift. God prepares us for what He is preparing us for.
To Know God, Our Higher Power
God wants us to know Him. And sometimes, that only comes with darkened skies and delayed answers.
Words to close with: “Don’t consider divine delays to be divine denials; don’t steal tomorrow from God’s hands” (JB Cowan, Streams in the Desert, Zondervan, 1977, p. 125). His timing is precise. The One we wait for will not disappoint. He’s never a minute late. We don’t need to mess with the hands on the clock like I did as a child. Our times are in His hands.
And, if I ever write that book about God’s timing, I hope it will be retitled, A Once-Impatient Woman’s Guide to the Universe!
Karen R. Trifiletti, M.A. is a mother of two, writer/author, with extensive faith-based web and print writing, training, strategic consulting, and creative development experience. Contact her at email@example.com.
Louis Zamperini was a person of faith, even though he lost his way at times. When I read his amazing story and watched the movie Unbroken—about how he faced trauma, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and alcoholism—I could relate. And, like Zamperini, faith has played an important role in my sobriety, and my life. However, Louis’ life was definitely more dramatic than mine has been.
Louis became an Olympic track star and then a military officer in World War II. His plane was shot down, and he survived for 47 days on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. Then, he was captured by the Japanese and tortured as a prisoner of war.
HOPE AGAINST HOPE
“To hope against all hope” means we hope for something even though it is impossible to see how it could happen. When Louis and his comrade had been adrift in the raft for several days without water, there was no rain in sight. Yet, against all hope, he prayed and promised God he’d commit his life to Him if He’d send rain. The next morning, there was a huge downpour. The very definition of faith means to believe in that which we cannot see.
TRIALS CAN DEEPEN OUR FAITH
Zamperini endured many difficult trials. We tend to think that life would be great if we didn’t have to deal with trouble and pain—if everything could just be easy. Yet, if that were the case, we wouldn’t be able to learn and grow in faith. I have often wished I didn’t have to go through the trials I have faced. Yet, I have to admit, I am so grateful for the strength and increased faith I have gained because of my challenges. “No pain, no gain” applies to faith.
FAITH REQUIRES PATIENCE
Only three men survived the plane crash, and only two lived 47 days at sea. It was Zamperini’s faith and persistence that helped pull them through. However, at some point during the two years he was a prisoner of war and frequently beaten by a guard called “the Bird”, he lost faith. He questioned how a loving God could let such things happen. After returning to the United States and getting married, he still felt like God had been “toying” with him. He began drinking heavily and got angry whenever his wife went to church. Four more years passed before Louis returned to church where he remembered the promise he had made to God before it rained. Then he went home and emptied out all the liquor bottles in his cabinet. He never had another drink. Even though it took years, Louis still managed to find faith again and it helped him overcome.
FORGIVENESS INCREASES LIGHT
For years after the war, Louis longed to hunt down the Bird to get revenge. With divine help, he finally found freedom from his prison of hatred. When he learned of the Bird’s death, “something shifted sweetly inside of him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was finally over.”* For me, it has been important to realize that my hatred for those who committed serious sins against me was only hurting myself. And forgiving them didn’t mean they were being “let off the hook.” It meant that I was being released from the strongest emotions that held me bound to them—vengeance and hatred. It takes time for us to heal and reach a place of forgiveness. When we do, we often find those dark places in our heart and mind can finally be illuminated by divine light.
*Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken. New York, New York: Random House, 2010, p. 386.
Laurie Campbell is a copywriter for advertising, as well as a volunteer counselor with a masters in mental health counseling. She finds photography and nature go hand-in-hand, increasing spirituality and love for God’s pretty amazing creations.
Nearly 2,500 years ago, in the middle of two million square miles of the Persian Empire, in the city of Shushan, there lived an orphan, a beautiful Jewish girl named Hadassah, though she is better known by her Persian name, Esther.
Esther’s story of faith and courage happened thousands of years ago, but it lives on today because people are still inspired by her faith and courage.
As the Bible story goes, Ahasuerus, the king of Persia became angry with his wife Vashti for disobedience. He began looking for a new wife from the young virgins of his empire. Esther was brought before him and he liked what he saw. Soon she was chosen to replace Vashti as queen.
At the time, Esther had been raised by her cousin Mordecai, and even after she became queen, he was never far away. He counseled her as often as he could and in the beginning advised her to hide her Jewish identity.
