When Life Erodes Faith

Comments 28
(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)
(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

Maybe it’s different when all you know is hopelessness.

When warlords kidnap your children and force them to murder.

When mosquito bites or severe weather or missile attacks annihilate your village.

When all you ever know is poverty and illness and violence and death.

Maybe then, life is so bleak that you never really care whether you live or die. Maybe death and an eternity of nothingness sounds like sweet relief when nothing good ever happens anyway.

That’s not how it was for me.

Even though my earliest memories are living in a trailer park.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4 and I didn’t get to see my dad very much because he lived 500 miles away.

Even though we never had a lot of money to do a lot of things other kids I knew were doing growing up.

Everything was great. I didn’t just feel loved. I felt special. I think it’s because my mom and grandparents were trying to compensate for my parents’ divorce by telling me how great I was all the time. Over and over again, my family would recount the story to me and anyone who would listen about how I wasn’t even supposed to be here.

The doctors told my parents I wasn’t going to make it on the day of my birth in 1979. The nurses took to calling me “the Miracle Baby.”

The unlikely human.

That’s me, I guess. I can’t remember much before about age 4, so I’ve never been particularly moved by the story.

I was showered with love and affection from my mother’s rather large extended family. There was no shortage of attention.

“Do you know how special you are, Matt?” my grandmother liked to ask me.

When you’re a child, you believe everything you hear, especially from parents and other trusted adults.

They told me things. My parents and other adults. And they could never lie or be wrong because when you’re little, it seems like they’re never wrong.

We believe fantastic stories.

Santa Claus. Delivering presents to every little boy and girl in the world in one night. Magic.

The Easter Bunny. I never imagined an actual bunny. More like a guy in a large bunny outfit. And that somehow didn’t give me nightmares.

The Tooth Fairy. I pictured someone small and Tinkerbell-like. But she had full-size money.

Mythical beings. I believed all of them to exist at varying points in my life.

When you accept these things on faith, and you grow up going to Sunday school classes followed by 12 years of Catholic school, it’s really not that hard to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, or that Jonah survived inside a whale for three days, or that the entire world was once flooded and everyone died except for Noah and his family who survived on a really large hand-built boat with a bunch of animals they rescued.

When you’re a kid, you just think: Sure! Noah and his incestuous family repopulated the Earth! Makes sense to me!

I used to get uncomfortable when I’d hear people ask questions that challenged any of my beliefs. You’re supposed to just BELIEVE! Like me! Trust me! I’m right! My parents told me and they’re never wrong!

Then my uncle died in a hit-and-run car accident and his murderer was never found.

Then I was a student leader on a Christian retreat in high school when total chaos erupted because my friend was accused of raping my other friend in one of the dorm rooms. So, either I’m friends with a rapist, or I’m friends with someone who lies about being raped.

Then my mom left my stepdad after 20 years.

Then we lost my father-in-law and my wife was never the same.

Then she stopped being my wife because I apparently wasn’t THAT special, grandma.

Then I sort of stopped caring whether I died because—honestly? Fuck this.

It’s totally unsettling when all the stories you ever believed about life and yourself turn out to be wrong.

Not lies.

Not fake.

But, wrong.

You find out secrets about people you know and then you can never think of them the same and you wish you didn’t know the secrets.

Your friends get divorced and everything feels a little bit tainted and broken after that.

People die. And you use to think: I’m sad that you’re gone, but I hope you have an amazing time in heaven and that I get to see you someday.

But now, you just think: I hope they’re there, but what if they’re not?

What if this is all there is?, and you scare yourself because now you know that you don’t know. Now, people talk about heaven, and in the back of your mind, you secretly think: I want you to be right, but I don’t want you to know how unsure I feel about that.

The loss of innocence that happens, usually incrementally, between childhood and adulthood is a quandary. Better to have everyone go through the shock-and-awe process? Or maybe, should we be doing a better job of preparing children for some of life’s harsh realities?

Protect and preserve their innocence for as long as possible? Let kids be kids? Or try to make it so the adult transition is less of a brutal mind job?

You have to be an adult before you learn there are no easy answers.

