Discover more from The Way I See It by Marcia Ramirez
When faith formulas don’t work
Learning to embrace the mystery of God
I have always been a big fan of formulas. No matter what I’m doing, I like to see a clear-cut, step-by-step “how to” formula to get from point A to point B. For instance, I love to follow recipes. I like knowing that when I pull out my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, if I follow the instructions, I will have the same delicious cookies on my plate that I had the time before. All I have to do is follow the formula. For the same reason, I like maps. I know if I follow the same route from my house to Kings Way in Gatlinburg, I’ll arrive at my cabin. Works like a charm - every single time. All I have to do is follow the formula.
I also know if I put in the exact same digits on my phone, I’ll get the same person on the line every time. If I combine the colors blue and yellow, I’ll get green. If I play the notes C, E, and G on a piano, I’ll hear a C major chord. And if I combine coffee grounds with hot water, I’ll get a delicious drink that warms my soul and perks me up in the mornings. I could continue, but you get the picture.
I know I’m not the only one. Most humans seem to love formulas. That’s why you see so many being marketed today. “Seven steps to financial freedom”, “The 30-minute workout guide”, “How to lose 10 pounds in 10 days”, “Twelve steps to recovery”. People eat that stuff UP.
Yes, most of us LOVE “sure things”. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that finding formulas that always work are actually fewer than I originally thought. Many formulas that seemed fail-proof are certainly not. For instance, fame and/or money does not equal happiness. Being successful does not bring contentment. And practicing religion doesn’t always bring peace and joy.
I’ll be honest - last week was a doozy for me. Lots of stress, hurtful situations, and personal disappointments that culminated with me sobbing on my couch late Friday night. Stress + hurt + disappointment = tears. That is one formula that definitely does work in my world. When life hits you hard, sometimes there is nothing that can make you feel better in the moment. There is no perfect formula for healing. Well-intentioned people always try to say things to make you feel better, but rarely does it really help. Even those who have been in similar situations can’t always give you a formula for moving past a deep hurt. I mean, they can tell you what helped them, but human beings aren’t exact reproductions. What works for one doesn’t always work for another.
But wait… what about faith? Doesn’t a strong belief in God always help you get through the difficult days? Wellllll…. Yes, and no. Let me explain.
In my past, I was always taught that if life was hard at the moment, it must be a lack of faith somewhere in me - in my life. Had I been missing church? Was I not studying my bible enough? Had I been tithing 10%? Was there a sin in my life that I hadn’t acknowledged and been forgiven for? There had to be something in my life that I was doing wrong because obviously I was “out of favor” with God at the moment, which was the reason my life was difficult at the time. Clearly I didn’t have the right faith formula. Something had gone awry.
“Praying about it” was always one of the first steps in the formula. As if just praying about it was going to miraculously fix all my problems. I remember one time when I was going through a particularly hard time and one well-meaning friend said, “Have you prayed about it?” - OMG. It took everything in me to not yell sarcastically, “PRAY ABOUT IT? WOW! THAT’S A NEW ONE! I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT TRYING THAT!” Yes, Felicia, I’ve prayed about it. Sigh….
In my experience, there are some days that don’t get better, no matter how much you pray, how much scripture you have memorized, or how many pastors you talk to.
I’ve seen people do everything “right” — pray, fast, faithfully study scripture, take communion, serve others, follow all the “rules”, etc… - and they still have all kinds of problems, hurt and pain in their lives. There is no magic formula for a perfect life. And don’t get me started on the prosperity gospel that so many are preaching these days. That’s not how it works. Not at all.
Some of the most faithful and blessed people I know have very little material possessions. Faith shouldn’t be measured by how successful we are. We can’t look at people who are struggling and think they must be lacking in their faith somehow. That’s what Job’s friends thought and we see how that turned out! LOL
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that faith doesn’t have a place in our lives. Quite the opposite!! I believe faith in a higher power is essential for our overall health… spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. But there isn’t a magic faith formula for an easy life. It just doesn’t work that way.
