A friend of mine who’s been reading my blog sent me an email recently. She reminded me that it’s not always easy to live what you believe when you’re wondering what you believe. “Have you figured that part out?” she asked.
It’s uncomfortable to admit, but I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve looked at my life and thought, “I’m not sure what I believe.” If I’m honest, those moments of doubt came when my life didn’t look the way I wanted, expected, or planned. It’s uncomfortable to be a relatively successful adult, perceived to have it all together, but inwardly sense a disconnect between the life I’m living and what I thought I believed.
I think most of us sense that disconnect but we don’t know what to do with it. It takes courage to ask, what do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live? Just that first question seems daunting. Defining what I believe sounds like a course in theology – exhausting and way over my head.
Sometimes it’s easier to just ignore it – to find a distraction that offers an escape. But more and more I’m learning that those moments I want to escape are the exact moments I need to step back and examine what I believe. It’s a difficult proposition in the noise of my daily life, and that’s why I so easily slip into believing what I live. I’m more likely to step back and consider what I believe when life isn’t going the way I want or expect.
Tragedy has a silence that quiets the excess and provides a singular focus. When Richard died, defining belief wasn’t just deciding whether I still believed in God or not, or whether I believed God was good, or what I thought this problem of pain meant about the faith in Jesus I proclaimed. Those questions mattered but they weren’t prescriptive for what my life would look like on the other side of my grief. Figuring out what I believed was a series of questions, taking inventory of the life I had lived until that hard day, the life that I had planned to live if we had gotten married, and the life I wanted to life in spite of his death.
One of my first decisions to live what I believe came about a week after the funeral. Two of my close friends were getting married. I wanted to celebrate with them, but I afraid, too. Every time I thought about attending the wedding, I circled back to a few key truths: I believed in love, and the depth of my grief at the time was evidence that I had known love. I believed in facing my fears so that I am not hostage to fear. I believed attending their wedding was an act of faith. I’m not sure my family or many of my friends understood my decision at the time, but I attended that wedding. Thanks to absurd traffic on I-95 south, I walked in at the last minute, sneaking into the back pew just before the bride came down the aisle.
As part of the ceremony the couple had chosen a hymn that I knew, but the words had fresh meaning for me that day:
O love that will not let me go…
O joy you seek me through the pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee,
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and know the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
The decision to live what I believe and attend that wedding etched deep truth into my heart in a way that is only possible when we take the time to define what we believe and allow it to be prescriptive for our lives.
Choosing to live what I believe not only guides me in the moment, but it directs me for the uncertain path ahead. By choosing to attend that first wedding, I wasn’t afraid to attend another one. I denied fear the power to take root in my heart. I acknowledged that seeing friends get married could be difficult, but I chose to prioritize what I believed over what I might feel. The unexpected reward was learning not only could I handle what I feared, I could even enjoy it. The very event that could have brought me even more grief brought me joy, and birthed a deep hope that someday I would fall in love again and be married.
Over the years, defining what I believe became a habit I adopted whenever life doesn’t go the way I expected. Just as tragedy has a silence that allows for soul-searching, the detours of life tend to stop me in my tracks and cause me to really look at what I believe and what I’m living. (Please note, the military life is full of detours and unexpected turns. My favorite meme points out that if military life had a GPS, it would be constantly “recalculating route.”)
More and more in the last couple years though, I’ve begun realizing that defining what I believe is applicable for all of my life – not just the detours. Over lunch with my talkative preschooler: I believe being present in the moment is important, so I’m listening to stories about the imaginary dogs under the table (instead of saying, “hurry up and eat!”) After a long week of sleepless nights and antibiotics: I believe making time to date my husband strengthens our marriage (instead of escaping with a book or turning on the TV to zone out.) Waiting to hear where we’ll move next: I believe that God has a plan for our lives, that He directs our paths, and I believe He is trustworthy, so I choose to wait patiently, expectantly, and hopeful for the journey ahead (instead of anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop.)
Taking the time to define what I believe allows those truths to become prescriptive for how I live. It’s a practical approach to applying the same deep faith that guided me in tragedy to my every day life.
In nearly every situation, every relationship, every decision, I can pause and ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?” Taking inventory helps me define what I believe and what I’m living. What do I care about? Where and how do I spend my time? What guides and directs my decisions? What influences my thoughts and actions?
While it may be uncomfortable to identify the disconnect between what I believe and what I’m living, it’s in that gap where I can most change my life. Recognizing the disconnect inspires me to rediscover my faith, to reaffirm what I believe, and to realign my life with what it true. And the handful of times that I’ve stopped long enough to explore the disconnect, the reward was worth the effort.