The sun shone through the gorgeous stained-glass window. St. Matthew’s name is at the bottom. There’s a purple flower I can’t identify just above the Star of David.

The priest was speaking from the pulpit. About faith.

Per the Gospel reading, Christ had resurrected from the dead. But Thomas was doubting the story his friends and fellow Christ followers were telling him because people just don’t come back from the dead. Doubting Thomas needed to see for himself.

Per the story, Jesus shows up. Lets Thomas touch him. See his wounds. Hear him speak. And, of course, Thomas believes now. Physical evidence of the greatest miracle ever told.

I use to feel sorry for Thomas because he couldn’t have faith like me. But now, I just totally get him. A sobering and depressing realization.

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,” Jesus said to Thomas and all within earshot.

But now I’m sitting in the pew, no longer knowing what I use to know.

I’m not saying I don’t believe it. I’m saying: I don’t know. And I need it to be okay with everyone that I don’t know because that’s what’s true, and truth shouldn’t need defended.

The priest talked about how when people don’t eat intelligently and don’t take care of their physical bodies, they tend to get sick and die.

When you do eat smartly and build your body up, you tend to feel youthful and vibrant and prolong your life.

Then he transitioned to matters of faith.

“This is why we PRACTICE our faith,” he said. We always get better at things when we practice them.

The only way to have a strong, youthful, vibrant, unwavering faith? To practice it, he said. When you neglect your spiritual health, your faith erodes, he said.

Withers away into nothingness like our dead bodies in the ground.

I was reading a space encyclopedia for kids with my son. A pretty thorough explanation of our solar system and what we currently know about the universe.

As best as science can tell us, everything we know to be physical matter—that is STUFF, like planets and stars and comets; all physical objects—makes up about 5 percent of the known universe. That’s it. Five percent.

“26.8% of matter is ‘dark’, we know it’s there because on large, cosmic, scales stuff moves around faster than it should and because the way that galaxies strew themselves across space is consistent with the existence of vast amounts of slow-moving gravitating ‘stuff’ that never turns into stars or planets or anything, just stays as diffuse, invisible, incredibly antisocial particles,” wrote Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia University’s Astrobiology Center, in Scientific American.

We don’t really know anything about those particles, either.

The largest percentage of stuff in the universe is called “dark energy.”

“Something is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. It didn’t used to. Until about 5 or 6 billion years ago the stretching of space following the Big Bang was in decline, but then something started to counter that, another unseen component, perhaps a type of vacuum energy density that fills up space as space itself grows. What exactly is it? We do not know. We have lots of ideas though, which is great, always good to have ideas about 68.3% of the universe,” Scharf wrote.

It’s possible that life is meaningless and that how we spend our time and how we treat others doesn’t matter.

But it doesn’t feel that way. No matter how right or wrong my parents were, it very much feels to me like our choices matter.

I look around and see an astounding amount of beauty. Spring has sprung where I live. Color and life returning as it does each year. Rebirth.

A cycle that feels entirely too intricate to me to have just happened by chance.

I really look.

I don’t see random chaos.

I see order.

I see creativity.

I see design.

Scharf said it all.

What EXACTLY is it? We don’t know. We have lots of ideas, though. Which is great. It’s always good to have ideas about the universe. About all that stuff we can’t explain.

Hello, God. It’s me, Matt.

28 thoughts on “When Life Erodes Faith”

  1. Life definitely can erode faith. Looking at relationships, what is trust if not faith? People get married, they say their vows, and in that moment they truly believe they will be together forever.

    Life goes on, and things happen. we find out that relationships are a bit harder than we expected, but that’s alright because hey, we are married so we know we will get through.

    You sense your partner drifting a bit, and you know the connection isn’t what it was, but it’s still alright because it’s just a phase you are going through and all couples go through them.

    Then you find out that they don’t love you anymore. They don’t think they want to be married anymore. And guess what, in far too many cases they have also been seeing someone else behind your back.

    And your world collapses. Your faith doesn’t just erode, but it disappears. The person you thought you knew maybe isn’t the person you thought they were all along. And once that realization hits, you question what was real, and what was fake? If they were “pretending” to be happy for the last while, when did they stop?