A couple of years ago, I had a friend going through a particularly rough time. This friend was well-known for having a strong faith in Jesus. A mutual friend of ours, who I will describe as a “faith skeptic”, said at one point, “I hate that she is going through such a hard time - but this just goes to show you that faith isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her faith sure doesn’t seem to be helping her right now.” He didn’t say that with an “I told ya so” kind of energy. No, it was actually said in a sad way. Almost like he hoped he would see her faith magically fix all her problems and then maybe he could consider having faith too. What he didn’t understand was how much her faith WAS helping her. He was looking for some outward sign that faith would fix her problems, but that’s just not how faith works in my experience.
Faith doesn’t eliminate hard times, faith carries you through the hard times.
Faith may not change our external circumstances, but it sure can change our internal perspectives. Faith gives us hope for a better tomorrow. Faith gives us comfort and companionship. Faith can be life itself for many.
I’ve tried living my life with and without a faith in a Higher Power and there is no doubt that life is better when I embrace spirituality and include God in my life. I have felt a deep, supernatural presence many times that gIves me a comfort that I can’t really explain. Often, it comes when I least expect it. Unbidden. Uninvited. But there it is. After my temper tantrums. After my crying fits. After I’ve stopped trying to fix everything on my own. It’s when I give up - that’s when the Spirit shows up.
Or maybe it’s only after I go through all my human emotions and I have nothing left to offer that the Spirit fills in the gaps. It’s mysterious how that works. But it does indeed seem to happen that way for me more often than not. No formula - all mystery. God isn’t a genie in a bottle where you know if you rub the side just the right way, the Genie appears and grants your wishes. All I know is the Holy Spirit shows up to guide me out of despair, over and over again. And I find myself in deep gratitude that once again, God shows me I’m seen and loved and I can make it another day, no matter how hard life is at the time.
Here’s the deal: No one has it all figured out. NO ONE. God isn’t a puzzle to be solved - but a mystery to be embraced. I’ve seen people lose their faith completely because a religious leader promised a faith “formula” that didn’t work out the way it was promised. It’s awful to see. Actually, it almost happened to me, so I know the pain and confusion that can come when those formulas fail. You are left with only two explanations: Either you are a failure that didn’t get the path to God right, OR God/religion/spirituality is all just a fraud. Neither of these options were acceptable to me. And so began the process of my spiritual deconstruction several years ago. It was very painful, but ultimately so rewarding. Not to say it’s over by any means - I believe my deconstruction/reconstruction will be something that continues the rest of my life. It’s about learning, unlearning, re-learning and then starting it all over again. It’s a journey that we all continue until our last breath. The journey of the meaning of life - the meaning of our very existence.
One of the most recent and beautiful discoveries for me in my journey is I now believe that everyone has access to the Divine Spirit. A generous, loving, God who can help you through this life. And you don’t have to know the “formula” to connect with it. You don’t have to go to the “right” church, or have a specific belief system in order to be “in” with God. You don’t have to have bible verses memorized, or deep theological knowledge. You just have to have an open heart and willingness to open your spiritual eyes and ears. If you do that, I know God will show up.
The Bible says if you seek God, you will find him. So don’t be afraid to seek, dear friends. Seek in your own way. Don’t worry about how you are seeking - just seek.
Because God doesn’t wait until we have checked off a bunch of religious boxes to reveal himself. God doesn’t withhold comfort until we have figured out the “correct” religious doctrine or belief system. God doesn’t expect us to worship in a particular way in order to feel the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. God just wants us to turn to him in trust. Sometimes it’s in our surrender that we find our healing.
Because even when faith formulas fail… God does not.
Much love to you…. M
THINGS I’M LOVING THIS WEEK:
BOOK: For anyone who might be going through a grieving process right now, I would highly recommend this book, Grief One Day At A Time, by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. A friend sent this to me recently and it has been helping in my healing process. Like I mentioned earlier, we all have different paths to healing. What works for one might not work for someone else. But this has been a blessing to me and I hope it might be for you too.
DOCUMENTARY: I’ve always heard of The Blue Zones, and this documentary on Netflix, Living to 100: Secrets of The Blue Zones is really eye-opening. Thanks to my sister, Lori for the recommendation. Entertaining and informative! Highly recommend.
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