Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Michelle DeRusha, a woman whose writing talent truly inspires me. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Michelle moved to Nebraska ten years ago, where she discovered the Great Plains, Husker football, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens, thunderstorms that herald the Second Coming…and God. She writes about finding and keeping faith in the everyday on her blog,Graceful. (Keep an eye on this lady! She’s gonna write a bestseller one day!)
We spend a lot of time talking about doubt on the blog. Today’s post is about belief.
For close to two decades, I stood in the pew every Sunday morning and coughed at the beginning of the “Nicene Creed” to avoid declaring, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty.” I couldn’t say those words – “I believe” – aloud, because, in fact, I did not believe. Yet there I was, Sunday after Sunday, reciting empty prayers to a non-existent God.
I did all the right things. I went to confession and did penance, genuflected at the altar, dipped my fingers into holy water and made the sign of the cross and gave up chocolate at Lent. On the outside I played the part of a pretty good Catholic. But on the inside, my heart was stone-cold.
I pretended to believe because I was afraid to admit, even to myself, that I didn’t believe.
After Brad and I married and moved to Nebraska, we began to attend a Lutheran church. I was still going through the motions of religion, but yet something struck me as odd at that church. Sunday after Sunday I heard the same words repeated: love and grace, love and grace. Why, I wondered, was everyone so hung up on love and grace?
While my husband went off to work at his new job, I stayed home with our colicky infant. Before Noah was born, Brad and I had believed those parenting books, the ones that glibly stated that our newborn would sleep like a hibernating bear for the first 24 hours or so after labor, exhausted from worming his way through the birth canal. Our baby didn’t do that. Instead he screeched like a rabid hyena for 48 straight hours in the hospital…and for the four months that followed.
I remember standing at the sliding glass door, holding my screaming baby and gazing out at the bleak back yard as I grappled to figure out my new role as a Nebraska hausfrau. My former self, the ways in which I'd always defined myself, had been obliterated. My family lived 1,500 miles away, the Nebraskans I met talked chummily about God like he was the P.T.O. president, and my career had been replaced by a Merry Maid to-do list.
I was lost.
I’d like to say that I fell on my knees in a dramatic conversion, but it didn’t happen like that. What I got instead was, as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, described it, “a heart strangely warmed.”
“A heart strangely warmed” sounds about as dramatic as heating up Thanksgiving leftovers on Friday afternoon. I was looking for something much bigger…like for the house to burn down. But a strangely warmed heart was exactly what I got, and that turning point came in the form of one simple question: why not?
While I’d asked plenty of other questions over my lifetime, I had never simply asked, “Why not?” Why can't God exist? Why not?
I’d honestly never considered an alternative to disbelief. I’d never been willing to suspend my disbelief to see how that might feel. I had never given myself a true opportunity, a real option, to believe.
“It’s the hole in the soul, that place where we are radically broken, where we are powerless and therefore open,” writes Richard Rohr in Radical Grace. Ironically, it wasn’t until I fully admitted disbelief to myself that I was able to move forward toward belief. Going through the motions of pretend faith obstructed any real progress. But when I was stripped of my armor – all the comforts and securities of home and family and job I’d always known – and left powerless, broken and alone with a hole in my soul, only then was I finally open to accept and receive.
I'll be honest: choosing faith does not come easily for me, even now. After twenty years of unbelief, doubt was easy and routine. Doubt was my default. So to choose faith and reject doubt is still a conscious choice I make every day. Some days I am more successful at it than others. In the end, though, it all comes back to a single question than turned twenty years of disbelief on its head. Five years ago I asked, “Why not?”
And I’ve been asking, “Why not?” every day since.
Have you ever asked yourself “Why not?” Is there a single question, idea, quote, verse, or mantra to which you continually return when faith gets hard?