My son has a thing with loose teeth. He can’t wait for the loose tooth to finally come out, but he struggles – to put it mildly – with the process. He refuses to let us touch tooth, let alone pull it, but constantly complains that it is driving him crazy. It is a never ending back in forth full of exasperated cries and tantrums (and that’s just on the parents’ side). In the last month, we have gone through this process three times and are currently on our fourth. It is an incessant battle, doomed to end in tears. As awful as it is, I know my son isn’t trying to be difficult or turn the rest of us into crazy people. Underneath all the whining and chaos is fear. He is afraid it will hurt. He is afraid he won’t be able to eat. He is terrified to taste blood in his mouth. As big as he tries to be, he is still a child with limited understanding of the world. Fear of the unknown grips him, keeping him from the freedom on the other side.
What my son needs in these moments is a little bit of bravery. We are constantly talking to our children about bravery. What does it mean to be brave, really? It is hard to unpack this concept for little minds because every “brave” person we see appears as confident and strong. But being brave doesn’t mean we have it all together. Bravery is moving forward and doing the thing even when fear grips your inmost being. We tell the kids that even people who display extreme heroic acts of bravery must grapple with fear (and if they don’t wrestle with fear, it isn’t bravery, it is bravado). So, we encourage our kids to step out in boldness, even when they are afraid. If my son would take a deep breath and give us a chance, we could pull the tooth (now hanging by a thread) and his bravery would bring about a remedy. Instead, he is paralyzed by fear.
I wonder if the same concept could be applied to faith. For most of my life I can remember waffling between belief and doubt, struggling with being connected to God one day, to questioning God’s presence the next. As a result, I’m not always sure that I am a “good” Christian and am rarely confident that I am a good pastor. What kind of pastor questions God’s goodness, power, presence, or even existence?
Sometimes I find myself guilt ridden for what seems to be a lack of faith. Though I have preached otherwise, I have somehow believed the lie that faith means never doubting, just like my children believe that bravery means the absence of fear.
But what if fear is to bravery as doubt is to faith? What if faith is not the absence of doubt, but the choice to take purposeful, bold steps forward, even in the presence of doubt? What if faith means acting and moving in the world as if I trust in God’s goodness, even when the Kingdom of God is hard to find?
And sometimes, the Kingdom IS hard to find. The world has been a mess for as long as I can remember, and I’m told, even before that. Violence, hatred, division, sickness, abuse, and poverty abound. Pick your flavor, it can be found in abundance. Where is God’s goodness in the midst of all this chaos? It seems impossible to find. No wonder doubt and depression are growing, even among God’s faithful.
Today is the first day of Advent. It is a time when we practice waiting with hopeful expectation. Much like the Israelites did as they waited for the Messiah to restore them, we wait with bated-breath for Messianic hope to be fulfilled in its entirety, here and now. We hope, we pray, we cry out to God for the redemption and restoration of the whole world. We long for the day when justice, peace, and righteousness will reign over the earth. When wolf and lamb will live in harmony and the leopard and goat will lie down together (Isaiah 11, CEB).
It seems impossible, yes. The trials of today appear insurmountable. Darkness threatens to overcome the light. Doubts move us from trust to fear to disbelief.
And yet, we wait with eyes fixed on the all-too-distant horizon. We walk forward in faith, not because the doubts disappear, but because we trust that God’s goodness is enough for this moment and the next moment and the next. We take each next purposeful step, moving toward what our entire being longs for. Peace. Wholeness. Shalom. In the distance, we catch a glimpse of God’s heart for the world. A light is coming, no, it is breaking through, even now. Violence prevails but it doesn’t have the last word. Divisions threaten to cause cracks in the earth that will swallow us whole, but a baby in a manger offers common ground, justice, mercy, peace, dignity and love enough for all.
Some days, I have doubts. Some days, I feel far from God. Some days, it is all I can do to look past the heart break and sadness of this world to make it to the next day. And that’s okay. Doubt doesn’t make me a bad pastor or even a bad Christian. It makes me human. But what makes me a faithful Christ-follower is the continual choice to move toward hope. To celebrate the Kingdom of God found in big and small ways every single day.
My son’s tooth will eventually work itself out on its own. And I am eternally hopeful that my doubt will one day be erased by the pure, unfathomable, unconditional embrace of God. But in the meantime, I take each next purposeful step toward what my heart longs for. Justice. Equality. An end to poverty. Every human being celebrated for the miraculous gift that they are. An end to war and violence. Brothers and sisters sitting around a table with no divisions between them. Peace. Love. Freedom. Hope.
This Advent season I press forward in hopeful expectation of what is to come.
— Pastor Kristin Gilmore