Some old six-year-old soul broke the news to Lizzy in Kindergarten: Santa is not real, it’s just Mom and Dad. We are not dogmatic about Santa. As she has discovered the truth, we didn’t force the fantasy. What we didn’t expect was for her younger brother by three years, to come along and convert her back into a believer. Typically, Hayden absorbs all the wisdom passed down by his sister, but when it came to Santa, his adamant insistence in Santa’s realness led to Lizzy’s skepticism of her previous stance. Now, at the ages of 6 and 9, both kids are unsure but hopeful.
This is faith, is it not? Sometimes we believe, sometimes we don’t, and sometimes we change our minds.
When I was introduced to faith in Christ as a child, I learned as a child, in simple black and white categories. If you believe in Jesus, you will go to heaven, if you do not, you will go to hell. If you pray and read the Bible, you will grow in your faith, if you do not, you will be led astray. If you make good choices in life, you will reap good consequences: a good tree will bear good fruit. There’s a lot of good, biblical wisdom in these teachings and I will forever be grateful to the loving community who discipled me and sheltered me from making destructive choices in my life.
I carried this childlike faith with me into a nice Christian college, married a nice Christian man, and then life happened. Woven throughout our life adventures were instances of pain, betrayal, and heartbreak. We saw some very bad things happen to very good people. We reached out in love and received judgment in return. We were surprised, when tested by cultural stress and lack of support, at our own depravity. Each incident chipped away at the naivete of my child like faith. Those black and white categories slowly blurred into a massive grey area, where faith and doubt mingled, one or the other intermittently bobbing to the surface.
When my friend’s 8 year old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, out of anxiety and unrelenting cynicism, I swore to Jason: “If she doesn’t make it, that’s it, I’m done with God.” My sweet husband, quite used to my dramatic proclamations, responds by pointing out children die every single day of disease, hunger, and poverty. Not helpful. Trying to reconcile a good and loving God with the crap that happens in our world requires emotional, intellectual, spiritual stamina I’m afraid I lack. Pat answers in response to suffering physically hurt me. These days, if I vaguely pick up phrases like “God has a purpose” in a conversation about abused children, I die a little inside.
These days I have more questions than answers. Ironically I seem to be more at peace with this internal arrangement. Being okay with “I don’t know” turns out to be more comforting to me than having all the right responses.
Like my children, I am unsure but hopeful.
Christmas is hopeful for me because it is a time to reflect on the scandalous doctrine of Incarnation: God stepping into the messiness of humanity. God didn’t come bearing pat answers. God came as a Person, one who laughs, cries, gets angry, works, sleeps, and enters into relationship with people. I have learned there’s nothing in life messier and grey-er and has the most potential for beauty and devastation than relationships. God chose this. Immanuel, God with us.
Peter Rollins says, “To believe is human. To doubt, divine.” Having faith doesn’t mean an absence of doubt. Sometimes it is in those darkest moments when we encounter the divine.
Behold, the light has come.