On Faith

Last week, The Bean and I were hanging around right before bedtime (I’m so lucky that he still likes to cuddle from time to time, even though he is a Big Kid now). At one point, he looked at me and asked, “Mom do you think there really is a God?”

Oh, crap, I thought, I’m really not ready to have this conversation quite yet. Can't we wait until adolescence?

"Hmmm," I said, "That’s a pretty big question." I was trying to buy myself some time. The wheels were turnin’, believe me, trying to come up with an answer that was at once truthful and age-appropriate. Lucky for me, The Bean beat me to it, saying:

"I think you and I probably have similar brains about this. Sometimes we think there could be a God, and other times we really aren't sure."

Again, I didn’t say much in response. Just waited to see where the conversation would go.

"It makes me wonder," he continued, "I mean......., what is all this about anyway? And, if there is a God, why would he create us just to live for a little while and then die, and why would he make us only last until our extinction? Because we are going to become extinct, you know."

(I am quoting more or less directly here, at least as far as my admittedly spotty memory can manage).

Finally, I decided I’d better say something substantive. So I said,

“Well, I’m not always sure what I believe about God, Bean. But one thing I am sure I believe in is the presence and power of love in the world, and that it’s important to be kind and do good during our lives.”

"Yeah, and anyway, some people think God is love," he said.

"That's right," I said. And that seemed to satisfy him for the moment, and heaven knows I was exhausted just listening to his existential ponderings. So we wrapped up for the night and went to bed.


I have been thinking of this conversation a lot over the last week. There’s a part of me that wishes I could’ve given him an easier answer: Of course there’s a God, and God loves you, and cares for you, and watches out for you, and has a plan for your life. This is what I believed, once. It was a comforting belief. One that helped me to find my place in the world, the universe. One that grounded me and helped make sense of this often incomprehensible life.

But the longer I live, the more I see and experience, and the more I study sacred texts, the easy God of my youth doesn’t hold together anymore. When this development first began to unfold in my life, it was very uncomfortable for me, and I worked feverishly to develop an understanding of God that could work for me. I read lots of books, sacred texts, and commentaries on sacred texts; I put on my thinking cap and thought and thought and thought. The harder I worked, the more I read, the more I thought, the more despair I felt, because the puzzle just wasn’t coming together.

Then, quietly, came the understanding that whatever God is -- a creator and sustainer of life; the presence and power of love in the world; a kid with an ant farm; or nothing at all -- there is no such thing as puzzling it out. Faith, for me, is not an intellectual position to be proven and defended. It is not a list of truths that I must accept (or reject). It is not a group of people who have “figured it out” and found the one path to salvation.

Faith is a way of living. It is a way of stepping forth into every day, in gentleness and hope. It is a way of interacting with others: honoring them, valuing them, treating them as you would like to be treated. It is messing things up over and over again, but trying to do better next time. It is caring for those who need care. It is a way of finding peace despite life’s struggles, despite suffering, despite tragedy. It is a way of being in the world: awed at its precious beauty, grateful for each new day.

It is a way of living with the Mystery of it all.

And so the question of the existence of God (or, the existence of God as some would define God) no longer feels all that important to me. Because (a) I’m not going to be able to figure it out, and (b) proof of the existence (or not) of God is not going to change the way I live my life. I will live a faith-filled life, some might call it a godly life, either way.

At the end of the day, that may be the best that I can do for The Bean (and the other children), but I am hoping it will be enough. Enough so that they have something to cling to in the storm. Enough for them to find meaning in their lives. Enough to help them to be sturdy and cheerful folks bringing love and peace and forgiveness to a world where love, peace, and forgiveness are desperately needed. And enough that they will stop from time to time, and stand in awe of the beauty, the wondrous mystery, of it all.

Call that mystery “God,” if you like. Sometimes I do.


Molly said...

By way of disclaimer, I want to add that, by sharing my own journey and the place of peace (for now) I've found in my own faith life, in no way do I want to come across as disrespectful of the beliefs and experiences of others. Many people that I know, love, and admire, have different beliefs, different experiences of faith. Sometimes I wish I had a less complex faith journey. But as I've been mulling it over for the last week, it seemed worth writing about.... with honesty.

CitricSugar said...

Molly, this was so beautifully expressed and with such a delicate and articulate hand. A journey of faith is such an individual experience (and a continual one at that) but I find mine not entirely dissimilar from yours. I admire how you handled your child's questions and will remember it in the future when my children ask me about God.

The conversation could develop into another great poem for you, too. :-) I know it's inspired me.

ljchicago said...

Thank you for today's post. I needed it.

Ms. WK said...

MCSp --
Thanks as always for your raw honesty. Again, you've pulled me from my hour to hour life and made me think.
I thank you for that.