We are shaped by what we believe. Our character and our choices flow from our beliefs. They’re basically our home base — our vantage point. If I believe that anything is possible when I wake up in the morning, that belief sets the timbre for my day. If I believe Harry Potter is absolutely amazing, that belief leads me buy audio books even though I’ve already read all of them more than once. If I believe that I am naturally gifted with a brilliant internal sense of direction, that belief keeps me from feeling lost when I’m driving (regardless of the fact that I’ve gotten lost in my new neighborhood more than once). Beliefs fuel passions and stir us up to fight injustice and help those around us. Beliefs connect us to likeminded people and give us an opportunity to share/learn when we interact with people who think differently. We encourage people to believe in themselves and to believe in a common good. We want to believe in our communities and in each other.
But sometimes people are formed by negative core beliefs about themselves and about the world. People believe optimism is naive. People believe that they are shameful or unloveable. People believe that violence is necessary and their personal happiness means more than the rights of others. When it seems that someone’s foundational beliefs are dark or flawed, it can be hard to reach any level of understanding or common ground. This is when people decide to argue or post bitter memes or buy rude decals for their car windows to put their opinions on display. I think it’s safe to say that no one has ever come to Jesus or changed their perception about about a politician because they saw a compelling car decal. But I digress…
Some of my beliefs have maintained a level of consistency over the years. They’ve become more nuanced, and probably a little less rigid, but the foundation is still there. So as I thought through the idea of faith and believing this week, I kept thinking of the song “We Believe?” (Another great one by The Liturgists). This song doesn’t make for easy listening, but I try to insert it in my playlists regularly to keep me on my toes. The verses point out just how often actions seem to contradict professed beliefs. The chorus says, “We believe, help us with our unbelief. So we believe, what we believe.” These words appear to be borrowed from the exchange in Mark 9 between Jesus and a dad who is trying to get help for his son. It goes something like this:
Dad: My son has been dealing with these serious issues for all of his life. Please have mercy on us. Help us if you can.
Jesus: If I can? Anything is possible if a person believes.
Dad: I do believe! I believe you can do anything. But please help me overcome the disbelief
I’m still working through. I want to believe wholeheartedly. (Mark 9:22-24).
This song and scripture echo the feelings that I have this Advent, and really the feelings that I have throughout the year. If this is what I believe, then why doesn’t the shape of my life reflect that belief? My favorite part of this scenario is that Jesus responds to the dad’s request. He heals the son, which probably helped the dad overcome some of that disbelief he just mentioned.
And I’m relieved that Jesus responds even when the dad acknowledges the ways his faith falls short. Maybe my faith still counts even when it is flimsy. Maybe the tenacity of my faith is measured on a spectrum rather than with a simple yes/no answer. Maybe I can believe something, but still have room to strengthen or reinforce that belief in a new way. Maybe I can treat belief more like a calisthenic or a sun salutation — intentionally incorporating it into my routine day after day to see growth, rather than taking it for granted. Because if I believe, He can help me with my unbelief.
If I believe God is good, then I can trust Him with my day.
If I believe God loves me right where I am, then I can have confidence.
If I believe God is Emmanuel, then I can feel reassured even when the world is insane.
If I believe God promises restoration, then I can take heart and know that I’m okay.
If I believe God offers rest, then I can breathe deep without feeling guilty.
The final words of that song are some of my all-time favorite words. This is my prayer for all of us as we wait this Advent season:
“Let us receive our faith again,
with open minds and earth stained hands
not with empty words and plans
But hearts wide open.”