By Whitney Schieltz
Growing up, I was under the impression that believing in God meant knowing God existed. Since my brain was never convinced by any tangible evidence, I deduced that there was no such thing as God and thus did not believe in God. It was not until graduate school that I began to understand the concept of faith and what it meant to have a relationship with God. Living with four young women who openly discussed their Christian faith and modeled the compassion of Jesus, I realized that faith is not the effect of experiencing God—faith is the cause. While it can be difficult to trust in God without being aware of God’s presence, it is through faith that we are able to grow closer in our relationship with God.
Lately I have been struggling with this. My relationship with God has felt distant, and I have been frustrated with my inability to feel God’s presence or to detect a response to my prayers. Discussing this with my spiritual director, she asked me about my image of Jesus. As I usually do, I responded by saying that I view Jesus as a friend. Even before my spiritual director continued, I knew where the conversation was headed. Instead of being aware of God’s presence in every moment and every interaction throughout my day and trusting that I would receive what I needed when I needed it, I kept expecting some grand sign to renew my faith and help me trust in God’s plan. Once again, I was looking for evidence. I was not trying to renew my faith in God—I was trying to know that God was there. I was thankful in the good moments and asked for support in the bad times, but I neglected God’s companionship throughout the rest of my day. Although I said Jesus was my friend, I was not acting accordingly. In order to have a close friendship with anyone, we have to include them in all the moments of our lives—good, bad, and boring—not just turn to them in times of excitement or despair.
After that discussion with my spiritual director, I found myself enjoying Advent with a greater awareness and enthusiasm for including Jesus in every seemingly mundane moment. Amid the holiday preparations, while reminiscing about my favorite Christmas movies from childhood, a scene from The Santa Clause popped into my head. As Tim Allen’s character looks around the North Pole, struggling to accept the reality of Santa and elves, Judy the Elf explains that “seeing isn’t believing—believing is seeing.” I reflected on the line as I went to bed that night, appreciating its application to my recent struggle. In the morning, as I checked my email, I opened my daily Bible verse and there read, “…for we walk by faith, not by sight. [2 Corinthians 5:7].” I smiled, and even laughed a little, at God’s perfect timing. Sometimes it is difficult to feel God near, but sometimes the signs are clear. We just have to be patient, spend time in prayer to deepen our relationship, and trust that God will give us what we need when we need it.