As I’ve mentioned in the past, I work with much younger people, and am often pulled aside for life advice.
Honestly? I love it when this happens. The teasing and curse words our young people toss at each other often hide deeper thoughts and concerns, if only you listen carefully. So when one of them quietly pulled me aside and asked “What do you do when your partner doesn’t think your faith is deep enough?”, I nearly saluted to attention.
I don’t normally talk about faith, do I? But this young man’s question was so sincere, and his heart so open to me, I can’t turn away from his plea. So please don’t stop reading, even if you’re not a religious type. This matters, as I specialize in talking about people and their relationships, and the issue of faith is huge among all couples, isn’t it? Couples of all ages must stare this issue in the face, and come to an agreement. Or at least….a truce.
Faith–the invisible, intangible and inexplicable life force that keeps many of us going–is an extraordinarily personal thing.
Despite the structures we’ve put into place–denominations, versions of services, responsibilities allowed to genders–despite all of those things we’ve created–faith is still a highly personalized adventure, that can ebb and flow in response to what the world throws at us.
There are days even the most fervent believer will peer at the stars, and quietly feel abandoned. Or feel that what they own so solidly in their soul is actually a big maybe, despite their years of devotion. There are others among us who feel there is no reason for faith, because science has given us all the answers they need. Still others feel it’s all a matter of nothingness, with no explanations or expectations ever to be given or received.
All of those responses are normal, Friend.
Faith, or the lack of it, is an extremely sensitive, powerful and personal part of us, which helps shape how we operate in the world as individuals.
So, yes. This question, and it’s answer, matter a great deal.
I thought deeply, for several days, about how I should answer my friend. Because it’s something I do a great deal of, I prayed. My Christian faith is not something I hide, but I respect all viewpoints. (You can even buy the book I wrote about my Christian faith here, if you’re interested.).
And then….out of nowhere, entered a new friend I’ve gently named the Electronic Rabbi.
I know. Crazy.
Out of the blue, Rabbi Ari Synter messaged me through my Twitter account. “Very impressive”, he said about my blog. Wow. That was both flattering and random, and I don’t know that I’ve ever come across an Electronic Rabbi before. Who is this guy?
So I asked. “Are you real? Or Memorex?”. (Because we live in a world of bots, don’t we? Especially on social media).
“I’m real” he said, and so we’ve exchanged a few kind messages back and forth to one another ever since.
I thought it both interesting and fortuitous that as I pondered my friend’s original question, I was given a resource outside of my usual realm.
Out of the blue I met up with a learned theologian and respected religious authority, who looks at things differently than I.
Just like what my friend and his girlfriend are doing right now–looking at things differently.
So I snooped.
I roamed Rabbi Synter’s site, and found a snippet in this post that I find relevant to my friend’s original question. Here it is: “While each religious community must maintain their distinct viewpoints and values, the common strengths and benefits that we share should be recognized and celebrated by all people”.
In other words…differences among us all are okay, but there are certain shared elements that must be respected and promoted among every one of us, regardless of our starting points.
So what’s a shared element among them all?..
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” says the NIV version of the Bible, in Colossians 3:12.
Judaism, home base for my new friend, actually has laws in place to ensure that people, and even animals, are treated with kindness.
And despite the headlines racing around the globe about acts of terrorism by Muslim extremists, the Quran has many lessons about the importance of kindness.
Kindness, Friend. It is deeply important, no matter what, because kindness is the beginning of unity, whether in our relationships or in our world.
Every single one of us is broken, battered and doing our best. Each day we get up knowing we have things ahead of us that can’t be predicted. We know that some of those things will be good, and some of them will be bad. It doesn’t matter how deep our faith is, or what belief system we claim as home base, it doesn’t even matter if we don’t even have one to claim in the first place–we must all agree to start with kindness, and go from there.
Because life, I’m afraid, is exceptionally complex. There are many moving pieces and parts, and there are no guarantees.
There are also no answers.
For example, I don’t know why children die.
I’ll never understand why criminals hurt other people.
I don’t know why diseases like Cancer and Parkinson’s cause such suffering, and why some people have lots of resources, while others have none.
I simply don’t know, and I’m sure never will.
But I do know this:
Deep inside every single one of us, is a spark of life. It came from somewhere, and it can’t easily be explained.
Deep in our center, we know when things feel right–like helping someone in need. And we know when something feels wrong–like turning away from that very same person who is suffering.
Deep inside our fears clings a hope that somehow everything will be okay. Whether we’re upset about money, or a relationship, or a job opportunity, or a profound loss–whatever our struggle is–there is a tiny whisper of hope inside us that longs to never give up, and that, my Friend–that is Faith.
This is profoundly complex.
On a personal level, there have been moments in my life that were extraordinarily difficult, and I don’t know if I could have survived them without my faith.
I also know that while I am a Christian, I have friends across the entire spectrum of belief systems, starting from nothing and going to fervent, with dozens of different denominations and outlooks thrown in between. Every single one of these people in my life have value, worth and beauty, no matter how they make sense of our world filled with complex unknowns.
I know that life evolves, circumstances change, and the biggest skeptic among us can later become the most fervent of worshipers.
I also know it can go the other way.
So I suppose, to my friend, I advise patience.
We are all fluid beings, and God–however you define Him, or Her, if that’s how you find sense in a concept so big, is not only understanding, but patient. If you don’t find sense in ‘God’, that’s okay, because this very moment you are in is just a tiny part of your life’s overall journey, and you have more things ahead to learn and experience. You can’t assume that what you feel today is the same thing you will feel in the future, can you?
By treating one another with kindness, compassion, courtesy and respect–you’ll be one of the Good Guys in our world that has gone mad. By treating those you come across, no matter who they are, with kindness, you are operating in faith that your actions matter, that others deserve respect, and that you can make a difference in this profoundly broken world.
The labels, religious or otherwise, can wait, my Friend.
For right now–you are here.
So start with this–you matter.You have a purpose, are beautiful, evolving and intended. If you have found someone in this broken and suffering world who brings love, joy and happiness into your life–hold on to them. Tightly.
Know that you and this person have crossed paths for a reason, and while it might not be clear yet–there is time ahead of you to find out why.
Understand that you are both precious, you each have a purpose to fulfill and you are both deeply beautiful. If your faith’s don’t align yet, that’s probably okay. Because in a truly good relationship, one is strong when the other is weak. When one is down, the other is up. That’s how love works. Remember that we are creatures of change, evolution and possibility.
By consistently responding to each other with kindness, respect and courtesy–you are giving yourselves the chance to catch up to each other. When you allow the space for each of you to grow, you are making respect for the other person to be at the center of your union. That is the most solid beginning you can have for any kind of relationship.
I realize this is a significantly complex question. and my answer may not fit any kind of theological text-book, or align with specific teachings.
I also admit I’m not an official theologian, and am strictly speaking from my heart.
That’s probably okay, though.
God is big enough to have my back, and I am offering this answer with both sincerity and love.
So I thank my friend at work for this question. Not only did it give me the chance to proclaim my own faith into the darkness around us, it also gave me the chance to meet my new friend, the Electronic Rabbi.
And just how cool is all that?…
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**Chanler Jeffers has seen many extraordinary things over her lifetime. An adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances, she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent, was a single parent for many years, has survived cancer and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow along as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way–one more thing. She’s married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.