Lost and Found
Don’t you hate losing stuff? We all know the routine–you go through all your pockets, empty out your bags, back track your way through the last four days. Later, you begin to really miss whatever you lost. You wonder if you’ll ever see it again. Depending on what you’ve lost, you might keep searching for days or weeks, or you might not search at all.
We lose watches, socks, library books, and small scraps of paper with incredibly important phone numbers or PIN numbers. Though in a much different category, I often hear of people losing not their car keys, but their faith. Is this possible? Can an acknowledgement of God, even if small and incomplete, be misplaced like an ATM card? As weird as it sounds, for many people I talk to, that’s exactly what they feel has happened to them.
Sometimes people experience a complete loss of faith, thinking it’s gone both completely and forever. More commonly they wouldn’t say they completely lost their faith; they just don’t “believe like they used to,” and that alone makes some question if they’ve lost their faith completely. I’m always glad when people bring this issue to me, because they are usually pleasantly surprised to hear me tell them it’s a very common experience.
When I ask what they mean by the loss of their faith, once they dig a bit, they realize they haven’t really experienced a loss so much as they have begun to ask some questions they didn’t previously allow themselves to ask. And these questions have created fear of what the answer may be. One of the typical times people begin to think they are losing their faith is in the transition from childhood to adulthood in the teen and young adult years. I’m often asked if I think it’s OK for people to question or doubt their faith, but again they are surprised when I say that as we grow older, we almost have to lose the faith we had as kids. That doesn’t mean though, that we can’t find the faith we can have as adults.
St. Paul wrote: “When I was a child, I thought like a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child: but when I became a man I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Often when we feel our faith has failed, what has really happened is that the ability to be faithful children has been lost. Why? Well, simply because we’re not children anymore! Adults need adult faith. We haven’t really lost our faith as much as we need to experience God in new ways. It’s like growing out of the clothes you wore in first grade: eventually you’re going to have to go out and buy something bigger, that fits your growing body. Growing hearts and souls must transition into adult ways of believing and living out our Christian faith. That can feel like a loss of faith, but it is often just a faith needing a transition to something different.
That’s not to say we don’t need to become “like little children” as our Lord commands us. We do indeed need a child-like faith that allows us to see God as the Father He is, and enables us to trust, love, and obey Him, just as a child does her parents. We need a child-like faith, but not a childish faith.
Other times we seem to lose our faith are the times where life has transitioned but we have not brought our faith along for the ride. This can happen when we get married and start a new life, start to have kids, move into a different phase in our careers, or when we retire. All of them require new perspectives and renewed faith that take into account the new phase of life. It requires an integration of our “old” faith into a new situation.
So if these transitions aren’t necessarily a loss of faith, how do we deal with the spiritual void we often experience? We deal with it by simply finding God again, only we do that from the point of view of who we have become. I know, “easier said than done.” Fortunately, our Orthodox Christian faith is full of tools for us to do just that. In fact, that is the very content of our faith: connecting ourselves to Christ. From the moment we are “baptized into Christ,” to our communing with Him in the Eucharist, through our return to Him through Confession when we’ve strayed away, all the way until our friends and loved one’s gather to bury us and commend us to find rest “in that life of blessedness which is with Thee,” our Orthodox faith maintains one goal: to put us in touch with God. I will highlight just three of the many methods available to us.
“He who has seen me has seen the Father”
One vital way we get to know God is by growing in our knowledge of His Son, Jesus. One of the most direct ways of getting to know Him is to read the Bible, specifically the Gospels. Taken even from merely a literary point of view, the Gospels are phenomenal in the amount of detail they provide in documents that are two millennia old. What makes them so important for us, though, it that the detail contained in them is about our Lord. The Gospels are both a peek back in time allowing us to follow Christ in his earthly ministry, as well as a look into the very heart of God. To get to know God, we need to listen to what He taught and watch how He lived. You want to find out who God is? Take an afternoon and read through a Gospel from beginning to end—you’ll never be the same.
“Where two or three are gathered together in my Name”
So often we think there really aren’t good reasons to go to church. After all, can’t we pray at home? Yes, we can—and need to—pray at home. But there’s no substitute for gathering together and worshiping as the united Body of Christ. Can you imagine each of our body’s members going different places at the same time? Our body doesn’t do well when we are “dis-membered” and neither does the Church. Only in Church is Christ fully present, offering us His Body and Blood for spiritual nourishment. Are you feeling spiritually tired and distant from God? Find shelter, hope, and peace in the temple of the Living God and draw life from His Life-giving Body and Blood. You can’t be much closer to God than when His blood is coursing through your veins.
“In as much as you have done this to the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.”
We know that we are called to help those less fortunate. The reason is that this is God’s work: to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the cold and the lonely. He entrusts us to carry on this work for Him. One thing that we often miss is that this is a way for us to get to know Him better. First of all, we’re doing His work and get to know in some small way, what God is like. The other thing that happens is that we see Him in the very ones we’ve come to serve. God has always identified with the humble, lowly, and meek of the world. He lives in miraculous ways among the poor and downtrodden. You want to once again regain that feeling of assurance that God is alive and well and unmistakably present in your world? Spend some time with people who know what it’s like to rely solely on God for everything they have, as little as that might be; to trust in Him for their very life, even if it’s only for another day. You’ll be spending time not only with them, but also with Him.
It’s absolutely normal for people in various stages of life to doubt and wonder. All that God asks is that you give Him a fair shake when you decide if He’s still the one you trust. He’s not usually going to bowl you over like He did with St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Our God is a humble God who has told us that if we seek Him, we will find Him, that His love endures forever, and that He will be with us, always. Be encouraged: We may feel like we’ve lost God, but He never loses us!