Many of us believe we have faith in something greater than ourselves. Yet we often forget there is a bigger picture than what we perceive. It’s easy to lose sight of a divine plan when events in our external world appear to be chaotic.
There is a parable of a man who had a prize-winning horse. One day the horse jumped over the fence and ran away. All of the man’s friends and family called to commiserate on this great loss. “Oh, how horrible,” they said. “You must be very sad to lose your prize horse. What a horrible thing that has happened.”
The man simply responded, “Maybe, maybe not.”
The next day the horse returned and brought with him ten wild horses. Everyone congratulated the man on his good luck.
But a few days later, the man’s son was thrown and broke his leg while trying to tame one of the wild horses. Again, everyone gathered around to bemoan the bad luck that had befallen the father. “How awful for you that your son broke his leg,” they said. “Now you will have no help to bring in the crops and work on the farm. What a horrible thing that has happened.”
Again, the man simply responded, “Maybe, maybe not.”
The next day the army came marching through the village gathering up young men for war. Because the son had a broken leg, he was not taken.
The story can go on and on. Most of the time we don’t immediately see such direct loss or benefit from the events of our lives: We tend to focus only on one without acknowledging the other.
When we embody faith, we accept things as they are without needing to label them as good or bad. We can also choose to search for the silver lining or to at least adopt a “wait and see” mentality. Sometimes we might simply surrender our need to make sense of things and “let go and let God.”
These approaches involve choosing a perspective that supports a deeper belief in an underlying goodness to the world and life in general. What many of us forget is that perspective is something we choose. Most of the time, we respond or react without thinking. As the legendary Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl once said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
The process of catching the association between our thoughts, beliefs, and responses improves with practice; bringing to awareness what has been automatic takes patience and perseverance. It is easy to get caught up in the apparent “reality” of things and forget that we have a choice in how we interpret what is happening.
We are challenged to remember we are interpreting life by telling a story that may or may not be true. A friend doesn’t return our call, and we just “know” it’s because of something we said or did. We later find out our friend never got our message or the phone was lost. We can find examples of where our stories don’t necessarily match “reality” everywhere.
This sort of mental story telling goes on constantly. It is, after all, how we make meaning of life and events. Most often our scripts run unchecked and we remain unaware we are making assumptions without having all the facts. Even in those times when we think we know otherwise, we rarely really have the full picture.
The power of choosing our response increases when we remember to incorporate our faith and trust in God. If we truly believe that God is good and present everywhere, then we must also believe in a divine plan. From our limited human experience, we cannot always know or see why one string of the tapestry of this plan is pulled, however we can remember that a bigger picture exists.
During periods where we recall this and act accordingly, we feel a deep peace and acceptance. It can feel as if we’d been asleep and have finally awakened. Our life flows with ease, we feel content, and we are infused with optimism and positivity. We become determined to remain in this state forever, trusting in the goodness of life and knowing all is well.
When we forget the interconnectedness of all things and get caught in the drama of our lives, it is as if we have returned to slumber. Our faith seems to have slipped or perhaps we have discontinued our practice of prayer, gratitude, or meditation. Once again unconscious, we return to our old way of being or processing information. Our internal stories begin once more to run unchecked.
In this cycle of our lives, we inevitably will come back to awareness. Sometimes this remembering will come through a new book, workshop, sermon, or retreat. Other times it may be through a wakeup call, like an unexpected illness or the death of someone close to us. Whatever the stimulus for our return to center, what is important is how we respond when we reawaken.
Often our response is to chastise ourselves for our forgetfulness or to criticize ourselves for having lost our faith. However, we receive greater benefit by being gentle with ourselves and understanding that slumbering and awakening are both a part of life. As we learn to stop berating ourselves when we veer off course, our recognition and return to faith accelerates.
This may often seem counter-intuitive because we tend to think if we go easy on ourselves we’ll continue doing those things we’d rather not do. However, being kind to ourselves when we fall or get lost actually helps us pick ourselves back up faster.
Loving ourselves helps deepen our faith and increases our joy. From this place, our lives become a living prayer. Each day unfolds with ease and trust. The loving-kindness we have for ourselves spreads out to one another as we choose perspectives that support our faith.