I had an email last week from a woman who wanted me to respond to a recent interview she read with the singer and Christian activist Bono. In the interview, Bono eloquently defends his beliefs, clearly explaining why he believes what he believes, and answering with clarity the questions about how his faith impacts his life.
The sender of the email said, “For being a church-goer on and off for my entire life, I’m amazed at how little I know and how little I’m sure about. Maybe my journey has just begun or maybe it’s a lifelong process. I have to admit I’m a little jealous of people who have a strong, unwavering faith. What am I missing? Is it a lack of knowledge or understanding? Is it that I don’t believe enough? Do I need Faith for Dummies?”
What great questions! My initial response was that we ALL need Faith for Dummies, because no matter how much we practice being faithful people, it seems like we trip up almost daily (or maybe that’s just me). I think this woman has articulated many of the same questions that a lot of us wrestle with, especially when confronted with such laudable examples like Bono or Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King. We hear about people who live out their faith in risky, noble ways, and inside we think, “Why can’t I do that? What’s wrong with me? What am I missing?”
First of all, while Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King deserve to be examples of true faith in action, both of them dealt with their own personal struggles and crises of faith. And while Bono comes across as supremely confident and assured in the interview, I’m willing to bet he’s had his own moments of faithlessness and questioning of God. All of these folks are great examples, but they are also human like us, which means they are imperfect like us. If faith were easy, everyone would have it! Having faith is hard, especially in the midst of a tumultuous world like ours, and everyone who believes also struggles with their unbelief.
Therefore, as tempting as it may be, we shouldn’t use the faith journey of others as a barometer for the success of our own belief. There will always be people around us who seem more faithful, more righteous, more attuned to God’s call. And to be honest, some of them probably are! But the great thing about faith is that it’s not a competition. It doesn’t matter whether the person next to us is Bono or a bonehead. What matters is how well we’re running the race that’s been set out for us. As the emailer said, faith is indeed a lifelong process.
Still, there’s something we can learn here. A process implies something is active and happening, just as a journey implies movement. In order for us to grow in our faith, we have to put ourselves in places and situations where we can grow. I learned the phrase in seminary that, “Faith is more caught than taught.” So while it’s important to attend worship and Sunday School in order to deepen our knowledge of God, we can’t wait until we understand everything about our faith before we start to live it out. Some of my most profound spiritual experiences have not been in a sanctuary or a classroom, but in a community garden, in a hurricane-ravaged house, and in a nursing home. Mother Teresa didn’t get to be Mother Teresa by reading a bunch of spiritual books; she did it by living out her faith among the poorest of the poor.
This past Sunday, I asked the question, “Who’s your Pharaoh?” In other words, who or what is keeping you from living out your faith? I find that more often than not I’m my own Pharaoh, as I rationalize reasons for not following God’s call. At other times, my Pharaoh is my busy schedule or my selfish desire for less “God time” and more “me time.” We all have Pharaohs that seek to deter us from growing in our faith, including the Pharaoh of unhealthy comparisons.
To the emailer and to each of us, I simply say this. Don’t be Bono. Don’t be Mother Teresa. Don’t be Billy Graham. Be you. After all, that’s exactly who God created you to be. But don’t just be you. Be your BEST you! (I’m sure this last sentence is copyrighted by Joel Osteen, but I’m going to use it anyway)