King Ahasuerus appointed an evil man named Haman to the highest position at court and decreed that everyone should bow down to him. Whenever Esther’s cousin Mordecai was in Haman’s presence he refused to show him this respect. Haman resented Mordecai and abused his position of power by sending forth a decree to exterminate the Jews.
Mordecai went to Esther and pleaded with her to approach the king to save their people. Doing so would put her life at risk, but Mordecai believed that God had made her queen so she could save her people. Esther decided that she would go to the king for help, but before doing so, she fasted for three days and told Mordecai to ask their people to do the same.
When the time was right, she did risk her life to approach the king and shared Haman’s evil plans to annihilate her people. The king flew into a rage and sent Haman to be hung on the very gallows the vizier had built to hang Mordecai.
Esther’s Legacy of Faith Lives On
Every year, Jewish people celebrate Esther’s story of faith and courage on a holiday known as Purim. The word “Purim” means “lots” in ancient Persian, because it’s believed that Haman cast lots to choose which day he would massacre the Jews.
Today the holiday is celebrated by exchanging gifts of food, donating to the poor, eating a celebratory meal, public recitations of the entire scroll of Esther, drinking wine, and by wearing masks and costumes.
This annual celebration is an example of the power of a single story of faith to affect millions of people and live on for generations.
Without Action, Faith Is Just a Word
Most of us won’t be asked to risk our lives to save a nation, but our simple acts of faith can inspire and empower others. Even if your story isn’t passed down for 2,500 years, it can be impactful for your loved ones and your posterity—especially if you write it down.
It takes humility and optimism to believe that everything will work out. But more often, like in Esther’s story, it takes action to ensure that it does. Our faith may have the power to move mountains, but if we don’t act on it, we’ll never know what’s possible.
Stories of faith can be found in all cultures, religions, and places. Seeking them out and passing them on promotes courage in the face of adversity, and empowers the human spirit.
Linda Clyde is a believer—because she’s convinced it’s way better than being a doubter. One of her favorite things to do is spread optimism and hope with the power of words.
Abraham Lincoln is remembered as a man of honesty, courage, and kindness. What was he like when it came to religion? Was he a man of faith too?
Lincoln grew up in a Baptist family, but he was a skeptic, and though he later attended Protestant church services with his wife and children, he never joined any church. While his exact beliefs remain a bit of a mystery, Lincoln was often clear about his faith in a loving God who watches over His children.
The following messages, in Lincoln’s own words, teach us why looking to God should be as important to us today as it was to him then.
Don’t forget God.
On March 30, 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting to be held the next month. He explained:
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which has preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. …It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Trust in His timing.
In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln responded to a letter from Elizah P. Guerney, thanking her for her kind words and prayers.
“The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile, we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.”
Pray to Him for guidance and peace.
Before the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln hadn’t been worried. General Daniel E. Sickles, a participant in the battle, asked Lincoln why that was. He replied:
“Well, I will tell you how it was. In the pinch of your campaign up there, when everybody seemed panic-stricken and nobody could tell what was going to happen, oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went to my room one day and locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed to him mightily for victory at Gettysburg. I told Him that this war was His, and our cause His cause, but we could not stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville. … And after that, I don’t know how it was, and I cannot explain it, soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul. The feeling came that God had taken the whole business into His own hands, and that things would go right at Gettysburg, and that is why I had no fears about you.”
Read His word.
Lincoln is said to have read the Bible regularly. His thoughts on its teachings are simple and strong.
“In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.”
Lincoln learned these principles over a lifetime of challenges, failures, and successes. What have your experiences taught you bout faith?
I am a child of the desert and a lover of trees. I grew up with figs and pomegranates and acres and acres of citrus groves in my backyard. These trees bloomed in early spring and bore fruit all winter. I played in the secret shade of their green leaves all year long.
Then I moved to a place where winter was a gray crusty thing that often overstayed her welcome, where everything froze, and everything died, and there were plenty of days when it hurt my face to go outside. There was no secret green shade in this winter.
Nearing the end of my first winter there, I was convinced I had made a terrible mistake by moving to this frozen wasteland. And then I saw a maple tree bloom. It took me by surprise, in the still-cold air of early spring. Bright green buds unfurled, the sun shining behind them lighting them up like green stained glass. Next, leaves grew—huge—the size of dinner plates. In the heat of summer, I found shade.
Today, Jews celebrate Tu BiSh’vat, sometimes called Jewish Arbor Day or New Year of the Trees. It’s a time to plant trees, reflect on the lessons they teach, and connect to generations before and after.
