The Good, Small Faith

Many insist that Christian maturity means our faith grows larger and larger, but I believe that as we deepen into good life, our faith actually grows smaller and smaller. I do not mean that we come to believe in less or to believe with less fervor (though a wise professor once said, “The older I get, the more I believe in a smaller number of things.”), but rather that our beliefs find themselves decreasingly enamored with abstract theological notions all the while more and more attached to people with names and stories, to places with histories and hopes, to our own sorrows and joys.

In this deepening, narrowing place, our faith finds itself inextricably woven to the neighbor who’s spent 56 years waking to the love of his life but now wakes alone, to the child who carries our love and our blood but also our crushing regret, to the friends and the questions and the work that has made us who we are. Faith is not a set of grand truths preserved in a hermetically sealed silo. Faith is what we come to know, to hope, as we live into our actual life with the God who promises to meet us and make us within these days we’ve been given.

This means, at the least, that when we find ourselves with eyes bright, heart quiet and love attuned, we’ve likely found a place where our faith is growing fabulously smaller. Gratitude and contentment will be your friends here. Do not spend a moment critiquing whether or not this is the brand of faith you have been taught to expect. Simply give yourself to the Spirit’s invitation and whisper “thank you.”

10 Replies to “The Good, Small Faith”

  1. Good gracious: “Do not spend a moment critiquing whether or not this is the brand of faith you have been taught to expect.” I will have a lighter step as I walk out the remainder of this day that began with heavy burdens of expectations. Thank you, Winn. Again.

  2. Thank you Winn! You have a wonderful way of opening up new perspectives in a profoundly simple way. Reading this post causes me to wonder if the shrinking of faith is not in actuality faith itself shrinking in essence but in appearance. Maturity brought about by the refining work of the Spirit consists of the removal of that which appears to be part of the thing but is actually not natural to that thing. So as the impurities are stripped from a precious stone the stone appears to shrink, yet in reality it has not shrank but only became more pure. In my experience I have found my faith continually shrink as you have described. My elaborate philosophical, theological, rational, existential, and epistemological system of beliefs and evidences that I have built up to grasp at a sense of certitude have gradually slipped away. But upon reflection, my plethora of certainties that I have built up in my system of belief may have appeared to be the product of a growing faith but in reality was an impostor, masquerading as faith while functionally guarding me from having to enter into true faith. An elaborate system that attempts at certitude can leave one maintaining a sense of control while protecting them from facing the unexpected. But I have found that faith in its simplest form is a hopeful trust in the midst of uncertainty and mystery, it is a losing of control while being at peace because the control is being handed to another who is greater than my feeble mind can fully comprehend. So as the chaff of my faith has been blown away by the storms around me I have found that the foundation I stand upon is not as large as I had thought. But it is only once the winds blow away the chaff, shrinking my illusory foundation, that I’m able to perceive the small yet absolutely solid rock that keeps me grounded as the storms around me continue to rage. My certainty about many things is not as strong as it once was, but it is this uncertainty that has forced me to lay hold of a simple trust in the simplicity of the Gospel. I once saw certainty as faith, but now as my certainty has shrank I have begun to believe that it is in the midst of uncertainty that true faith can take root and blossom.

    1. I think you’re on to something here, Eric. The Orthodox like to say that theology is something that, in the end, you can only sing and pray. I think that’s somehow similar to what you’re saying here – but then, maybe not.

    1. Hey, Don. Your words remind me of responses I often received from my 7th grade English teacher : )

      If it’s murky to you, it’s likely I wasn’t clear. Essentially I’m trying to say the faith is less about broad ideas and more about the very particular ways that we love, that we grapple with our life, that we come to trust God – and be refashioned by God. For example, in seminary it was easy to exert vast amount of energies in ideas like “providence,” but now my hopes and concerns are for more specific – the two boys I love and the small group of people who call me ‘pastor.’ Lots of people find themselves immersed in a life of gardening and raising kids and practicing their vocation – and I’m saying that is precisely how faith deepens.

  3. As always, beautifully written and so true. Was it N.T. Wright who said, “Jesus didn’t give us an argument, he gave us a meal?” Enacted story over theological treatise any day. Smaller and smaller. Thanks, Winn.

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