    That trust once gone is very hard to rebuild. You wish you could go back to believing, and trusting. You wish the genie was back in the bottle, but the bottle is broken and the genie no longer fits.

    But somehow you need to find it again. You need to find that mystery and magic again. Or you end up paralyzed, unable to move forward.

    1. I write about this same thing a lot but I never quite find the words. You just got really close, and even though I’m not glad you’ve been through horribleness, I’m glad you “get it,” because I’m never quite sure how many people do.

      When you really believe something in your gut and you find out that story you were telling yourself isn’t true? It jacks you up good. Really good.

      And it sort of robs you of this part of yourself that you used to have but now you can’t have it anymore because you can never un-know something.

      The ripple effects of that happening go into EVERYTHING.

      You start thinking: “I was wrong about that. Maybe I’m wrong about everything.”

      I just want to try hard. I think as long as we try hard, we always have a chance.

      Thank you for weighing in on this, sir.

      1. All that being said, I STILL believe that in the vast majority of cases, it’s better to try and rebuild and repair than to walk away. To try and understand what went wrong, then repair the foundations.

        Often when things go wrong, I think people ask the wrong questions. They see the symptom of something, and decide it was the problem. So they patch, and bandage, all the while more cracks form because they never addressed the actual issue.

        Like many others, I’ve been through some things that I wish I hadn’t gone through. But I still have to let myself believe in love.

  2. Whoa. I could have wrote this. I’m struggling with the same thing. I believe. I really do, and I would defend my belief with my dying breath…but the reality is that my faith ain’t what it was before. Shit got really bad and my trust – in pretty much everything – got broken.

    All my life I have counted on faith to get me through the hard stuff, and then, just when I needed it most, it seemed as if it evaporated away and I was left with nothing to hold onto. I’m still trying to find my way back.

    1. The older I get, the more questions I have.

      I hold onto three ideas ALWAYS, and they keep me grounded:

      1. There is truth. Meaning, there is an answer to the riddle. Certain truth. And seeking that truth is a worthy adventure.

      2. I can’t NOT believe that something created this. I’m not capable of buying the “random chance” argument. The mathematical odds seem SIGNIFICANTLY in favor of life being “on purpose” as opposed to the ultimately lottery win.

      3. Regardless of what people believe about the life of Jesus, and whether or not he was actually God, I have never seen–not once–any evidence that trying to emulate his example and live as he instructed leads to anything except a better world for everyone.

      Those three things are my foundation even in my shakiest moments.

  3. Hi Matt,
    Sometime those people in the most unbelieveable situations are able to find some joy in their lives. If you notice it is often the children who are able to put aside their misery and laugh. One day at a time and cherish those little moments of joy.

    1. In all things not requiring maturity and wisdom, I think it’s in our best interest to pursue life with childlike excitement and curiosity.

      Thank you, Leslie.

  4. This! This is where I found my faith again. When I started and continued to question it all. Wonderful post, Matt. Simply wonderful.

    Annie B

    1. i am with annie. without the questions – and maybe even without the doubt – it’s all just neat, tidy semantics and traditions tied up with a theological ribbon. toss it on the coals of suffering and it doesn’t last long. but i am convinced that if we don’t give up what remains is real and indestructible, although much harder to define and largely counter to every childhood indoctrination. faith is messy and swims in tears. but it keeps me alive, it keeps me pushing forward, and it seems to defy logic by growing through all those questions. keep writing about it. it helps me so much to read other perspectives.

      1. Absolutely! It was refined by the fires of abuse, loss, betrayal and fear – it found its way through it all willing to admit it defies my logic but fills my soul. It’s now mine and it’s substantive; no longer a rote exercise.

      2. “Faith is messy and swims in tears.”

        A beautiful way of writing that.

        It certainly is messy and tested in our weakest, most-vulnerable moments.

        Thank you for reading and for your encouragement.

    2. Thank you very much, Annie.

      Some posts are more personal than others, and it always feels good when someone likes the personal ones.

  5. For someone currently struggling with Faith, this is a lovely, moving piece. I haven’t posted here for a while but still read (formally lovecat2410 on Twitter). I will take away a little piece of hope from this. Thank you once again Matt.