I have planted over twenty trees since moving. It’s a wonder to me every year, after enduring winter, to watch the trees reawaken.
In that time, my heart has been broken. Shattered really, and more than once, hasn’t yours? Griefs, disappointments and betrayals are part of being human. No one is spared.
Sometimes after so much hurt, we walk around numb, frozen, guarding our hearts against future fractures. We push through, carry on with the business of life, steel ourselves, because we must. After all, so many rely on our strength to get things done. The world does not stop turning for our sorrows, so we bind ourselves up, compose ourselves, and do what we must to meet the unrelenting expectations.
Tu BiSh’vat is for all of us. On this day, we remember how even solid ground thaws year after year. We remember that no matter how dark or cold the winter, buds swell, tender shoots appear, leaves unfurl with complete faith in another growing season. Tu BiSh’vat reminds us that we can open our hearts again, with faith that the light will seep in, and we can soften, thaw, regenerate—and grow. Click here to learn more about Tu BiSh’vat.
Rachel Coleman is a writer, designer, and believer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
During my late teenage years I found myself working one of the checkout counters at a local department store during the holidays. It was a boring job, and one that required me to interact with a lot of people each day. Most of the people that passed through my line were mothers with young children. These moms were often harried and preoccupied as they juggled their children and went through the process of making their purchases.
The children on the other hand were doing what kids do. They were soaking up their environment. They were busy observing people and things—including me. While their parents rarely made eye contact with me, the children almost always did. I found myself engaging in a little experiment to pass the time. When I would catch a kid sizing me up, I would return the eye contact and give them a brief smile. There were a few shy ones that would hide behind their mothers, but most would instinctively smile back. It was fun, and it taught me a few things. First, that a simple smile is powerful, and second, that even small children recognize and respond to kindness—it’s contagious.
The Universal Language
Remember the last time you were deliberately kind to someone, or had someone do something nice for you? The times when we’ve been the recipient of kindness, or shown kindness to others are both powerful and memorable. It’s a universal language—one that even babies and dogs understand.
Kindness fosters love, mutual respect, and creates an atmosphere of openness and honesty in relationships. It increases our receptivity to others, and we’re even more likely to listen to the counsel and opinions of those who treat us well. It works the other way too. If you want someone’s respect, or are hoping that they’ll listen to you, add an extra dose of kindness to your interaction with them.
The Kindling for Faith
Have you ever considered how kindness is connected to faith? Even a little kindness, directed anywhere, is kindling that can start the fire of belief—in each other, in ourselves, and in humanity. When we’re kind to one another, it’s easier to have faith that the world is a good place to be. When we notice God’s kindness toward us, it builds our faith in Him, and if you’re a believer in karma, you’ll have faith that by showing kindness to others, it will always return to you.
All acts of kindness are a joy to witness and experience. They lift everyone, even those who are only watching. They help us to feel safe and comfortable in this wonderful world that we share.
When I Lift You, I Lift Me Too
Kindness is its own reward. It’s a well-known fact that when we choose to be kind that it gives us a boost too. It’s just one more reason to look for those daily opportunities to be nice, and here’s the good news—these opportunities are everywhere.
Just like dropping a pebble in water causes a ripple effect, acts of kindness ripple outward in a contagious wave of love. So get creative, share your smile, lend a hand, and be generous. The smallest acts of kindness—even a brief smile at a child—can start a loving ripple in this world.
Linda Clyde is foremost a wife and a mother of three. She is currently employed as a writer for the LDS Church. You may contact her at email@example.com
Ever wished you could speed through certain phases of your life? As a kid, I often imagined this possibility. I pictured using a gigantic TV remote to fast forward through the parts of life that were boring, stressful, frightening or mundane and skip ahead to “the good stuff.” Looking back, I’m grateful I didn’t have access to such a remote. My life would have consisted entirely of Christmas mornings and birthday parties; there is so much I would have missed!
Although now I can admit that wielding a gigantic TV remote might not be the best way to approach life, I sometimes catch myself drooling over the exciting lives depicted on social media or in movies, forgetting the fact that these are merely highlight reels, lives that have been distilled into a thick concentration of thrill.
It’s not real life.
Real life is made up of brushing your teeth, running late for work, and washing dishes over and over again. Real life is t-ball practices, long grocery lines and sitting at a desk from nine to five. Much of real life can be pretty monotonous. But in spending all our time wishing and waiting for the thrills and trying to evade the monotony, we attempt to fast forward through real life and begin to view the daily grind with contempt. Faith, however, provides a better perspective. With faith we find meaning in and even celebrate the humdrum of daily living.
