Faith & The Seeming Unfairness of Life

Today my friend Juan of JuanOfWords.com, wrote about faith. (I encourage you to click over and read it.)

I responded in comments:

“I recently tried to blog about this but the post sits in my drafts because it ended cynically and I don’t like to spread negativity if possible. Faith has never been easy for me but unlike you, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found it more difficult.

Not having that belief that “everything happens for a reason” and is part of a bigger plan – that there is someone in charge up there that knows what is going on even when it looks like chaos from down here – having the unsettling feeling that we’re on our own, doesn’t feel good.

Faith is not something that can be bought or forced. If it could be, I’d spend good money to stock up on it just for the comfort it can provide.

The natural optimist in me won’t go down that easily though. There’s a tiny spark of hope that I’m wrong. My heart and mind are in constant battle over this… I’ve had to accept this, and accept that my definition of faith isn’t the solid kind some are lucky enough to stand on. My faith is something fleeting that I must constantly chase.”

As a result, Juan encouraged me to finish this post and hit the publish button… and so here it is – a post that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

___

“It’s not fair!” … These three words of indignation are one of the first phrases we learn as children. We shout it at our parents with a stamp of our foot when we’ve been denied something we want and it’s thrown around on school playgrounds across the nation as much as those bouncy red balls.

“It’s not fair!” was a phrase that was especially easy for me to employ as a middle child. With an older sister who was granted more freedoms and a little sister who was bestowed more mercy, there was plenty to find unfair, and maybe because of my birth order, it’s easy for me to perceive injustice, whether it’s done to myself, someone I love, or a complete stranger.

“It’s not fair!” I’d shout, and my wise mother would calmly respond, “Life’s not fair.”

Middle children are called “peace-makers”, (as well as “trouble-makers”, but that’s another story.) … We are accustomed to being sandwiched in the middle seat of a hot station wagon. We know what it’s like when one person is taking more than their fair share, (“Mom! She’s touching me!”)… and I guess that affects our view on the world. We like to make things fair, for ourselves and for others, and there are few things more frustrating than when the power to do that is completely out of our hands.

Eventually that frustration has to become something. It festers like an infected wound. It can become discontent, depression, cynicism. I look out at the world and increasingly find myself disappointed with the lack of fairness, and unable to shake it off as I used to. When I was younger, I’d wrap myself up in optimism. Close my eyes and think happy thoughts until my short attention span managed to be distracted and occupied by something full of fluffy goodness. People living in poverty… It’s so unfair… Ooo! Cake on a stick!

These days it seems there isn’t enough cake on a stick in all the world to make me forget the unfairness that is life. This is when many people will lean on their faith. The belief that there is a higher power, that it all happens for a reason, that someone up there is looking out for us – it is comforting. Like a child at the beach who walks deeper and deeper into the waves, looking over his shoulder every once in awhile to make sure his mother is there to run to him and pull him out when the tide gets too rough.


But what if you don’t have that sort of faith? Those with an abundance of faith may see it as a willful rebellion, but I can assure you, it is not. We are all gifted different gifts, and resigned to accept certain flaws. A doubting mind, a mind that questions, a mind that can not be shut off, is one of those things many of us would trade in a heartbeat. There is no comfort in looking back at the shore and seeing that no one is watching over us as we feel the sand slip beneath our toes.

So, with a lack of strong faith, and an increasingly cynical world view, where does that leave me? Should I simply accept this as my new reality? Am I capable of waking each morning knowing that I’ll encounter injustices in this world that I can do nothing about?

I began writing this without knowing where I would finish it. Something in my heart demands that I dig down deep and find that fluffy goodness that makes everything okay again, but I don’t want to be trite. I don’t want to pretend that there is always a happy ending. For myself, maybe I can truthfully say that so far life has demonstrated to me time and time again, that everything happens for a reason – but it’s not fair for me to say it’s a universal truth. It’s not fair for me to speak on behalf of others who may not see their reality that way.

(Image source: Libertinus)

Posted on November 15, 2010, in beliefs, Corazón. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. This was a very deep and personal piece thanks for sharing. I myself feel like i’ve lost faith many times in my life, but when i look at my life now i am thankful that made this choice, or understand why something happens. That give me faith. Maybe faith is like that it leaves us for a moment or two in our lives and other times it is right their holding our hand again, and giving us a reason to rely on it!

  2. Powerful piece. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve always fallen somewhere in between Juan’s approach and yours. It’s an internal wrestling match that occurs periodically. “Hay que tener fe,” I would hear that from my mother in my youth and at times can hear her voice now when I close my eyes and think of her, even though she’s gone.

    It’s the little things that lead one to question our faith. I recall when I was a kid – knowing that touching a Santo that sat on my aunt’s table would result in my hand falling off. That was common knowledge, I thought everyone knew that. Then my cousin Domingo touched the Santo’s feet one day in front of me. Horrified, I was shocked that we weren’t struck by lightening. Then he grinned at me and touched the head. “Ay Dios mio”, I thought in a panic. Nothing still. This gave me a new faith, a faith that emboldened me to question what was laid out there.

    Years later I realized that my faith was realigned in my life. Sometimes with my beliefs and other times inspiring new beliefs. Most importantly I think it taught me that “this too shall pass”, or if things do happen for a reason, to question why as opposed to simply accepting it.

    It was also faith that humbled me through the years to accept the beliefs of others and respect those belief, especially if their faith brought them peace.