    1. I might be misremembering. Lisa? New Zealand?

      Regardless, thank you so much for reading and saying hi. 🙂

  6. Matt, I loved this. I Just loved every bit of this. This journey you’re on is still in the making. You’ve only now reached the ignition factor–awareness. That super imposed reaction to conflict. The battle you’re fighting is epic story proportions, and you are standing on the precipice of the oldest question in history. “Who are we?”

    Your name is Matt. But there’s more. You live within this body. But there’s more. Underneath, buried deep inside, is a soul full of possibilities. A spirit of unknown abilities. We are each on a journey, and we have to ask the big questions sometimes. Push God. He can handle your questions. He knows they’re coming, and He doesn’t fret about how to answer them. He already knows how much you mean to Him, and He’s waiting for you to find out, too.

    This time you’re in, push back the veil, question, let the Spirit work in you. Be renewed. Set the refresh button and explore.

    1. This was really nice. Thank you so much.

      No one likes talking about this stuff because it’s the biggest, scariest stuff there is, and most people want to be distracted from the things we’re really afraid of.

      I practice avoidance as much as anyone.

      But I know that I don’t spend enough time actively practicing beliefs and actively pursuing answers to these questions.

      This is all part of my process. Thank you for liking it. For being supportive and encouraging.

      1. There is something about being public about your testimony. When you face your fear in front of an audience, fear loses its hold on you. You become stronger, and more able to overcome that fear. Proud of you!

  7. It is interesting what bad acts do to people. I was raised moderately religious. The kind of part time, back row churchgoer who rolls her eyes at the people banging their bibles in the front pew for whom parish politics is all about power and big noting themselves. Paul is an atheist, raised by atheists. In fact he used the comparison wittily when he first hinted at spending the rest of our lives together.

    We have had two big tragedies in our lives: the deaths of two children, and his affair. Clearly these are different, one was literally an Act of God, nothing anyone could have done about the random chance that killed our babies. And one was anything but chance.

    When we lost our babies, Paul’s tearful response was “I know that (my Grandpa’s name, who helped raise me) has them one on each knee somewhere, and he will look after them. This is a man who used to decry soldiers who prayed on the battlefield because “it doesn’t count if you are thinking you’re about to die, it doesn’t mean you really believe”. And yet somehow, even he needed to believe our children were somewhere safe, being loved, however you want to conceptualise that. That I felt the same is less surprising. But I didn’t lose my faith.

    But his affair? And the aftermath with the sheer emotional violence done to us by the other woman who would not stop stalking us? I no longer believed in a God who would turn a blind eye to that. And no amount of “you’re being tested” cut the mustard.

    Now, I am kind of ambivalent. Maybe there’s a God, maybe there isn’t. In any event, the only thing that matter in life is our honour and our love, and if that’s not enough to keep people from doing terrible things then well, I despair of humanity. Yes, the universe is amazing. No, I don’t need to understand it all, I’m just fine with mystery. And if God (if he exists) has a problem with my attitude then well, he’s not a God I would have believed in anyway so I didn’t lose any opportunities.

    Faith is important, but faith in people is much more urgent a need in this world. And bad deeds have made me lose my faith in people. There are a few good people out there, but mostly we won’t know who they are. Let us just hope they win a few along the way.

  8. I’m not one for quoting bibles. It’s always seemed lazy to me. I’ve been to a lot of weddings and funerals, and I never found a lot of inspiration or comfort from the things being read from the bible.

    Maybe that makes me an asshole. But it’s honestly how I felt.

    I’ve always gotten more out of the priest or minister or person giving a eulogy that was heartfelt and full of personal anecdotes.

    I am deeply moved by the stories and experiences of others IF I can relate to them somehow.

    That said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me.”

    It’s about feeding the poor. Taking care of the sick. Sheltering the homeless. Clothing the needy. Protecting vulnerable children.

    But I do think that it applies to what you’re saying here about our need for faith in people.

    There are an awful lot of “religious” people out there who raise their hands in the air and scream ‘Hallelujah,’ but they know precisely dick about how to actually LOVE another human being. I mean that in the most non-romantic sense, possible.

    We are called to love and serve one another.

    When that happens, everyone gets infinitely happier. Everyone.