Ironically faith, or belief in the unseen, is all about vision. Faith allows us to “see” what normally goes unnoticed. In this case, faith can help us see inglorious monotony with gratitude.
Stop Taking Life for Granted
A few years ago my family took a trip to France. While visiting a small town outside Paris, we drove past a beautiful but non-famous chateau. I was in awe. Looking around, however, I realized that no one on the streets seemed to care. They were all busy carrying their groceries, listening to their iPods, and considering their unpaid bills. For those who lived in the town, this was just another monotonous day. Incredulous, I began shouting, “You live next to a castle! Don’t you care? You’re missing it!”
I wonder if God ever feels the same way about us. Are we seeing life’s chateau? Or are we missing it?
Develop an Alternative Perspective on Growth
Sometimes things feel monotonous because we cannot see progress. We seem to be metaphorically punching a wall over and over without noticeable effect. Perhaps it’s our perspective that needs an update. A change in perspective allows us to recognize that even if the wall is not coming down, our arms are getting stronger.
See How Far You’ve Come
Even grand adventures like swimming the English Channel or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro require repetitive steps. We call this diligence, persistence and tenacity. Grand vistas and epic photo ops are exciting because they are the culmination of previous perseverance. Faith reminds us that each forward step matters. There is a majestic vista ahead of us.
By choosing to view our lives through the lens of faith, we can choose to believe that our small, simple, albeit mundane, actions matter. Rather than distract ourselves from life’s monotony, we can remember that each moment is a gift, given by God for a reason. There is always something to learn, appreciate, work at and celebrate. Why would we want to skip to the good stuff? It’s all good stuff!
Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mother Teresa was a woman of intense faith who fervently believed the world could be a better place, drop by drop, person by person. She dedicated her life to succoring and empowering the disenfranchised, and taught us, through her actions, to cultivate and live an attitude of faith.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury asked, “Is there a God? Where is God?”, the media frenzied on his doubts and labeled them with the phrase above. You can’t have doubts and lead a church!
That’s the feeling about doubt.
For example, James 1:6 reads, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
In your mind, does doubt keep company with fear and unbelief, three possible stumbling blocks for faith? If you or I had doubts, we must be in a dark place, spiritually.
Really? Must we?
If Archbishop Justin Welby has a doubt, has he lost his faith?
I believe that faith depends on, even demands, that we experience doubts.
In the hours leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter was asked about Jesus three times and three times, he denied knowing Him. After the third denial, Jesus “turned, and looked upon Peter,” as recorded in Luke 22:61.
He turned. He looked.
I’ve pictured this story in my mind. I’ve imagined the fear felt by the mortal man, Peter. I’ve imagined the darkness and violence of that night.
I’ve pictured how Jesus must have looked back at Peter. I pictured an expression of abandonment, disappointment, sadness, or maybe even disgust.
Perhaps I read it all wrong.
“And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.”
That’s it. That’s all that Luke wrote. There’s no sensationalized account of what transpired.
Only a few hours prior, Jesus had knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane. He had suffered. He had bled from the pain. He took the sins of the world upon himself. Now He would know. Now He could succor.
Maybe instead, with His look, he told Peter, “I now know.” Could his eyes have been filled with love and empathy? He looked back at the man Peter, at the doubtful Peter, and perhaps His eyes were filled with understanding.
Perhaps he remembered. Perhaps He recalled a time when He had grabbed Peter’s hand as he sank into the Sea of Galilee. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
He now understood Peter’s doubts. He now understood Peter’s fear. He now understood Peter’s faith! Peter stepped out of the boat. He walked on stormy waters. He felt doubt. He began to sink.
The power of doubt comes in how we choose to respond.
The boat was certain to Peter, a vessel built to float. Jesus was a man standing on the waters of a stormy sea. If Peter had given in to his doubt, let it overwhelm him and drive him back to what he knew for certain, he would have turned back towards the boat.
Instead, Peter reached out and called for Jesus.
Some may think it’s blasphemy to have doubts in your faith. Some may think you are transgressing to question the authenticity of your beliefs.
But, an attitude of certainty may lead to an attitude of self-righteous intolerance, dogmatism, and fundamentalism.
Embracing doubt can lead to deeper understanding through a process that strengthens faith. Flannery O’Connor, an American writer and essayist, described this:
“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith… [People] think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”
“Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
Like the biblical father who said those words, Peter’s actions said the same: Jesus called; Peter stepped out; winds howled; Peter began to sink.
