Being able to articulate why you believe what you believe is of utmost importance. Not just for your sake, but for the sake of the nonbeliever.
For a long time I was terrified of being confronted about my beliefs. Not just because I didn’t like getting into arguments, but because if/when I couldn’t explain what I believed – and the other person could – then I would get a sickening feeling of doubt in the pit of my stomach. What if they were right, and I was wrong? What if I didn’t really know what I was talking about?
Have you ever felt that way? Oh no, of course you haven’t. But just in case, I’ll keep going.
Over the last few years, I’ve considered a few thoughts concerning my [our] Christian walk, which I believe have helped me through the most difficult experiences of my life. They may not seem that important, especially when faced with losing a spouse, family member, job, or life as you’ve come to know it. But I would argue quite the opposite. I believe reflecting on these thoughts prior to the tragedy of losing my husband, helped me walk through my situation with my relationship with Christ still intact, if not stronger; as well as, helped me be able to thoughtfully discuss my beliefs with others along the way.
If we don’t know why we actually believe what we say we believe, then we honestly have no real foundation to keep our faith the moment it’s tested. Furthermore, why would anyone else come to believe the same as we do if we don’t even know why we believe it ourselves?
During several occasions in graduate school, I remember tying to stand behind what I believed in my classes, and in the Graduate Assistant Office I shared with several other GA’s. I realized very quickly that when it came to one-on-one interactions with others who questioned Christianity, I often couldn’t find the words I needed to truly convey my feelings.
I’m a girl who loves knowledge. It bothers me when I can’t kindly and intelligently articulate my thoughts and beliefs on an issue. I think it’s because I used to be that girl who couldn’t give an intellectual answer, because I honestly hadn’t cared enough to think deeply on most topics. I hate thinking back to myself during my college years when I would strut my stuff around the U of A campus wearing my Ugg boots, Nike shorts, and sorority shirt, thinking I was something because of it. [Not that I’m hating on that style. I still rock my comfy Uggs, Nike shorts or leggings, and favorite t-shirt! I just mean I used to think I was the you-know-what because I had these things.]
To give you a better picture, I’ll take this opportunity to share a fun Helen story with you.
It was fall semester of my junior year of college, when I walked into my first upper level Communication course wearing my most perfect sorority girl uniform [as stated above] – complete with the messy bun, light make up, and the “I didn’t try but really I spent and hour on my hair and face” look. Little did I know I had one of the hardest [but best] teachers in the department, who would see right through my little facade. [I looked up the definition of facade by the way. Dictionary.com states that it is “an outward appearance that is maintained to conceal a less pleasant or creditable reality. Wow. I literally could not have picked a better word to describe my – back then – self better. Thanks Google.] So I walked in to my class, sat down and began to organize my super cute notebook, planner and colored pens along my desk [all of which would be lost within a week], all while thinking how cute I must be. As people came in, the insecure part of me quickly noticed that no one came to sit by me. I looked around…”Oh, this is a “smart student” course, and apparently I don’t look smart.” [I can’t imagine why.] Just as these thoughts were starting to stream through my head, the noticed the Professor walking in. I sat up a little straighter and smiled a little bigger [I had mastered a resting smile face at this point in my life, so I was probably that girl you hated who weirdly smiled and nodded her head the whole time in class] to feel her out on what kind of student she would like. I had already deduced from my fellow students avoiding me like my Chanel perfume smelt like sewage water, that I was not going to be gaining any friends out of the deal…so I might as well moved passed them and become my professor’s favorite!
The desks in this particular classroom were in the shape of a “U” with a few extra tables in the back. As my professor settled in behind the podium, she took a quick look around the classroom, ending on me. [Don’t worry, I sat on the front corner seat closest to her just to show my willingness to be attentive. Gross, right? You hate me already.] As she looked around the class she seemed to know many of the students, whom she gave little head nods. Was I going to get a head nod?! No. No, I wasn’t.
As her eyes reached my seat, she held her gaze on me for just a beat of a second. First on my face, then my attire. I’m pretty sure she threw up in her mouth a little. Just a little. After shaking her head, as if to get rid of the horrific image she had just seen, she then began class by asking a simple question, “What are you an expert in?” Well, I think from all my posts we’ve both started to realize that simple questions are often the most revealing, right? Yes, they are. I remember when she asked that question, I started wracking my brain for all my most important areas of expertise that I thought would impress her. What should I talk about?? Cheer? Dance? Sorority Girl activities? Volunteer hours that I’m really just doing for resume builders?? Maybe I should go with that one and leave off the end? Yeah, that sounds good.
