40 DAYS: Of Testing - Faith (Part One)
While my plan was to help people “get” (understand) Lyme for Lent through nutritious eating, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided excellent opportunity to share the lessons of Lyme on a larger scale. Millions are starting to “get it” now. Once you give them time to grieve and process the wave of emotions (reach out to determine when that is), I recommend listening to a chronic Lyme warrior speak about what you’re experiencing during quarantine. They’ve been through it. They’re expert veterans of social distancing, missing out, fear, medical trauma, and losing loved ones. The only upside to having Lyme during this pandemic is that now maybe, just maybe, someone will listen.
I see a lot of people turning to religion in this strange and frightening time. A lot of public prayers are being offered on social media. While indeed God is our only hope in such turmoil, it makes me sad to see how shallow the faith is. Many of the prayers ask for God to take away the virus. To protect us from illness. To miraculously provide medical care, finances, schooling, child services, food, and shelter for everyone. In other words, we turn to God when He’s our only hope of making everything all right again.
This is not faith. This is not trusting God and His all-knowing plan. This is leaning on our own understanding of what happiness and goodness and salvation look like. This is where a lot of people are disappointed by the results and turn away from God, and where a lot of Lyme sufferers get discouraged and even downright shamed by the Church. We hear, “If you had more faith, you would get well.” Like Job with his miserable friends, we are blamed for our own illness – we must have done something wrong that God would afflict us so. Our weakness seems to prove that we have a weak relationship with God.
Hebrews 11 and 12 give us a picture of true faith, and it looks much different than just believing God will give us all that we ask for.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)
We tend to take a very narrow view of this verse, thinking if we just believe hard enough, if we visualize the results with enough concentration, God will produce the outcome we desire. Even if we can’t see it now, we will see it soon. But Paul, the writer of Hebrews, gives us examples of great men of faith, who "all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13, emphasis mine.) The faith they were sure of was not proven in this lifetime or on this earth – it wasn’t just “not seen” when they prayed, but not ever in their lives. But they still had faith, because their faith was in a God, a life, and a reality outside of this world and its expectations. “Believing is seeing,” it is said, but with faith, believing is also never seeing.
In times of harsh trouble like COVID-19, we want to put on the faith mentioned in verses 33-35a: faith that
"conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection."
We embrace the faith that moves mountains, fights viruses, finds cures, and develops vaccines.
But we completely ignore verses 35b-39:
"Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised."
We don’t even think about the faith that runs out of toilet paper, the faith that lies dying in a hospital bed, or the faith that falls behind in education. When things don’t resolve, when life doesn’t get easier, when we don’t see the miracles we expected, when antibiotics don't cure our Lyme, when we can't get disability payments, when COVID-19 stretches for months, the money is gone, and the death toll rises, do we still hold onto our faith?
It is times like this that we have to ask, faith in what?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 (emphasis mine)
The apostle Peter tells us four important things about faith:
1. We have faith in our salvation through Christ. The ultimate act of faith is being “born again to a living hope”: believing that God has provided us a way to be saved from eternal hell; believing that we don’t only have one life to live; that no matter what happens in our lives on earth – even if cut short and tortured by Lyme, Corona, cancer, poverty, abuse – there is an eternal life waiting for us in Heaven. We don’t have to fret for our purpose in life, missing our goals, or leaving a legacy. God, and His goodness, His heaven, His salvation, are real, and faith sets our sight on that promise, not on the fleeting troubled life here below.
2. Our faith brings forth praise, glory, and honor to God, and joy to us. This is the highest purpose of our faith. Bringing honor to God for His power, love, and mercy, praising Him for saving us from a meaningless existence, and finding the joy of having a relationship with Him. Faith is not a lucky charm to bring us happiness; we will only find the “peace that passes understanding” when we hide our hearts and minds in Christ (Phil. 4:6-7).
3. Our faith will be tested with grievous trials. Peter says great trials to test our faith are sometimes necessary. This is important to understand, because there can be so much shame caused by the Church, when it tells Christians that they shouldn’t be worried. Worry will happen. Terrifying trials will come your way. Having anxiety and panic attacks are side effects of having a physical body facing real physical dangers. Having your faith shaken is not a sign of a failed faith – it is an opportunity to hang onto it for dear life even when every bone in your body wants to give up. It is the opportunity to recognize that God Himself guards your faith, and is helping you to keep it even when you are frightened and can’t find peace. Just keep seeking.
In Psalm 56, David sings, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.” He starts with “When I am afraid.” WHEN. Not “if.” Fear happens. It is a natural, human, physiological response. It is not possible for us to stop all fear and anxiety from making its way into our lives. It is not a sign of holiness to not care when the world is turned upside down and people around you are dying without this faith. Fear is natural and it is okay. Where our responsibility lies – where our faith is tested – is in the response to fear, which we can control. When you are afraid, put your trust in God. See, with faith, the unseen reality of His promises. Read His word, praise Him, and put your trust in Him, as David does. THEN what happens? “I shall not be afraid.” Keeping the command to not be anxious doesn’t just happen to holy people. It takes work, and faith.
4. This faith is more precious than anything we have on this earth. This faith, this trust in God and His promises, is so valuable, that all earthly possessions pale in comparison to it. This is how we can overcome the fear of running out of food, of not paying rent, of losing our 401(k) and the stock market crashing, and even of death. Nothing – NOTHING – that we have on this Earth, even our families, matter in light of eternal Heaven. If we have faith, and we have God’s salvation through Christ, then we have it all. If we share the gospel with our friends and family, then they have it all. There is nothing left to worry about.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 is pushing many, many people into the testing phase of their faith. Christians, I do not want you to be unprepared for this journey. It is a difficult one. As you cling to the Church for guidance and wisdom, I do not want you to be discouraged – sometimes the rote words and attitudes that leaders pull from the Bible do not comfort us, but trigger trauma and guilt. Please know that it is “God’s power” guarding your faith, not your own holiness. See this trial as His “necessary” plan for you, and as a gift. How wonderful is it that He would choose you to embark on this journey, that He would cherish your soul so much as to test it, that He would use these times to get close to you? Do not let guilt and shame stop you from pursuing this deeper relationship.
A lot of resources are being offered and shared to cope with COVID-19, but you may find that practical help isn't reaching the turmoil in your soul. Here are some places I have found help and comfort in my own journey: I have been experiencing this type of testing for many years now, and I have written through my struggles in hopes of helping others who are finding their faith being tested with Lyme Disease. However, it may be of use to a wider audience in the wake of COVID-19. You can find them on the WORDS page.
Please let these words direct you to your Bible. It is the source of all faith, and of all comfort.
For practical ways of overcoming fear and trauma, I highly recommend “Switch on Your Brain” by Dr. Caroline Leaf and implementing the 21-Day Brain Detox. It has been a huge blessing to me in so many ways.
For perspective on keeping faith through chronic illness and disability, please read “Joni” and other works by Joni Eareckson Tada, and follow her ministry at joniandfriends.org.
For perspective on faith through immense suffering and horrific times, please read, “The Hiding Place” and other works by Corrie ten Boom. Richard and Sabina Wurmbrandt, and Fr. Walter Ciszek are also amazing teachers from the school of concentration camps.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." Romans 15:13