colossians study guide coffee

My parents visited me this past weekend while Scott was away, and on the first evening of their stay, my dad and I had an unexpected conversation that, a week later, is still on my mind. (I don't want to forget it, so I'm writing it all down.)

It was about faith—as so many of my most memorable conversations with my dad are—and how, frankly, I felt mine was running out.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that for many of us, 2020 has been a particularly hard year to remain faithful. To wake up each morning and face a global pandemic, a divided nation, and a million worldly injustices caught on camera every week, and actively choose to trust in the power of God and His perfect plan. 

But, hey, maybe I'm wrong.

Maybe, for you, the events of this year have only strengthened your reliance on an unwavering Savior, and proved our hopelessness as a people without Him. Perhaps this conviction is the thing that protects your inner peace and prevents you from losing sleep. If that is the case, good golly, teach me your ways.

For me, though, 2020 has slowly peeled back the layers of my once tough-as-nails foundation, revealing a soft spot where fear has, for the last several months, burrowed in and set up camp. Fear for our country, fear of the future, and, perhaps most paralyzing, fear of losing my way in the chaos.

I'm the type of person that questions myself endlessly. Was that the right thing to say? Do I really think that? Should I have done more? But never before have I called parts of my faith as a Catholic Christian into question. Up until a year ago, when the black-and-white lens through which I viewed the world blurred into several shades of grey almost overnight.

For more than two decades, I was an object set in motion, traveling in a direction that made the most sense—when an unbalanced force stopped me dead in my tracks.

Since then, in listening and learning, in practicing open-mindedness and prioritizing empathy, I've found myself losing sight of what it is I actually believe. There are days that clarity completely eludes me, my mind and heart at a game of tug-of-war that never ends. 

While most would agree that questioning the tenets of your own belief system is necessary for growth, I can't shake the feeling that my search for the truth looks on some days more like a flat-out rejection of The Truth I've been taught—the same one that's kept me company in my safe little bubble for years.

Which leads us back to the idea of faith, and the ability to trust that there's a God who wants me even at my most uncertain.

Not all who wander are lost, said Tolkien, a brilliant mind who also happened to be Catholic. But what does it mean when your version of "wandering" feels a heck of a lot like driving in a foreign place at night without GPS to guide you home? 

◊ ◊ ◊

On Friday evening, I confided in my dad that for the first time that I can remember, I am afraid of dying. Not so much the act of dying, but rather what will be waiting for me on the other side.

Sadly, the comforting image that I entertained as a girl of a smiling father-figure approaching me with outstretched arms has been replaced by a black veil of nothingness—or, at times, harsh judgment for my earthly failings. That might be it, then, the crux of my newfound fear: I worry that my life will be a wash, an opportunity wasted, because of my crumbling foundation and ever-changing, easily swayed heart.

My dad's reply when I asked him if he, too, feared death was so perfectly him, it still makes me laugh.

"Oh, no,  I'm looking forward to dying," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. "I get excited just thinking about it."

I can't make this up, y'all; it was as if I had just asked a kid on Christmas Eve how they felt about a visiting Santa Claus. Before I could offer a teasing response, he continued.

"Think about how much you love Jude. There's nothing your children could do that would make you not love them, plain and simple."

He had a point.

"Well, multiple that love by a million—and you've almost captured God's love for you. Now imagine coming face-to-face with a Father whose love runs that deep. What you do or don't do won't change that."

Okay, we're talking Christianity 101, right? God is love. I had known this all along, of course, but for some reason, hearing it said out loud by someone who loves me unconditionally made the message hit home a bit harder. I let his words sink in, slowly filling up the holes in my heart where fear had taken root.

"I struggle, too," my dad admitted when I brought up my most recent spiritual conundrums. "We all do. But when you invite God into your struggle, you realize you don't need to have all the answers. You have Him, and that's more than enough."

◊ ◊ ◊

The most accurate definition of sin I've ever heard is the failure to bother to love. Life will inevitably throw us curveballs, and tough experiences will challenge our way of thinking. (Humanity is hella confusing, let's be real.) But grappling with what's right and wrong or good and bad—even if takes a lifetime—means that we care enough to bother. We care enough to want the truth, to fight for justice, to seek what is above.

And, that, I'm convinced, determines how we live our lives. More specifically, it determines how we love. Which is kind of the whole point, isn't it?

^^^ This image of my dad during a light snow flurry in Colorado perfectly captures how he sees the world. ^^^

It was getting late at this point, and as we were wrapping up our discussion, he shared one last thought that made me feel as if I was overcomplicating the whole shebang, because, really, faith can be so simple:

When you have just an inkling of how much the Father loves you, your whole life becomes one big prayer of thanks. You wake up grateful, and can't help but praise Him. You start to see the beauty and joy in everything—in nature, in people, in small, seemingly insignificant moments—and every minute you feel this way is another minute of prayer. Until, eventually, your days are just an endless conversation with Dad.

◊ ◊ ◊

This morning, I listened to Fr. Mike Schmits' July 4th homily. In it, he references the Founders' Golden Triangle of Freedom: Freedom requires virtue (only a good, moral people can successfully self-lead), virtue requires faith (the belief that you're beholden to something more powerful and meaningful than yourself), and faith requires freedom (the ability to choose your own path).

Obviously, this blog post is not about politics or government or patriotism, but hearing this new-to-me concept struck a chord. The idea that there is no freedom without faith—well, that I now know to be true.

Before talking to my dad, fear was keeping me in shackles. I couldn't see beyond it, and I didn't think I deserved to. While I still don't have it all figured out (and probably never will on this side of Heaven), in learning to once again trust a God who meets me in the struggle, I'm slowly finding the freedom to live authentically, love everyone, and—in the words of Fr. Mike—lead myself.