Faith and Feeling when Everything Falls Apart

All of the most helpful advice I’ve read during this pandemic has had one thing in common: rather than adding to my growing to-do list, wise writers have graciously given me permission to let certain things go. I have been mercifully unburdened from unrealistic expectations, such as making my daughters’ distance learning experience equivalent to what happens in their classrooms, keeping the small apartment where we spend 24 hours a day uncluttered, or maintaining peak physical fitness (or whatever trajectory toward “peak” I imagined I was on).

More importantly, I am learning to accept that I cannot protect my family from all risk of infection, serve my neighbors and church community without ever falling short, or perfectly support the heroic healthcare workers on the front lines and other essential employees that hold our society together. I can do my best, but my best will not be perfect. Adding to all these expectations is the nagging sense that I should somehow feel different — more optimistic, more hopeful, more confident — than I actually do. This crisis has revealed that I have confused faith with a certain set of feelings. And I imagine I am not alone in this regard. So I want to join my voice to the chorus of voices that have encouraged me and add one more important item to our list of things we do not have to do: we do not have to feel any particular way in order to move forward in faith during this pandemic.

Something that helps me understand the relationship between faith and feeling is the relationship between worship and emotion. Worshipping God certainly involves our emotions, our hearts, our attitudes. But Scripture consistently describes worship not as merely an internal state but an embodied way of being before God, with one another, and in the world. To worship is to fall prostrate, to kneel, to lift hands, to sing, and to act out of love for our neighbors in response to God. Outward form does not, of course, always correspond to what’s in our hearts. But even when discussing this incongruence, the Bible’s inspired authors talk about insincere worship by pointing to actions, especially unjust treatment of others, that reveal the state of our hearts (see Isaiah 1).

Biblical worship, it seems, is something we do, in response to God and by grace, and not a way we necessarily feel. Congruence between faith and feeling is good, but thankfully it’s not a requirement for worship. Sometimes I don’t feel like worshipping God, but that does not remove the value of humbly bowing before my Creator and serving my neighbors in the liturgy of life.

Faith similarly does not require me to feel a certain way for it to be efficacious. First, faith is not something we need to create inside ourselves so we might be saved. Paul argues, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8 NIV). And second, this time of incredible uncertainty is teaching me something essential about what that gift of faith looks like, along with its counterparts, hope and love.

I am married to a doctor who gets up every morning and walks toward COVID-19 in one of this pandemic’s global epicenters. And she does not walk out the door because of a certain feeling. She has fears and doubts like the rest of us. But she has faith in her team, hope that her actions will make a difference, and a love for those she serves and serves alongside that persists through any emotion.

As Susan David says, “Courage is not the absence of fear but fear walking.” Faith is similarly not the absence of doubt; hope is not the absence of uncertainty; and love is not the absence of all the feelings that can paralyze us and lead us to despair. My encouragement to you today is that you don’t have to have all the answers to offer someone a word of assurance; you don’t have to be certain to live like what you hope for is possible; you don’t have to feel any particular way at all to hug your kids, call a friend or church member to check in, bring food to someone who can’t shop, donate personal protective equipment to healthcare workers, or do anything else to share the divine love God has shown us with your families and neighbors.

Perhaps our worship today will take the form of lament, an implicit act of faith in a God we believe should be showing up more clearly right now. But we will also worship in gratitude that we can be in communion with God and community with others exactly as we are, emotionally, physically, and otherwise. It turns out that when everything falls apart, we do, too — at least a little. And that’s OK. We worship a God who remains busy working to put all things, including us, back together. And by grace we can participate in that healing work, as we put one foot in front of the other, living and loving with “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1 NRSV), knowing that no matter how we feel today, love will never fail.

Nicholas Zork serves as minister for worship and the arts at Church of the Advent Hope in Manhattan. This article was originally published on the NAD Ministerial website and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10323
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this is so true…and it’s such an important lesson to pack amongst our things as we journey on…some yrs ago, our associate pastor, felix richter, said something in church that i’ll never forget: “god is god, no matter how you feel”…

about three weeks ago, just as things started coming into focus with the pandemic we’re in, i had a very encouraging dream: i saw a figure of pure light sitting high up on a large, immense throne of invisibility that moved in a calm, straight line from right to left, far above our world, which was a mass of non-stop commotion in every direction, but that was moving nowhere…what i felt as i watched was a mixture of awe, dread, and smallness, and then very strong joy…

the meaning i’ve taken from this dream is that god is in control of my life, whether i live or die, whether i go bankrupt or stay solvent, and whether i feel that he is, or not…god is infinite…he isn’t attached to or limited by anything i can see, or identify, or know…and a text from Jeremiah came to me, just as i woke:

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27.

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Materialism has been successfully infiltrating in people’s lives around the world. It seemed to be a race aiming to acquire new/different goods. All sorts of good, anything that could be bought even if not on the “to buy” list. Not even Christians (SDAs included) were able to live a life of simplicity, they were living a life of complicity as they fell for the same temptation: materialism.

Then a global pandemic hits. And hits hard! Stay home or die, these are the only two options available. And suddenly, “poof,” all those “fake needs” disappear; now one only needs shelter and food for that one day at a time.

Life on Earth will never be the same again. The old lifestyle is proscribed and gone for good. We may spend weeks or months sheltered in our homes - if we want to live! Everything is decelerating. Everything. Life will never be the same again.

I wonder how difficult it will be adjusting to the new order in the world! Materialism has suddenly become a dispensable, unnecessary commodity. But, will people learn the lesson of simplicity? To be seen in the next few months/years. Stay tuned!!!

