“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” For the past four months this line from Joni Mitchell’s 1970 hit song Big Yellow Taxi has been my daily mantra.
In February, a ruptured lumbar disc transformed me from an active, working, golf-playing, fun-loving senior citizen to a crippled old man who, after sleepless nights, spends most of his time trying to figure out how to get through the day with as little pain as possible.
Weeks of hot packs, cold packs, high-powered drugs, injections and forced rest turned into months of the same. Surgery was finally necessary. I know many of you reading this column have had a similar experience of sudden loss of physical independence. The reaction to this kind of change is frequently, “I wish I had taken better care of myself,” or “I wish I had done certain things when I had the opportunity.”
That translated would be: “I wish I had not taken life for granted.”
In truth, life and every gift we have are temporarily on loan, and it is our responsibility to take care of them.
All of these things said about physical loss can be said about loss of faith. The problems our biblical ancestors brought upon themselves were because of a loss of faith. The Gospel accounts are filled with faith-lost stories.
In Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus terrifies the disciples by walking on water. The impulsive Peter shows great faith by stepping out of the boat when Jesus says, “Come to me.” After a few steps Peter is blown by the wind, fear replaces faith and down he goes; but Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him with these words, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Good question. Why did Peter doubt? If Peter, who saw Jesus every day, had periods of loss of faith, what are we to do?
Frederick Buechner writes that faith is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all and better understood as a verb rather than a noun, as a process rather than a possession.
Looking at faith as a verb and a process opens up a whole new world. Faith as a verb implies that it, like our bodies, must be fed properly and must be exercised regularly to reach its full potential.
There are many ways to exercise our faith. The obvious are attending and engaging in church, regular Bible study with friends, prayer and generous giving; but wouldn’t it be fun to let our imaginations guide our “faith exercises?” Here are a few suggestions that have been given to me (these exercises are best done within the family):
• Place the names of family and friends in a jar. Pull out one name each day and pray for that person.
• Have a family “offering jar.” Each day put loose change in the jar and on Sunday have one of the children give it during the offering.
• Each day pick one item from all the family possessions, such as clothes, books and toys. Give it to charity at the end of the month.
Our faith declares that God cares for each one of us. God created the heavens and the earth, knows us by name and loves us. We are part of God’s creation and are God’s partner in his mission for the world. Our faith in God allows us to handle the sudden changes and losses that will inevitably come. “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” After all is said and done, our faith is all we’ve got.
THE REV. JOE BOWDEN IS ASSISTING PRIEST AT THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.