After deciding on my best option, I finally stopped focusing on myself long enough to listen to a few of the other college students. It was then that I realized something very important. All these kids knew exactly what they believed, why they believed in it, and they were in the pursuit of knowledge to become experts in it. That was the first moment God chose to grab my attention during my college career. It shook me from my head to toe, from inside to out. I watched as the rest of the class went. My heart beating faster with every student who finishing speaking their mind. Finally, my professor, probably unwillingly, turned her gaze to me. “And you? What are you an expert in?” She asked, not caring in the slightest to hide the annoyance in her voice. I paused for a moment, and looked at her with genuinely ashamed, tear filled eyes. I took a deep breath, stood up to face the class and stated, “Hi, I’m Helen Wisner. And…I just realized that I’m not an expert in anything that matters.” As I ashamedly slunk back down into my chair (wishing for a moment that Harry Potter was real and I could hide myself with an invisibility cloak), I tried to hold back tears as I looked up at my professor; and for just a moment, I saw one of the few smiles I would rarely ever receive from her. She looked at me for a second and said, “Huh. Well. There’s hope for you yet. Don’t worry. I’ll get you there.” And she did. No without lots of tears, one failed graduate class, and many stress filled nights of studying. But she did help me. She forced me to learn how to articulate myself. And it doing so, she helped in shaping many of my beliefs today – not all of them, but many. She helped me on my way of knowing what I believe and why I believe it. She’s probably also the reason it bothers me more than anything when girls act dumb because they think it’s attractive [you know what I’m talking about]. So after having this professor, anytime I had the opportunity to mentor girls around my age, I’d always share my favorite words of wisdom – “Intelligence is Sexy.” Judge me if you want. But it’s true.
As time went on, I continued to grow in my love for knowledge, reading, and journaling. But although I grew in these areas, I still had a lot to learn about my own spiritual beliefs.
One of the most important lessons I was going to learn concerning my beliefs about my faith came on the day I decided to join a church on my own – the church I’m still a part of today.
At this point I was a first year graduate student, so of course, I was an intellectual genius that could explain anything – Oh! Except my faith. Well, on one particular Sunday I felt called to join the church I’d been attending for the last several weeks. I was nervous because it was the first time I had made the decision to join a church for myself, and not just attend because it’s where my parents went. This was during my transformation period, in which I was growing closer to God every day; therefore, I felt it was important to take this step of independence. I had already been saved and Baptized at my old church, so I felt like this was the last major event in my faith I could use as my Ebenezer stone for this particular point in my walk. I wanted to make known that I had repented of my old self and was now pledging to make my faith a real relationship with Christ.
So I walked up to the front and dedicated myself to being an active part of the church. I was on cloud nine for about 10 minutes, at which point the [then] college pastor [David McKinney], while filling out my church membership paperwork, paused to ask me the following question: “In your own words, who is Jesus to you?” [Which meant, tell me who Jesus is without reciting a rehearsed Sunday School answer. I learned very quickly that David did not like Sunday School answers.]
Ugh. It was so embarrassing. I honestly couldn’t give him a strong answer. Not fluently at least. In fact, I gave such a bad, choppy answer that I was scared he might require me to go back and repeat 1st-12th Sunday School grades [and a few VBS’s while I was at it] before the church would accept me.
Of course that’s not what happened. I ended up signing my papers and all was well in the world. Except for the annoying feeling in stomach that kept saying, “Well Helen. Why couldn’t you answer that seemingly simple question?” I knew then that I need to pursue this aspect of my faith just like I would a course I was passionate about. I had to take the time to sit down and write out my answer to this pressing question – “Who is Jesus to me?”
You know friends, I think so much of our faith can be revealed to us by our answer to this question. I know David knew this, which is why he asked me.
Our answers to “Who Jesus is to me…”, will have a major impact on what our relationship with Christ looks like. It will dictate how we think of and pray to Him; not to mention how it will influence what our daily perspective and worldview will look like. Why have a Christian worldview if we only see Christ as a man in a story? Or if we believe Christ doesn’t care about us because too many tragic things have happened in our lives, then why would we ever have a positive outlook? You see, if we don’t know who Christ is in our own hearts, then our relationship with him will only ever be half-hearted, if not non-existent.
Yes. I believe it is vital that we are able to articulate this to ourselves before we ever face trying circumstances. Otherwise, when tragedy comes – and it will come – our faith will fall apart because we never really knew what held it together in the first place.
What are your answers to those questions? I’m not going to share mine right now, because I want you to come up with your own. Hopefully your answers are better than the possibilities I gave above…but if not, and that is about the extent of what you feel towards Christ, then I’m proud of you for being honest with yourself. I believe we sometimes find ourselves saying we believe things because we know it’s the right thing to do; or because we want to fit in; or because it’s what we’ve been told we have to believe, no questions asked. So good for you for being brave enough to be honest with yourself and start actually looking for answers.
A side point I want to make here, is the importance of feeling comfortable asking questions; and/or making your children, or individuals you mentor, or the unbeliever feel comfortable asking you questions. Growing up, I never really felt comfortable asking questions at church that might go against what the Youth Ministry Volunteer said. I noticed the kids who did this typically weren’t liked by the Sunday School teachers [I assume because they were viewed as being disruptive]. But I found myself sometimes thinking that I had the same questions as the “disruptive kids”. The only reason I wasn’t asking the same questions was because, I just cared way more about being liked. So I learned not to ask the “hard” questions that might go against what was being taught. However, what happens when this is the culture of the classroom, is the development of a shallow faith.
