Today’s question comes from Stevie. She writes: “Pastor Craig. I remember having faith in God at a very young age. It has built over time as life experiences have happened. I don’t know how I could live a day without my walk with God. I understand how different religious paths can be taught to people, and lessons on right and wrong, but do you think one can ‘teach’ a person to have faith? Thank you for your time, which is precious these days.”
Thanks for the great question, Stevie. The short answer to your question is, “No. I do not believe you can ‘teach’ someone to have faith.” I do believe, however, that you can teach people spiritual disciplines like prayer practices, how to engage the sacred texts of one’s religious tradition, provide opportunities to help/connect with people (i.e. missions), etc. And a pastor can certainly model what one model of faith looks like. At the end of the day, however, an individual must make the decision to live a life of faith for her or himself.
Your question provides me with an opportunity to talk briefly about an important shift that’s taken place within me recently as I help people engage this notion of “having faith”.
There are a lot of folks these days who perceive faith in a pretty black and white way. They believe you either “have faith” – which means you embrace spiritual notions that look like the religious traditions with which you were raised, or you don’t have faith. A lot of folks who say they don’t have faith (especially those who weren’t raised in religious traditions) are tortured by this black and white approach. They want to “have faith” – but have no idea of what it takes to let go and embrace faith.
Here’s what I tell such folks these days.
Every human being on the planet already lives a life of faith. That’s true of atheists; agnostics; and people of every label on the planet. So the real question one should ask oneself is this: “What is my faith in?”
For some, their faith is in their reason or intellect. For others, it’s in science. For some, their faith is in a particular political party or candidate. For others, it’s in the wisdom of a particular author. For some, their faith is in the connection they feel to the universe when they are out in nature. For others, it’s in the warmth and goodness of their family. To use the language of the 12-Step movement, each of us as “a god of our understand”.
The key, then, is to help people first realize where their faith lies. Once they do that, they can begin to understand they already have a great deal of experience in living a life of faith. The remaining question they must wrestle with then becomes this: “Does the thing in which I place my faith provide me with a life of peace and serenity that connects me to a world larger than myself?” If so, then the person can continue to live her or his life as usual. If the source of faith is NOT doing that, then it is time to talk about exploring something new. And that’s where I’m happy to step in and help them begin that process of spiritual exploration.
Those are a few of the thoughts that Stevie’s question raised for me. I would love to invite you into the conversation. And for those who don’t want to join this conversation, what question would you raise for our online community today?