Isolation is not a recipe for faith

Hebrew 10:19-25; 11:1-12:3

Jan 13, 2015 by

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Some time ago, I went through a period of crisis in faith. I’d never experienced anything quite like it before. There were no precipitating life events; no new questions or revelations had swept in to upset my world. Nothing, seemingly, had changed. Yet suddenly I was waking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat of doubt:

What if all the times I thought I’d heard God speak were only in my head? What if I hadn’t seen what I thought I’d seen of God’s movements in the world? What if the skeptics were right and there wasn’t any meaning? Was it really possible to know anything at all?

I finally invoked the only spiritual strategy I’ve found 100 percent effective: I wrapped myself around the Spirit’s leg like a starving boa constrictor and simply refused to let go. I doubled the time set aside each day for prayer and meditation. Then I sat staring into darkness and waited for God to show up. And God eventually did. God always does.

But even after I found myself grounded in faith once more, I felt shaken — I didn’t understand what had gone wrong. Over weeks of subsequent discernment, a theme finally began to emerge: the truth was, I’d gotten isolated. I was writing, leading, preaching, praying; all the private spiritual practices that had always anchored my life were still solidly in place. But somewhere along the way, my faith had become a closed loop. Most of the conversation took place in my head. I had become my only regular witness to God’s activity.

“This is not a recipe for faith,” the Spirit whispered. “It’s a recipe for madness.” In isolation, I had become profoundly spiritually vulnerable.

So many people I know try to do Christian life alone. Faith, we say, is a private matter. Yet in truth, it is anything but. Faith in isolation is like fire deprived of oxygen — by its very nature, it cannot burn for long.

When the author of Hebrews wants his friends to hold onto faith in tough times, he urges them not to grow lax in gathering together. He also reminds them of the wealth of names and stories of saints who believed before them (Hebrews 11). There will be times for all of us, Hebrews knows, when we’ll lose touch with our own stories. In these times, it is the stories of others that will keep the flame alive. For everyone, a time will come when our hands will feel too weak to carry faith. The community is there to hold it for us for a while.

The most basic fact of faith is that it quickly grows brittle when stationary. Faith gains strength and vitality as it is passed back and forth. The power of faith is in its movement, in witness given and received. Faith is like a river that needs somewhere to flow; where there are no two points to move between, faith stagnates and grows dead.

The most dangerous thing a believer can do is try to live free from the river. It’s not a matter of strength or skill — faith alone consumes itself. Faith is by definition a communal enterprise. What we believe, and with what passion, and what longevity, will always be profoundly tied to whom we believe beside.

Meghan Larissa Good is pastor of Albany (Ore.) Mennonite Church. She writes at MudPieGod.com where this first appeared.


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