It was Peter’s doubt and unbelief that enabled him to grasp firmly to his faith.
Through doubt, I take on the necessary exploration of my beliefs.
I challenge those beliefs.
It is from personal doubt and unbelief that I then build the bedrock of my faith.
Lauren Elkins is a professional writer, former IT industry expert, and a mom. She also writes a personal blog and maintains a website at laurenelkins.com.
As a result of Hurricane Matthew pummeling Haiti, the Caribbean, and the Southeastern United States, millions were helpless to power up and many lived without light, and the ability to carry on the basic tasks of daily home and business life. Power lines on the coast were torn or aflame, hit by fallen trees and wind-sparked transmitters. And we, brothers and sisters of those caught in Matthew’s wake, have been affected deeply by the devastating impact— physically, emotionally, and spiritually—of those hit by the category three-four hurricane.
As I’ve thought about Hurricane Matthew, I’ve thought about power outages in our own, everyday lives. Times when the lights go out. When things don’t seem to add up spiritually, and our faith-light dims. Maybe the storm that strikes seems to knock out the light altogether, and we face some sense of complete and utter darkness. We feel alone. Or afraid. Or abandoned. Most of us don’t like dark. At least not dark around the clock. We crave light. We need both a power source and a light source.
I remember camping one night in the mountains. We settled into the trailer and I snuggled under the covers. The sun was down. I could see absolutely nothing. It was pitch black inside the camper. I mean pitch black. I could almost feel the darkness. I blinked, and blinked again. Surely there was a sliver of light within my view’s circumference, a tiny bit of city light cast into the trailer. But no. Nothing. Finally, I couldn’t bear it. I had to find some satisfying spark of light. I jumped out of bed and groped my way to the door. I looked around. Nothing. And then I glanced upward. I saw the glimmer of a few distant stars in a clear dark sky. Ah, a bit of light. I basked in what it meant to be under the influence of a starlit sky. I should have slept there, but I didn’t. Instead, I returned to the trailer, grabbed a flashlight, turned it on—tucking it under the covers—and slept peacefully through the night. I remember that night, the night when the dark was just too dark.
Are there times in your life when you have felt spiritually numb or powerless, some midnight hour of fear or worry or loneliness? Where you looked for the light of relief but couldn’t yet find the stars? Perhaps you discovered a loved one’s sickness or addiction, or you were betrayed by one you thought your confidante and friend. Maybe you faced enemies you could not conquer alone. Or you felt powerless over your own circumstances. Has there been a time when you felt you underwent a spiritual power outage? A night when the dark was just too dark?
I remember the story of one man, a fellow warrior, who did. His name was Jehosophat, and he was surrounded by armies he could not have defeated alone. He faced a long, dark night. He knew, though, that there was a Higher Power to whom He could turn. And he did. He identified the problem and he asked for help. He said,
“We have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon [you].”
He didn’t know how to execute and he didn’t want to execute. So he asked. He then did as he felt directed to do—he went down to the brook—and left the rest in the hands of his Higher Power. And he and his people were delivered. The light had overturned the dark.
Sometimes we feel we have no power except to seek the power of the universe, the power that is accessible to those who believe it’s there. There is no problem that our Higher Power is not aware of or does not know how to solve. Then we discern the direction that comes to us as we listen mindfully. Those words or impressions come as packets of spiritual power. It may be to trust a promise; it may be “to go down to our own brooks”—nearby places where God wants to do a work or help us resolve our issue. It may be to set boundaries between us and the approaching darkness. It may be to stand still and wait for further instruction. These impressions are a lamp and a light for our feet and show us where to go. And as we follow those, God does the rest.
That’s the kind of power that is accessible through our faith. It’s the kind that turns on the light. It comes as we ask for it, like Jehosophat did, and as we follow through with what we receive in response. We are refined, and a brighter glory shines than before.
We can all turn on that switch to that spiritual power. Even when we can’t do anything else. We can act and not be acted upon, even when we feel powerless. We can turn to our Higher Power. And faith will light the way.
Faith counts. It provides power beyond our own. Power to extend our natural abilities, to overcome weakness, to triumph in trial, to become better and more useful, to prepare solutions around us, to give us hope, peace, assurance, comfort and direction on otherwise dark and helpless nights. We can conquer. We can triumph. We can overcome. But not alone.
How have you accessed that power in time of spiritual outage?