When I was a kid I was awarded—two years in a row—a certificate for “State Winner Perfect” in Bible Drill. That means that by the time I made it to the state championships in my Bible verse spouting, “sword” drawing, King James onion-skin-page flipping, I could find every passage of scripture and recite every verse on the official Bible Drill list, perfectly.
Perfect, even when they gave us brand new Bibles that had never been opened! Perfect, even when they called for a two-page minor prophet like Obadiah! I still found his tiny piece of prose nestled between Nahum and Habbakuk. And I did it in ten seconds or less.
The Faith Chapter, they said. Attention. Present Bibles. I was ten years old in a dress and uncomfortable tights. I stood with the Bible held tight, chest high between my palms.
Hebrews 11, I thought.
The Faith Chapter, they repeated. Go.
I drive to the elementary school with my little boys plugged into their age-appropriate car seats. We sing along to the cd in the player, scripture verses set to music. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for,” the boys and I belt out, as I turn the corner toward the big city public school. “And certain of the things we do not seeeeeeee.”
I wrote a poem once about my doubt. I called it “The Faith Chapter,” those same words from Hebrews 11, the ones I turned the pages toward, pressed my finger into and recited in ten seconds or less. Those are the words I sing with my children, the words the mysterious writer of Hebrews scratched down two thousand years ago.
I took those words and scrambled them. I made a poem about faith that isn’t certain, that isn’t sure.
I still come back to that poem and sigh. Yes, I think. “The Faith Chapter” I called it. I was twenty-four when I wrote it, more than ten years ago. Then I thought my doubt might simply be a chapter of my life. That season would be The Doubt Chapter. And later, The Faith Chapter would return. But finishing graduate school and getting married didn’t make things simpler. Entering the ministry and giving birth to babies didn’t make my faith run clearer. My whole world grew more and more complex, and my faith wobbled: less certain, less sure.
My life would not be The Faith Chapter trumping The Doubt Chapter. Instead, the faith and the doubt and the sorrow and the sweetness and the loneliness would learn to exist together.
The rest of my life would be The Working Faith Out Within the Doubt Chapter.
It has taken me years to accept this: years of praying and not praying, church-going and ministry, years of begging God to order my brain and flush the darkness out.
But it took leaving ministry, moving across the country, and staying home each day with my fifteen-month-old son to recognize that God might just be in the complexity. Perhaps I wasn’t just a believer or just a doubter, just a minister or just a stay-at-home-mom. I wasn’t just a poet or a just a wife. I was all of those things. All at once.
I was anxious and I was ruled by fear and still I was learning how to pray. I was a failure of faith and still I was discovering that God was here in my failure. I was uncertain about Jesus and still I was clinging to him like a desperate lover.
I was a believer and a skeptic, a passionate follower of Jesus and a woman who had forgotten how to pray—all at once.
I sing in the car at the top of my lungs. I’ve asked myself over and over what it means to be sure of hope, to be certain of what I cannot see. I used to think it was an ordering of my mind. Faith on top of everything else so that belief eventually weighs down the questions, smashes them into thin strips of unimportant past, filed away and finally overcome by right belief.
I don’t think so anymore. I’m clinging to the hope that my faith is a circle of conversions. I move around my brain from belief to doubt, triggering lights in my brain in concentric patterns. And then I pause, I pray, I choose for a moment to recognize God-already-here, in my brain, among the questions and uncertainties.
I choose hope. And the circle comes back around again.
I wrote a book at the beauty of that middle ground, of recognizing how the weaknesses in us are still being redeemed. How fog may coat everything we see, and still the sun is bright behind those clouds burning the gray away, making space for us to find bright hope.
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