A Willingness to Believe

I believe in facts; verifiable, indisputable, precise, truths. The sun rises in the East, at dawn, after the night. This is factual. I cannot disbelieve this truth. I can verify this with tools. Even on days, such as today when it is cold and rainy and I cannot see the sun, I know that it is true that it rose in the East, at dawn, after the night. I believe this because I have evidence.

I have faith in the idea that there is something bigger than us mere mortal humans. Some call this by name: God, Spirit of the Universe, Great Spirit, Allah, Elohim, Shén, Yahweh, Jehovah, Jesus, Shàngdì, Creator, Holy Spirit, Hu or Huwa, Krishna, Bhagavan, and Akal Purakh are all names for this unverifiable being or thing.

I cannot prove that this something exists. I cannot verify that it is out there. I do not know that it is benevolent, nor do I know that it is malicious. I have faith that it is good, but just as I cannot prove its existence, I cannot prove that to be true. Some people claim that they can prove the existence of a benevolent being, but, for me, the proof always hinges on something that really is unknowable. As an example, some people will say that what I might term a bizarre coincidence is proof of this god thing.

When we sit down to watch a movie, or to read a work of fiction, we engage in something called the willing suspension of disbelief. While we objectively know that what we are watching or reading is indeed fictional (i.e., made up to use the words my son uses), we suspend our mind’s disbelief and willingly believe that it is real for the time being. If we failed to do this, we would not enjoy the movie of the book because we’d be constantly questioning how our protagonist was able to do something that a mere mortal could not.

In some ways, faith is similar. When we have faith, we are essentially willingly suspending our disbelief. We are saying, yes, I know that i can’t prove this, but I believe it anyway.

I have a confession to make. I’m a year and two months sober, I attend 12 step meetings, and I have not completed the 12 steps. In fact, I haven’t completed the fourth step. I’m not entirely sure that I’ve completed the second or third step for that matter. I’ve written about my struggles with the wording of the 2nd and 3rd steps in the past. By many people’s judgement, I’d be a Dry Drunk. Some would say that my chances are slim, or less than average. Some would say that the definition of insanity is, “attending 12 step meetings without working the steps.”

But I don’t see it that way. See, I am a person who wrestles with words. I listen intently at meetings. Sometimes I hear things that resonate, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I hear things that really piss me off. Sometimes I get pissed at the person who said those things. And then sometimes I find out that the person who said those things is actually really cool, once I get to know them.

Recently, a man in a meeting was talking about the difference between faith and belief. He spoke of how Mother Teresa wrote letters to God and often questioned the existence of God in those very letters. I’ve been wrestling with this for a few weeks.

I have long seen faith as the dictionary defines it: complete trust or confidence in someone or something. And I’ve rejected this because this kind faith seems dangerous. Complete trust in someone or something leads to people following false prophets or worse, demagogues. Complete confidence in something unknowable leads to binary thinking; a type of thinking where things are black and white, right or wrong and there is no room for debate. This is Blind Faith. This is Televangelist Faith. This is dangerous and has lead to centuries of conflict.

And still, still there is this nagging idea that yes, there is something to this concept of a higher power. Yes, there quite possibly is something that out there that others call God — and it’s not little green men from Mars.

I’ve been reading some books by Anne Lamott over the weekend. I read Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers in less than 24 hours, and started Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith yesterday. I cannot express how relieved I was to find another human being who claims to have known all along that there is this something but who also questions it and uses the F-Bomb, just like me. At this point, what I can say is that it is startling how similar my faith story is to Anne Lamott’s — They are not mirror images, but there are certainly reflections.

I also went to the first of a Back to Basics workshop based on the book by the same name over the weekend. We took Step 1 on Saturday. Next week we will take Step 2 and 3 and will have the framework for the dreaded Step 4. I admit there’s still some apprehension for me about Steps 2 and 3 — even though I can fully accept that there is a power greater than myself and that maybe that power knows better than me.

So I’ve been thinking about faith, and reading, and here’s what I’ve come to — Faith is the willingness to believe that something is true without tangible evidence.

