Thursday, December 24, 2009

The heart of it all

Tomorrow is Christmas Day, the annual observance of the birth of a child whose life and example changed the history of the world. In this post, I would like to share with you some personal thoughts about the faith he exemplified and explained.

I am a Christian; first by upbringing, then by conviction. I do not ordinarily wear my faith on my sleeve; but I am not afraid, and certainly not ashamed, to share my faith with anyone who might be receptive to such a message. However, I don't go around showing it off, either. Nor is my story particularly spectacular. I have never fallen for a serious addiction, nor committed a crime, after which I hit bottom until the truth was revealed to me. There are those who have, and I am thankful for those who share their faith stories.

I believe that the people who are happiest keep three aspects of their life in balance: body, mind, and spirit. Those who neglect the body get sick, those who neglect the mind become ignorant, and those who neglect the spirit will always be restless. Not everyone understands this – I encounter atheists who insist that nothing can exist that is not perceptible to the five senses. It is usually impossible to argue with such people, because they reject the need for a spiritual life. However, the tone of their arguments suggests to me that they are in fact very unhappy people.

On the other hand, there are those who insist that one cannot be faithful without maintaining a regular discipline of prayer and study. Prayer and study are good things: I pray regularly, if informally; and I study as the need arises. I have read practically all of the Bible at one time or another and understand it in its essentials – and would benefit from reading it more than I do. Self discipline is good and is a benefit of faith; but it is not the purpose of faith.

Note that, so far, I have avoided the word religion. Religion is a system designed to encourage people to discover faith and instruct them in the ways to build and maintain it. Those who rebel against religion sometimes have a valid point. The purpose of faith is to achieve a harmony between one's self and the God who created us. This search for faith inevitably points us to principles we call morality, which lead to healthful living and peace with our neighbors. While many people find it helpful to their faith to follow doctrines or rules set by their religion, using religion to enforce rules has proven to be an effective way to pull individuals away from faith, thereby defeating its purpose.

My experience with faith enabled me to recover from severe depression nearly twenty years ago. It sustained me as I wrestled for many years with the purpose of my life following my inability to find employment in the field in which I received my master's degree. My purpose in life began to be realized September 12, 2007, with the first posting on this blog. Faith gives me the courage to say what needs to be said; and as time goes on I find that I am able to say it more boldly, hopefully without sounding boastful. It has kept and strengthened my marriage to the same woman over 31 years, with all the challenges that a marriage between two strong-willed people brings. Faith has brought me some wonderful friends, and it has taught me compassion, courage, patience, and humility. I know that I must continually work to improve my behavior and to strengthen my relationship with God. I do not claim to be perfect; but I rest assured that, through Christ, God will give me the grace to heal the hurts that my mistakes cause.

I invite you to take some time to think about your own faith experience. If you find that your spirit has been neglected, find a church or other place that will instruct and encourage you to find your own faith; for in so doing, you will discover that faith truly gives meaning and purpose to human life. *

May you and your family experience a blessed and joyful Christmas!

* This sentence comes from the Jaycee Creed. I was once a member of the Canton Jaycees.

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