My friend Teresiana once said, “I have a deep and abiding faith that comes and goes.”
People always laugh when they hear it because everyone can relate. We know faith and we know wavering faith. It seems like a contradiction to have faith come and go. Especially a deep and abiding faith. Right? So we conclude we actually don’t have any, or that it’s weak.
Last year I had to foreclose on a piece of income property that, after the mortgage crisis of 2008, was valued at less than fifty percent of what I owed. For several years the income kept dwindling as the expenses were growing and the difference was draining me of everything I’d saved. The creditors were no help at all and I blamed myself for not being smarter about money. I was so filled with shame that I didn’t talk with anyone about it.
I like to think of myself as a person with a deep faith but for a while I didn’t seem to have any faith, and I wondered if my image was an illusion. What was it Teresiana said? I have a deep and abiding faith that comes and goes. All I had to do was say that aloud and my body relaxed. I knew this was not a crisis of faith. Something else was going on. So, I slowed things down to figure out what it was. What thoughts were rolling around in my head? Feelings? What were my dreams telling me? My relationships?
There are two things I came to understand: Fear had crept in like the fog in San Francisco and covered over my faith the way fog covers over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was not gone. I had to have faith in my faith.
And I was carrying this alone.
When we’re afraid, our worst enemy is isolation. When we carry our fear alone, it gets complicated with other emotions and snowballs into a far bigger deal in our head than it really is. And suddenly a dire future seems real. But it’s not. The future hasn’t occurred yet.
That’s when I learned, once again, about the corrosive nature of fear and isolation together. The dark places of shame they took me were scary. In times like this, it helps to have a friend to talk to, but not just any friend. We need someone to listen who believes in us and understands that we’re working something out. Someone who quietly holds the vision of our wisest self while we run around in the muck for a while. We don’t want a friend who is going to rah-rah us into a positive attitude or give us a bunch of advice at a tender moment. Nor do we want a friend who is going to deepen the grooves of our worry by sharing all of their looming fears on the subject.
Still, I didn’t have the courage to call anyone yet. Too much shame. What I did have was a lot of experience loving and forgiving myself. I could do that. In truth, we’re all so vulnerable and flawed and fallible anyway. What’s not to love and forgive?
And somehow, loving myself gave me the courage to pick up the phone and reach out to a few friends and siblings. The immediate relief was remarkable. In time I was able to even laugh about it.
Here’s the thing about fear and shame: They need isolation to survive together. Only when I began talking out loud about the situation did the shame dissolve. With the right someone to talk to, fear and shame grew smaller, the fog lifted and, whaddya know, my faith was intact and shining, helping me stay strong so I could create the future I really wanted. Just like the Golden Gate Bridge, it had been there all along.
The rest was logistics.