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Yup! Life is changing temporarily. Soon this Wuhan China virus will have run its course and the stronger and luckier will survive, however it can be argued that the lucky have fallen victim to death and no longer need to deal with the sin of this world. Eventually we will have to go back to work because that is what humans must do in this world in order to survive even at the cost of lives lost due to sickness. It is a terrible thought but a terrible reality. Thanks to the China government everyone has fallen victim to their communistic, egotistical, foolishness.
I await the day of our Lords return and in the meantime use opportunities to bring to light the obvious sins of this world and the freedom of Gods truth within this gift of life.

What you call “materialism” can be defined as production and creativity. It doesn’t have to take the negative tone of rather pessimistic outlook on humanity in general.

Likewise, which baseline do we measure simplicity by? Prior to technological revolution there was still a context for excess. Who decides what’s the boundaries of “simple” are? Do we need a computer? How about cell-phones? Do we need Internet?

All if these things are constrained by other layered necessities.

So, production of goods isn’t a problem. The ever increasing pressure and demand in context of diminishing mental health… Is. We should separate the two and not dump everything on “materialism”. I would argue that ideology of materialism is a cultural myth when we contextualize it in something else, like productivity, appreciation of certain aestetics, and creativity.

Otherwise we are shoe horning humanity into a monastery where all of us will be satisfied with sitting and meditating until we die. I don’t consider that to be viable way of life well spent. If simplicity was the way to go… all of us should have been unicellular organisms with no brains that express our ability the way we do.

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My focus was on materialism not as production and creativity, but rather as the uncontrolled eagerness to “possess more even when not needed.” One pilar of “Vulture Capitalism” - a disgrace to humankind.

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*** Then a global pandemic hits. And hits hard! Stay home or die, these are the only two options available. And suddenly, “poof,” all those “fake needs” disappear; now one only needs shelter and food for that one day at a time. ***

Actually, only a small percentage who get the AV-19 virus DIE!
The records show that about 80% of those known to have had the virus are able to recuperate at home. Only about 20% get sick enough to go to the hospital for treatment. About 10% of those may die, that’s only about 2% of those who are known to have had the virus. There are many who got a little sick from something(?), who stayed home and recovered. Only those who were TESTED and found to have or have had the virus are counted. Those who may have had the virus but were not tested would not be among the numbers that are recorded!
In a nation of 330 million residences with an average lifespan of 75 years about 1.3% will die every year - that’s 4.4 million deaths per year, or about 12,000 deaths per day. So how many of those are from the AV-19 virus?
So is this just a big political stunt to upset a blooming economy for largely political purposes?!
Yes, I’m being more careful than usual.

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I am sure that this may have been indeed the intent and final goal of those poor people in Wuhan who were eating raccoons and bats and skunks. They definitely must have had the US economy in mind. They even decided to die for their cause (“upset a blooming economy”). Out of jealousy, maybe???

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Welcome back, Alyce.

I would suggest flying to NY and volunteering at the Elmhurst Hospital, the epicenter, for a three month period. Then return to us and report whether this is “just a political stunt to upset a blooming economy for largely political purposes.” I am a health care provider outside of Philadelphia where I make daily hospital rounds with inadequate mask on to care for the high risks patients and substance users.

Keep us posted. Please.

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a disgrace matched only by envious communism

Fixed it for ya. Either ideology unbridled is equally detestable-except one provides for change.

That’s an interesting presentation, Jeremy. It made me have a mental vision (Like Hiram Edson’s perhaps) of the earth rotating and Jesus sitting above it as in your dream. It brought to mind Revelation 1:7 “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”

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It’s a rather subjective concept that has slippery-slope implications, and that’s why I’m asking as to where you are going to paint the boundary on that slippery slope, and what you are willing to set double-standards for.

If you ask a member of a primitive tribe about your own lifestyle, they would find it exceedingly excessive with various elements of “Vulture Capitalism” when it comes to procuring the things that you are considering as “needs”.

So, unless you are implicating yourself in that criticism, you should buy a pair of legs for that concept to stand on :wink:

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it really was a fascinating dream, one which i woke up from…it made a big impression on me, and i’ll probably always remember it…i think i’ll always think of Jeremiah 32:27 in connection with it…

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Looking at the title of this essay, for some reason it reminds me of our good friend Henry @Hischild. Where is he? Today is April 6, four days after the “D” day - in this case certainly a tremendous Disappointment day since nothing happened on the 2nd. Mike Pence is NOT yet the US President, as Henry mistakenly predicted, so fervently! Henry must be now running in “recalculating mode”… :wink:

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Unless corrected, I will assume that our friend Hendry @Hischild, being a retired nurse, has returned to the trenches to help with the CV19.

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Not sure about that. I feel that the chances of a rapture are much higher though… :rofl:

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helping the needy, of course.
And getting the 3rd angel’s message out by video.

Typo. (Henry)
other poor and needy. not infected with COVID-19

Mike Pence is closer to being President.
And the prophecy does promise a blessing to us if we can hang in for the 1335 days
Looks like we will have to wait until 17 May 2020 to find out what happened
behind the scenes
The Lord is sorting the sheep from the goats.
pray for me and I’ll pray for you

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Jeremy,

Thanks for sharing the fascinating dream you had.

You mentioned that you took from it that God is infinite, in control of your life and not limited by you.

I’m wondering if you think this epiphany will change your life or theology.

Ah…, Recalculating: It’s May 17 then?
OK, let’s wait … :roll_eyes:

you know that I did not write the prophecy,
that I’m just a Bible student that is studying it
and sharing what I learn from that study.
But when it comes to waiting
it is possible to wait too long.
Better to study the evidence and go forward by faith than to wait too long
you are needed to press the third angel’s message now.

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