When I’m not hearing how grateful everyone is or how acceptance is the answer to all our problems in the rooms, I hear a lot about willingness. I never fully understood what was so key about willingness before. I knew that I needed to be willing to address my short comings. I knew that I needed to be willing to stop drinking. But I didn’t make the connection between willingness and faith until this weekend. One cannot have faith without being willing to suspend disbelief.

Willingness goes a long way.

13 thoughts on “A Willingness to Believe

  1. I’ve struggled some with steps 2 and 3 as well. Not because of the “god thing,” but because I’ve read them as passive. (Higher power could take away=no action on my part). But in a recent meeting we talked about the ACTION in these: “came to believe” and “made a decision.” It ended up being a great discussion because what the people talked about was their ACTION, not their waiting around for things magically to happen. Perhaps similar to the willingness you describe. Always appreciate your thought process.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Willingness backed with a kick-ass dose of perseverance. This post is so clear. You lay out arguments for things that many deem unarguable. Proof of the invisible working. That stuff is really hard to do. I admire what you wrote here for that reason. I love this post. It’s making me think, and re-think where I am at as far as belief and faith.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, my friend. Faith and beliefs are a lot to ponder – I know that people often get caught up in the thought that they don’t believe in God in the felllowship and I’ve heard people say some ridiculous things (a lightbulb can be your higher power). Personally I have a hard time with blindly following things, but I’ve grown to understand that I’m willing to believe in something that I can’t see, touch, smell, taste, or feel.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Dude, try being a Catholic and hearing that God isn’t going to burn you into a pile of ash because of what you did as a drunk! Damn, man, I didn’t know what to think!

    The proof part is simple, if one is willing to look at it simply. I can’t prove the I love my wife and kids, especially if one were to only judge a select few of my actions. I do, though. I just can’t prove it to you.

    I’m curious if you’ve looked at the notion that you may be putting up “proof” and over thinking it as reasons to skip it altogether.

    I did.

    Keep It Simple Stupid. I’m imagining your scowl right now, reading that. Probably looks a lot like mine did when I heard it directed at me.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Welcome to the club, brother. Well, kinda…. You’ll have to let me know what it’s like to turn to the Dark Side one day! You hear of plenty of Democrats switching sides when they grow up but rarely, other than Arlen Spector, the other way around.

        I’m smiling as I write that, please don’t take that negatively… Politics truly has no place in recovery. That’s the one thing that can get in the way of one drunk wanting to help another. I think that’s actually the point of politics.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I prayed to have experiences to convince me that there was a powerful and loving force in the universe who cared about me personally. I didn’t do it arrogantly or in the spirit of saying, “Told you so.” I did it as a sincere invitation to whoever is out there, including friends and relatives who had passed on, to contact me. I asked the universe to make it REALLY obvious. I asked for signs and then I looked for them expectantly. And what happened blew up anything I could ever have imagined. And it’s still happening, ten years down the road. I now KNOW the universe conspires with me to create love and to heal. I now ask and receive guidance every day, and I KNOW I am not imaging it.
    I think it’s OK to doubt. I also think its OK to ask for direct and personal contact. I think the difference in finding it is that some people really don’t want to believe there is something greater than ourselves, and some people really do want to believe it. I wanted to know the truth, one way or the other.
    And I found it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Damien!
    I loved this post, because I struggle here too.
    I am willing to relax and let a HP help me, even though I have no idea what that looks like.
    I no longer am fighting.
    I will have to check out some of the books you are reading.
    And on a sad note, The Badgers lost.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Brilliant post. When I read your words, I interpret that this type of willingness involves awareness and thought. You can make a thoughtful choice to have faith and a relationship with a higher power, perhaps strengthening a connection to self as well. Most certainly different than “blind faith” as your eyes are wide open. Thanks for this perspective Damien!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Marahu. Yes, lots of awareness and thought. Often times, people interpret this awareness and thought as lack of faith, because it sounds an awful lot like doubt. But I believe there’s a big difference between awareness and thought, even doubtful awareness and thought, and lack of faith. One can (and should, I’d argue) have doubts – but that doesn’t mean that one has lacks faith if they have a willingness to believe in something that they cannot comprehend or experience with the five senses.

      Liked by 1 person

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