I remember one particularly humid day in Cluj-Napoca, Romania where I stepped onto a sweltering, smelly bus. I had been serving as a missionary for about four months and I was in no way used to the idea that standing next to sweaty, unkempt old men in an unventilated space was better than risking “curent”—the devious cause behind everything from muscle pain to brain cancer: aka a draft…of air.
No air-conditioning, no open windows, just body odor and heat headaches on that bus ride.
It had been a rough week, well, to be completely honest, it had been a rough couple of months. No investigators or lessons in… who would even know ? (74 days! <— according to my journal.)
We just had zone conference where the APs had promised us opportunities to teach according to our faith and obedience. I guess we were some shady missionaries without even knowing it because we had nothing.
What rules were we breaking? In what way were we exhibiting a lack of faith? These were the questions that had plagued our companionship studies for the past few days. We were constantly trying to come up with something we could do to show the Lord that we were here to faithfully do His work. No matter what we came up with, it seemed it wasn’t enough. Day after day, we got nothing but slammed doors and stern talking-to’s from angry Romanians whose family parties and naps we’d interrupted.
That day on the bus, as a sweaty old man fell onto me as we came to a sudden stop, I started wondering: Where is God in all of this? I couldn’t sense Him in the work at all. Maybe Elder Rogers from The Best Two Years was right, maybe life isn’t an Ensign story.
I felt punished for something I didn’t know I was doing.
Over the years, I’ve felt like my faith wasn’t enough to: get a good job and make enough money, date the right people and marry the right person or really anything at all.
How many times have we been told that if we keep the faith, we’ll get x, y, and z? Find the right spouse, job and house for the low, low payment of just a little bit of faith!
When exactly did faith become the currency we use to buy our blessings?
This year has easily been the worst year of my life. The thing that comes along with bad years/months/weeks as a bonus prize is a crisis of faith. At least it has been so for me. After my family falling apart, my years at school pretty much going down the drain and a long stretch of unemployment I started to feel like I did that day on the bus in Cluj: that God isn’t showing an interest in my life at all. I began to feel like I had an absentee Father in Heaven.
What months of feeling that way has taught me is that faith is not a currency and we really need to overhaul how we talk about faith.
Yeah, sure, we “know” faith isn’t a bargaining tool, logically speaking that is, but when it comes right down to it, do we know that? Do we understand that?
It’s not the currency we use to buy blessings, it’s the food storage we eat when we have long run out of spiritual or emotional money. It’s the stuff that keeps us going when there doesn’t seem to be any reason to try.
Faith is the hope and understanding that our Father in Heaven has a plan and that the plan will unfold in exactly the way it’s supposed to. And often times that includes a lot of pain and disappointment. It’s recognizing that we aren’t really blessed because of our great faith, but often times despite our lack of it. Faith ultimately is the lens we look at life through; it’s how we see the beauty through the crap.
Faith is why we do something that otherwise makes no sense.
I think that with all the church lessons on eternal families and keeping commandments, we start to forget what life really is. Life is like a white river run. You don’t go white river rafting to gently float down the river, enjoying the views of pine trees and marvel at the gentility of passing butterflies. You white river raft to experience the thrill of danger and to test what you and your team are capable of. You go for the rough ride.
That’s what we signed up for when we decided to endure mortality: a rough ride. Faith isn’t designed to buy us an easy time, it’s there to help us think clearly through the stomach-churning falls and crashing waters.