Faith Is Not ‘One Size Fits All’

San Francisco red bridge

The month before lockdown I traveled with a group of teachers to San Francisco to attend a conference on stress and the teenage brain. It’s almost comical now to think of sitting in workshops that taught us all kinds of brain science, theories, techniques and strategies on stress and trauma when we had no idea what was coming. It was valuable information we presented to our colleagues and began sharing with parents and community members before everything shut down. In March, like the rest of the country, I felt like I was thrown into a lab where we were all the guinea pigs. But, I had all the tools I needed to nail this quarantine. After all, I went to a three-day conference and read some books. Plus, I’m an introvert. This was my time to live my best life.

Following the advice I had received and was passing along to others, I kept my kids exercising, eating healthy, getting good sleep and getting out to serve others. We had this under control.

Until we didn’t.

The royal fail happened early and recovering from it came slowly. We went for a run and my daughter felt a little queasy when we finished. We kept with the right things to do protocol and went out to a local warehouse to serve KidsPACK, an organization working to provide weekend meals to local kids in need. It was hot. And stress levels were high as the leaders of the organization scrambled to figure out how things would work under lockdown. My daughter started to feel uncomfortable. She stepped outside to get some air and when she returned her face was pasty white. She looked at me wide-eyed but in a way that registered she couldn’t actually see me. Her pupils enlarged and she passed out on the ground.

She couldn’t have been out for more than twenty seconds but it was enough for me to realize that as much as I strived to do all the right things during this time of craziness, I actually had very little control.

It wasn’t a fun realization. It was quite disorienting. Because it wasn’t even a time where I was putting my faith in self and not trusting God. I was surrendering. I was praying. I was in right relationship with God. I was doing all the right things.

And I still battled. For weeks. Months. Now. It’s like all my fears, sadness and anxious thoughts decided to reopen. God, why?  

The Old Testament seemed like a pretty good place to camp out. No one in the Old Testament ever seems to have it all together or figured out. Everywhere you look there’s a bunch of nitwits struggling to run from or limp toward God. There were deep laments and ugly struggles. They don’t automatically feel joy and quickly tune their hearts toward God. They fight their way there.

Take David. He oscillated between asking God how long he’d stay hidden from him to dancing out of his mind before Him, to asking him to destroy his enemies in vile ways. David felt things in big ways. He wasn’t afraid to lay himself bare before God. He wasn’t too proud to say all the things others felt but kept inside. Eventually, it always led his heart to worship.

Information, no matter how good and right it is, can only take us so far. Growing in wisdom, discipline and practices that draw us close to Christ matter. But faith is not one size fits all. We can do all the right things and still feel things we don’t want to feel. While I know our students are happy to be back in classes together, whether on campus or at home, I imagine many of them are still feeling all kinds of things they don’t want to feel. Grief for things they didn’t even realize they were still sad about. Disappointment. Sorrow for not being able to see friends and teachers smile at them from behind a mask. As young people, they might not even have the language to identify when things just feel off. Certain questions might even make things worse or cause them to become defensive. They need those who are willing to join them in their laments and not pretend.

As adults who are hopefully both ahead of their curve and learning ourselves, our presence is crucial. Maybe even more so than our words. The emptying and incarnational love spoken of in Philippians 2 has never been more vital. Our kids need gentle places to land when they are feeling low. Places to say the ugly things so the ugly things don’t come out elsewhere. While a pre-pandemic world might not have meant much t.v. or video game time together, it could be a time of bonding for your family where you can just be physically close when they are expected to maintain distance so many other times. Hug regularly, even your big kids, who can’t even get high fives anymore. Our kids need incarnational living from us because we need it from each other. They need us to point them to wisdom and engage in practices together, learning to keep going, even when things our feelings tell us otherwise. Sometimes our hearts don’t automatically bend towards worship and it’s a process to get there. We need to show our kids the process of getting there.

Growing in faith brings growing pains. Deep faith doesn’t come easy. For some of us in this season, mental health is a battle we will have to fight for, even as we constantly surrender it to Christ. For our kids, we may need to fight alongside them and encourage them to keep going, keep turning towards worship, even when it takes time to get there.