The pastor I mentioned above, David, along with his wife, Rachel, were both key components in the development of my faith due to this exact concept. Never before had I been able to ask controversial questions without being met with harsh responses. I felt like I was finally allowed to ask the “real world” questions I struggled with, and receive real Biblical answers without being scolded for it. Which therefore, helped me gain the ability to believe what I believed not only with my head, but also my heart. Because I was given the opportunity to ask questions that tested the thoughts and ideals of the church – without receiving backlashes of anger – I came to truly ground myself in a concrete faith.
David and Rachel also asked me a lot of hard questions. The kind of questions that forces you to put your pride down in order to answer honestly – which is just as important in order to grow and develop spiritually.
The reason I included this is because I often see parents telling their children, or mentors telling the individuals they mentor, or Christians telling new Christians/non-believers what to believe, but not wanting to hear questions. I’m not a child psychologist, nor a parent…but I am a daughter. I’ve had, and have been, a mentor. I was once a non-believer, and new Christian looking for answers. And I can say that what helped me grow more than anything, was asking questions that may have gone against Christian beliefs, and having them met with kind words/wisdom from a more mature Christian. So all that being said, allow your children, or the people you mentor, or the unbelievers to ask you questions. Because by allowing those around you to ask questions about the Christian faith, we are helping them find a real relationship with Christ. One rooted in understanding rather than memorization of Sunday School answers.
Now, please give me a second to climb down off my soap box so we can finish what we were discussing.
Okay, so, after we’ve define who Jesus is to us, and what our relationship looks like with Him, we are still faced with another set of important questions. Please see the following:
- Why do I believe what I believe?
- Can I articulate what I believe well enough to hold a conversation with someone who may have questions about my faith?
My answers to the questions above have morphed and changed throughout the years; but overall, I’d say the basic principles are pretty much the same. I am so thankful I took the time to write these answers down and actually define my beliefs. It has helped me on numerous occasions when difficult moments in life have tested my faith, and it has helped me not be fearful of awkward/abrasive situations in which someone may have questioned my faith…not to mention how it’s deepened my faith in the process.
So, to conclude, I want to leave you with a few final thoughts.
I believe we shouldn’t be fearful or embarrassed of our faith. Fear will only root us to the same fixed spot, or push us away from personal growth. Therefore, we have to spend time contemplating and articulating our beliefs prior to the storms we’ll face, or the difficult questions we’ll have to answer. Just like writing a paper or studying for a test, if we wait to prepare until it’s facing us, then we’re asking for the situation to cause us to question ourselves. And when the situation involves the testing of our faith, then it may not only cause us to question ourselves, but also our beliefs. In using this analogy, however, I also want to say that knowing our beliefs should not be viewed as a test or theoretical paper. Lord knows if this were the case I would fail every time [I’m a terrible test-taker]. We can rest in the fact that God promises us the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say when reaching others for His Kingdom. Although, I do employ you to think of the many stories in the Old Testament in which God promises His people that He would see them through a battle or difficult moment. Even though God made a promise to lead his people to victory, it didn’t mean they sat on their rear ends, going into battle with no prior preparation. No, more often than not, God’s people trained for what was to come (unless they were in one of their whiney moods). Thus, what I’m suggesting here is that searching for the answers to these questions can do nothing but help God and ourselves in difficult moments, while also relieving some of our own personal doubts that come when we can’t articulate the reasoning for our beliefs.
On several social media forums, I’ve had a number of followers ask me to discuss how to begin strengthening your faith. If you were one of the individuals who asked me about this…well, this is my all but brief answer. This week, take some time and write out your answers to these questions. And after you’re satisfied with your answers, put them somewhere where you can look over them from time to time. That way, if you ever do get questioned about your faith (which often happens at the most uncomfortable and unexpected times), you’ll know what to say. And don’t worry, if the interaction doesn’t end with the other person proudly proclaiming, “Yes! You’re the one I’ve been waiting for all these years to lead me to my faith!” – don’t be like me and feel like you you must have failed. Because you haven’t. [I’m prep talking myself here as well.] You haven’t failed because you’ve done all that God asks of any of us. To share the good news. We may not see an individual give their heart to Christ, but God may be using you as the stepping stone a person needed to start their path in the right direction.
So, we’ve now learned that questions are good things – whether it’s ourselves or another person asking. Questions mean the person asking has a heart longing for a real answer. And if we’re patient, then who knows? In time the answers to our questions may just help us gain the courage it takes to either open the door to the Christian faith, or finally decide our hearts are committed to dwelling inside. And at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters.
Praying this helps just the right person this week! My thoughts and prayers are with you!
Love in Christ,
Helen Elizabeth Wisner Strickland