Faith is a huge topic. Many people spend their entire lives studying their faith, usually it is their religious beliefs, but often it is faith in other things that are not religious. Most people do not dedicate their entire lives to their faith, but the dedicate part of every single week to their faith by going to their place of worship (like churches or temples or mosques). One letter from me will not clear up all the questions that you will ever have about faith, but what I hope is that this letter will help you understand that faith is made up of four parts: believing, thinking, feeling, and choosing. All four of those things go into faith.
What is faith? My favorite dictionary definition is “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” You have faith in someone when you believe that they are good for you. And you faith in an idea or a thing when you believe that idea or thing is good for you. If you believe that something exists but it is harmful, then you may believe in it, but you do not have faith in it.
My favorite non-dictionary explanation of faith comes from the Bible. Hebrews 11 says a lot of things about faith, but verse 6 is my favorite part: it says that having faith in God means that you believe that God is, and that seeking God will be rewarded by God. I think that is a a great definition of faith in God, of course, but I think it applies to faith in other things as well.
The first part of the Hebrews explanation of faith talks about believing: you believe that the thing is. That it exists. This is believing. You believe that it is not something you made up out of your imagination, but that it has reality outside your imagination too. You cannot say, “I have faith in this thing” if you do not believe that it exists. Saying, “I believe in fairies” does not explain whether you believe that fairies are good or bad, right or wrong, fun or scary, but it does say that in the part of you that believes, you know that fairies are real. Saying, “I have faith in fairies” means that you believe they exist, and that you believe they are good for you.
I call that part of me that believes my “believer”, or my “heart of hearts”. What you believe does not live in a physical part of your body, but it is a big part of who you are. What you truly believe may be because of what you have thought, or because of what you have felt, or because of what you have experienced from choosing, but you know deep down inside yourself what you believe is true and what you do not believe is true.
Some people say that you can choose what you believe. I do not agree. I know I can choose what I think, and I know sometimes I can choose how I feel, and I know I can always choose what I do. But when I look at what I believe, I don’t think I chose those things. I think they just are. They’re just part of who I am.
I believe that God exists. I believe that your Gramma, and your Mom, and your Uncle Kevin all love me a lot. I believe that dancing is a wonderful way to express emotions. I believe that spending time looking at something beautiful, like a sunset, is good for you. Why do I believe those things? Maybe I have logical reasons, but when it comes down to it: I just believe them. Whatever it is in me that believes, it’s convinced. No matter how much you would try to convince me, it would not matter, because those are a few things that I just believe.
Your brain, or as I like to call it, your “thinker,” is a necessary part of faith, too. What you think is based on what you have seen, what you have experienced, and what you have learned.
You can control your thinker, which makes it different from your believer. If someone tells you a scary story and you get a picture in your head that you don’t like, you can start thinking of the names of all 50 states, or the names of all the colors in the Crayola box, or singing a happy song. You can almost always change what you think about, which means you can choose how to think about something.
Some people think that if you have faith in something, you only think about things that help your faith, and you never think about things that may cause you to doubt. I could not disagree more. I think that true faith is not afraid to be challenged. I think that a strong faith is one that understands what other people think, too, and yet still has faith.
A good scientist will examine all the possibilities, test all the theories, before coming to a conclusion. I think that having a strong thinker-faith is like being a good scientist: you examine other possibilities, too. After all, there are very smart people who believe completely different things. So you may be able to learn something really helpful from someone who has different faith than you.
Let’s go back to the fairy example. Let’s say that you start to believe in fairies, so then you start reading about fairies. You ask people you know what they think about fairies. You watching movies about fairies. I think it is important to understand why other people do not believe in fairies as much as it important to understand why people believe what you believe.
Here is what I would not want for you: I would not want you to spend your life avoiding anti-fairy people out of fear. In fact, I would not want you to spend your life doing anything just because of fear. Fear is not the best reason to choose how to live your life. If you keep choosing because you are afraid, you tend to just get more afraid, and then you end up with more and more things that you have to avoid.
Instead, I would want you to live a life of confidence, full of strong faith, where you can say, “I understand why some people do not believe in fairies, but I still do.” For me, I love to talk with people who do not believe that God exists about why they believe what they believe. Almost everyone has really interesting reasons for what they think and believe about God. I am not afraid or threatened by what other people believe or do not believe. In fact, very often, I learn interesting things by talking with them.
You can believe something with your believer, and have many thoughts about it in your thinker. For example, you can believe that fairies exist, but understand that most people have never seen a fairy, and that you will probably never see a fairy. You can understand all the reasons why other people do not believe in fairies. What can think all that, and still it may not change what you believe.
Those are the reasons why it is important to think about things that challenge your faith, but there are also great reasons to think about things that strengthen your faith. If you want to build your faith in something, it is important to feed your thinker. Learn everything you can. Read, ask questions, see movies, sing songs, memorize stuff. Fill your mind with thoughts of the thing you have faith in, and your faith will grow. It’s neat, actually, when you learn something and you realize that it made your faith stronger. It makes your thinker and your believer feel good.
