While the title may be a little crass, it’s very much the theme of my life’s contemplations for the last few years. When I was struggling to decide if I could believe in a God who had allowed me to lose three pregnancies for no apparent reason, let alone eight, I had to get back to basics. Once I determined that I could not deny God’s existence and convert to atheism, I knew that I had to either believe it all or believe nothing. But belief without any action is only theory and semantics. “Love your neighbor” sounds nice, but it’s meaningless if I don’t do it.
Several months ago, our Sunday School teacher was discussing grief and loss and how we handle those as Christians. He looked at me and asked if I had any wisdom I’d gleaned over the last few years – how had I handled repeated grief and loss? My response: I have no great words of wisdom – you keep breathing and putting one foot in front of the other until you realize that one day it hurts a little less; and you have to poop or get of the pot. Decide what you believe and live it, or decide that you believe something else entirely based on your actions. There seem to be two great and conflicting theories on when it’s easiest to live your faith. One theory is that it’s easy to serve God when your life is in order and you’re not facing loss or pain. The other theory is very commonly stated: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Times of trial and loss make us want to cling to God, while in times of joy and plenty we tend to forget about him.
In my experience, I may pray more fervently when facing grief, but it’s much harder to act on what I believe when I’m trying to answer the eternal “Why me?” conundrum. I want my faith to be a meritocracy: I do good things, so good things should happen to me, and I want to pick the good things that happen. God has given me great blessings materially and in the family and friends he has surrounded me with. I have more good things in my life than I can count, and I’m acting like a two-year-old over what I don’t get. Don’t get me wrong, having a child is a huge thing, but when it’s the only thing I care about, my focus gets skewed and I get cranky and jealous. Trust me, it’s not a pretty look for me (or anyone else, really).
The only way I have been able to get one foot in front of the other is to realize that my primary motivation has to be to exemplify Christ in my life. I have miles and miles to go, but each day I want to look more like Christ than the day before. The only way to do that is to live with the blessings and the trials I’ve been given and to do the best work that I can do in every aspect of my life. Some days that means going to work when I’d much rather pull the covers over my head and avoid my life altogether. Some days that means painting a smile on my face and reporting to duty at a commitment that it would be easier for me to skip. Almost every time, what I was hoping to avoid turns out to be less horrible than I thought it would be; in fact, most of the time I find that I enjoy the dreaded activity and realize that I would have missed out on great joy. Funny how that works. If I had simply said I believe that God will take care of me and heal my heart but continued to hide under the covers, I would still be hiding under the covers with a broken heart. When I actually participate in my life and act on that belief, then God uses those actions to keep me in close contact with friends who comfort me, and it keeps me active and distracted from the pain until I wake up one day and don’t want to hide under the covers anymore.
James 2:14-17 is how the Bible sums up my “poop or get of the pot” theory:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.