    I didn’t know you lost children. I’m not capable of putting any words together appropriate for that discovery. Took my breath away.

    Thank you for sharing something that personal. That helps me and others better understand who you are.

  9. Well said, Matt. We burden kids when we tell them they’re special. It begins to isolate them them from the rest of the human race and makes relationships with other people more difficult. In abusive homes we call this the golden child syndrome, it’s designed to isolate kids, to take hostages. At some point in recent history, the golden child syndrome became standard operating procedure for most parents and we forgot everything we used to know. Lo and behold we now have a culture that struggles with faith, with relationships, with intimacy, and in spite of technology, we’re lonelier than we’ve ever been before. LOL, it’s hard to make connections when everyone’s a special snowflake! The olden days were a lot wiser. You aren’t special kid, go play somewhere until dark!

    Faith is a lot like a marriage. The idea is to build connection and intimacy. Takes a lot of humility and honesty and an investment of time. Faith isn’t really a belief, what we believe is irrelevant, just like belief is irrelevant in marriage. What we believe about the world around us and ourselves is subject to change at anytime, but connection, intimacy, that is something known and felt and not a matter of belief at all.

    Love your writing.

    1. Thank you for saying you love my writing. That’s always really nice and encouraging to read.

      Golden Child Syndrome.

      I’m going to think more about that.

      No doubt, it’s a problem. Feeling entitled and like life “owes” you something is a one-way ticket to mega-suckage.

  10. I didn’t see this for a while because it wasn’t a “reply”. And then I wasn’t quite sure what to say.

    I agree many of the “pious” miss the point of religion. I wrote a post called “Facepalm Day” about that on 24 September 2014. And my post on 13 February 2015 called “Playing marriage like a girl” covered some of the gender categories you mention. Let’s just say I think Gottman is conpromised by his rigid male perspective 🙂

    It won’t surprise you that my favourite priest was an ex-social worker who ended up leaving the priesthood due to a nervous breakdown. Nor that I am a democratic socialist who believes the sermon on the mount was basically “from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs”. Horrifying to most Americans, I know.

    It is what makes my disgust with bible-quoting cheats (not least my father) razor sharp. True faith is not so fricking presumptuous and arrogant.

    Most of all I would like to share with you my post “Grief and Celebration” about our twins, from 29 June 2014. It is one of my posts that I often re-read, and the betrayal of them by the affair is something neither party will ever make up for. I don’t talk about them much, even to Paul. But I think of them several times a day. They would have been at school this year. Sounds silly, but it reminds me of the Anne of Green Gables sequel where she fears she won’t recognise her daughter in heaven. I think I will know my sons, I just couldn’t describe how.

  11. Hello Matt

    You mention you see “design” in life and I agree. It is everywhere we choose to look. I learned yesterday that the humble caterpillar, when it pupates and becomes a chrysalis, all of this is screened off from prying eyes, yet by the time it bursts forth as a drop dead gorgeous multi coloured, iridescent creature of stunning beauty, and with the gift of flight just thrown in for good measure – by the time it arrives at this miraculous phase of it’s life – in order to arrive at this juncture, while inside the pupae, that humble caterpiller literally deconstructed itself completely and then reconstructed itself as a butterfly.

    The only word that describes it adequately is metomorphis which in Greek means literally to transform and transform it does on a scale that is nothing short of miraculous. So outstanding, so baffling, so beyond comprehension is this transformation, from natures ugly, squat and hairy brigade to natures delicately beautiful elite. How? By literally breaking down the individual sum if it’s own parts and reconstructing them into something dazzlingly beautiful and that has, at the same time acquired the the ability of flight and navigation around the planet.

    And do you know Matt, the greatest minds in the world who study this “transformation” cannot even begin to explain how on earth it achieves this. It is beyond words, beyond science, beyond the beyond and yet there it is, for all to see and marvel at.

    I do truly believe that if we as a human race actually understood just what goes on inside that chrysalis at the time of transformation – we wouldn’t be able to put it into words, because words would taint what we would be trying to describe.

    Are we seriously – seriously supposed to believe that there is no designer behind this? That this “just happened”?

    I know which camp I’m in!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.