I’m taken with the idea of choosing faith. I’m not sure it’s something we talk about often or deeply enough, assuming that faith—a belief in something bigger than yourself—is an attribute you have or one you don’t. Or more than that, assuming that belief, trust, and faith ultimately indicate a lack of honest questioning on the part of the believer.
In the world we live in, struggle and cynicism are virtues, and faith is often equated with naivety. In this climate of skepticism it’s easy to find yourself unmoored. Because if searching is a fundamental strength, what can possibly be solid enough to hold to? If questioning is the goal, any solid ground is suspect. Humans can only live in this unsettled state for so long, I think, before they grab for whatever resembles truth within their reach and hold on for dear life.
I had a conversation with my niece not too long ago. She’s lovely, seventeen and smart, and at this moment everything is happening in her life: graduation and college. Her future is wide open. More fundamentally, she’s beginning to understand that the world isn’t as black-and-white as she once understood it to be. Her perception of the world, too, feels wide open. She feels out of her depth, she told me, uncertain of what to hold to as everything she knew slowly flips onto its head. I don’t feel terribly qualified to answer. I thought that by now—mid-thirties, husband, kids—I would be done with these sorts of doubts. I find myself working really hard, everyday, to keep afloat of the same stormy waters my niece is dipping her toes into. I’ve found relief in my faith and sanctuary in thoughtful devotional practices. The storm is still there, howling away, and I still make a hard choice every day, but my life feels more manageable when I focus on my faith.
The late author David Foster Wallace, in a commencement speech at Kenyon University, offered some helpful advice along these lines. He said that everyone believes, or worships, something but that we can choose what we worship, and that the consequences of that decision are far-reaching.
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life…there is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough.
In other words, we are all believers. Our job, then, is to be intentional about what we believe, to be aware of the choices we are making or failing to make. Perhaps if we can find something expansive enough to be worthy of our worship it will help us be better, more complete people through association. Perhaps the struggle to hold tight to our belief, to act in line with it, is part of faith’s power to perfect us.