Wondering about faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV)

The word faith tends to be used in a number of different ways as is evident from the number of definitions for this word that appear in the dictionary. I tend to think of it in religious terms because that is most often where I hear it used, but it’s more than just religious belief. Even the verse quoted above does not limit faith to only religious topics.

It’s interesting to me to note how many ways that faith shows up in my life and how often it is a challenge for me, even in areas that have nothing to do with religion or spirituality. I’ve written many times before about my struggles with hope because hope carries within it the possibility of disappointment. If faith is the “assurance of things hoped for,” it’s not surprising that this would be challenging for me to hold onto. Just having the hope is hard enough; being assured of that hoped for thing is well nigh impossible sometimes.

Yet there are other times when I seem to have faith without even realizing that I am doing so. Especially in those cases where I have encountered patterns that repeat regularly, I tend to have faith that the pattern will continue without even consciously choosing to have faith. In some cases, this works well. In other cases, it blinds me to the possibility that things could be different. Most of the stories I tell myself about what I can and cannot do and what others will and will not do are this kind of unconscious faith. This kind of “faith” is limiting.

Other times, despite seeing repeated evidence of patterns that are in place, I continue to act as if those patterns aren’t there. I expect people to suddenly act differently than they have acted in the past (meaning in ways that are more to my liking). This is definitely acting with the assurance of things hoped for, but it seldom works out well for me.

And that’s one of the challenges with faith, especially when it comes to other people. How do I keep my stories from past experiences from governing future expectations of what people will say and do in limiting ways while at the same time learning from patterns in interactions with people who tell me who they are and what I can (and can’t) expect from them? How do I give people room to grow and change while still learning from previous interactions to protect myself when it’s needed?

I’ve too often continued to hope for good treatment from people who have consistently treated me in ways that were unhealthy. I’ve also limited the opportunity for improved interactions by clinging to old stories (accurate or inaccurate) about former mistreatment by that person or by others. There must be a healthier balance in there somewhere!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of having faith in myself, in my intuition, and in my perceptions lately. I suspect that my lack of faith in myself may be at the root of the imbalance that I keep encountering here. When I over-ride my own self-knowledge or my intuition about situations, that is when I am most likely to make poor choices about who I trust (or don’t trust). Perhaps learning to have greater faith in myself and what I perceive—even when this is in contradiction to what others around me perceive to be true—will lead me to a better balance in how I express and live out my expectations of others.

I’m not used to thinking about faith in this way, so I may be way off base, but it does have me wondering …

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