There was a popular book in the 70’s called Faith is Not a Feeling. It was about having faith in God, and the book explained how important it is to act on your faith instead of just feeling good about it. I agree and disagree with that. I agree that actions are an important part of faith – absolutely. But I disagree, too, because I think that what you feel can inform your faith, and strengthen it or weaken it. So I guess my book about faith would be titled Faith is Not Just a Feeling.
Some people think that you can control your feelings completely. I disagree. I think you can control some of your feelings some of the time, but many feelings come and go whether you want them there or not. But all your feelings, whether you chose them or whether they came in on their own, give you information.
For example, if your sister suddenly walked up to you and punched you in the face with no warning, you would have feelings about it. Not only would you feel in your body (pain), but you would also feel emotions (probably angry, hurt, and confused all at the same time). That rush of feelings would come to you without you choosing them – you would just feel all those things right away. Now, you can help your feelings, certainly. For example, watching your favorite movie or reading your favorite book or listening to your favorite song can certainly help put you in a better mood.
You could control your reaction to getting punched in the face by practicing getting punched in the face. Some people do. The idea is that the more times you’ve done something, the better you are able to control your emotions. But most of us do not practice getting punched in the face, so if someone punched us in the face, we would just have big feelings that we did not choose to have.
So what is the relationship between your faith and your feelings? Can your feelings help your faith get stronger, or make it weaker? Sure. It happens in the same way that your feelings help you know what you like. You know you like certain music if you feel happy or full of love when you hear it, and you know you don’t like it if makes you feel bored or angry.
Going back to the fairy faith example, if learning about fairies usually makes you feel happy and confident, then it will cause your faith in fairies to grow. And if you feel afraid and confused whenever you think about fairies, you will probably end up having less faith.
Feelings alone are not a good reason to have faith in something, because your feelings can change from day to day, and because you cannot always control what you feel. Fear is an especially dangerous feeling to trust, because people who always do what their fear tells them to do miss out on a lot of fun adventures. Fear is good to help you be cautious and be safe, but it can get overly strong and keep us from doing fun things if we let it.
But feelings are good information when combined with thoughts and beliefs. If you believe fairies exist, and you learn about fairies, and you usually feel good when you think about fairies, together, those make up very good reasons to have faith in fairies.
You can believe that something that exists and it is good for you, think about it a lot, and feel happy about it, and yet not put your faith in it. Putting your faith in something means that you choose to behave differently because of your faith. Some people call this, “walking the walk, not just talking the talk.”
The second part of the Hebrews 11:6 explanation puts this well: believe that seeking God will be rewarded by God. For me, I have faith that God rewards seekers, so I have done a lot of things in my life to seek God. I have read about God, I have gone to camps and retreats to learn more about God, and I even went on a trip halfway around the world to help people because I believed that it would teach me more about God. That’s what seeking means: look for it as hard as you can.
Think about if your sister lost her favorite stuffed animal, Lammie. She would not just look for Lammie for a few minutes and then give up. She would seek for Lammie by looking everywhere she could think of. She would ask everyone else to help her look. She would talk about finding Lammie, and think about finding Lammie, until she found Lammie. That is what it means to seek.
If you have faith in fairies, you will choose to ask fairies to help you. You will choose to celebrate fairies, maybe by decorating your room with fairies. You will choose to spend your time doing things that help you understand fairies and be closer to them.
The choices you make to live by what you have faith in, these are the choices that make you what you are. One of my mottos again: Who you are is what you choose. You can say all day that you believe roller coasters are fun, that you think roller coasters are safe, and that you feel like roller coasters are fun, but until you choose to get on a roller coaster, you can’t call yourself a roller coaster rider.
So whether you have faith in God to strengthen your soul, or faith in organic foods and natural remedies to strengthen your body, or faith in the power of recycling to strengthen the earth, it is important to make choices according to your faith. Choose to ask God to comfort you when you feel down, choose to eat healthy natural foods, choose to put your cans in the recycling bin instead of just throwing them away. These choices make you a person of strong faith.
Faith Gives Rewards:
So you believe that something exists, you think good thoughts about it, you feel good feelings about it, and you choose to seek it. The reason you do all that is because you believe that faith gives rewards, just like Hebrews 11:6 says. People of strong faith experience benefits, or else they wouldn’t keep having faith.
The benefits are usually not things you can pick up and carry with you, or things you could sell for money. The are usually things like less loneliness, less fear, more confidence, more peace, and more joy. Faith will not take away all your unpleasant emotions, of course, but faith can fill the overall journey of your life with a little more hope and a little more wonder. And, I think, a little more gratitude, because if you are expecting rewards from your faith, then when good things happen, you know who to thank.