    Through our faith (whatever that may be) comes hope.

    • Thanks for sharing the story about touching the Santos. It’s humorous to imagine you as a child and this scenario playing out and yet sort of melancholy at the same time, as you realize, this is a moment you began to “question”, and those moments, while providing growth, can produce a certain amount of anguish.

      I think that faith is probably one of the most common struggles and that gives me comfort – to know that the world over, most of us are unified in wondering and questioning – even those of us who pretend confidence on the matter.

      Did you know Mother Theresa had doubts about God’s existence? I found this out a few years ago and it made me feel better.

      Also, back to the Santos for a moment – I find it interesting that you were told not to touch them. My husband says that in El Salvador people frequently touched them and considered it a sort of blessing.

      I also learned, (though I can’t recall where), that some people have even gone as far as to break off toes and fingers of the Santos statues to carry as good luck charms. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

  3. Wow. This part I could relate to especially: “There is no comfort in looking back at the shore and seeing that no one is watching over us as we feel the sand slip beneath our toes.”

    As a little kid I remember when a friend told me Santa wasn’t real. It actually hurt, and that pain still seems real even now, if only because I still know what it’s like. The pain that comes with my feelings of religious doubt, that the Virgin Mary isn’t actually listening, that St. Christopher isn’t making sure I don’t get into a car accident, that God isn’t keeping my wife safe, is just too much. I can’t think about it, even though I always do.

    • Wow – Funny that you bring up Santa Claus. I remember vividly sitting in the passenger side of my mother’s car and asking her, “Santa isn’t really real, right?” – And I guess I had come to the age where it was appropriate to tell me the truth. She responded something like, “No, it’s just for fun.” … The immediate next thought in my mind was, “Well then, how do I know God is real?” — I don’t remember if a spoke it out loud, but as funny as it seems, the whole Santa Claus thing is when my religious doubt began.

      It does hurt to think about. I also try to push it from my mind, but it isn’t something you can ignore.

      Since I was raised on the Bible, verses still often come to my mind when I need guidance – which is fine, because there is still wisdom to be found there. I like the parables and analogies… One verse I’m reminded of now is, “he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

      It’s a very apt description.

  4. This turned out to be a wonderful post, and I am truly honored to have played some small role in its completion. As I said over on my site, lol, faith means different things to different people. We should never assume our interpretation of it speaks for anyone else, but ourselves, because in reality it doesn’t have to.

    Maybe it was all the church going and praying that my mother subjected us to as children that made me believe the way I do, but I think it has more to do with the difficult lessons life has taught me so far.

    On a side note, being a middle child truly is a straight path into becoming the peace maker and trouble maker. That has, and probably always will, be my role in my family. The one who can’t seems to keep his mouth shut – EVER! En serio, pero tu no te preoucupes, faith will always be there whenever you decide to come around to it.

    Abrazos Amiga!

    • Ah, Juan. Ni me fijé que eres un “middle child”, también. I like you even more now. LOL.

      Thanks for your words and for pushing me to do things. You’re a good friend.

  5. beautiful, thoughtful post. I loved the insight into being a middle child…since I was an only child, but now have three of my own…the middle one being exactly as you described!

    faith…that’s a hard one. I wrote like three different comments and erased them. But in the end, I guess faith is the journey of our life…the sum of our experiences and where they lead us.

    • Susan – Faith is probably one of the most difficult things to write about. Our words reveal us, and sometimes we reveal things to ourselves that we aren’t ready to put into “solid form” as words.

      Saludos to your middle child :) Sometimes I wish I had one, but I have only 2 kids. Being a middle child uniquely prepared me to relate to both of them though, (since I know what it’s like to be an older sibling, and a younger sibling.)

  6. This brought tears to my eyes. I guess because I’ve been trying so hard to find WORDS for what I’ve been feeling. I hate to say that I don’t believe in God, as I’ve believed in Him since I was a kid… but I hate to say I place all my trust in Him because the ‘That’s so unfair!’ comes out to play and it’s a constant battle. Like you wonderfully said, “My faith is something fleeting that I must constantly chase.”. Oh that really hit a chord with me, because again, EXACTLY how I feel. I wish I had the same faith as others have, the just knowing and no doubting. But I don’t. And I think I’m starting to be okay with it and just not let it bother me as much as before.

    Thank you for this awesome post. It’s nice knowing I’m not the only one who feels this way :)

  7. Thanks for the though-provoking post, Tracy. This is a challenging topic and it’s great you were willing to open up this topic (and yourself) for discussion. I do have to say that I think I fall more on the side of Juan in this area. For me, I think I would feel lost if I didn’t have something/someone to believe it, to depend on, to trust in no matter how badly I fall and/or fail. Plus, with the work I’m in (international health/development), my faith (and the faith I see in others who fall under the “less fortunate” category) is the only salve that can heal my broken heart when I see things that are “not fair” in this world. That faith keeps me from being depressed by the injustices in this world and motivates me to want to do something about it. That faith gives me hope that things can get better. Am I a pillar of faith? Most certainly not. Does my faith waiver? Yes. But will it ever go away? No. It does give me comfort knowing that there is a God so much bigger and more powerful than I am out there. Anyway, those are just a few of my thoughts. Great post!

  8. I’m going to post on this today. Thanks for the push.

  9. This is so honest Tracy. I questioned my faith many times and most recently I went through a huge internal struggle with it. Growing up I was raised around positive examples of faith and but still I tried to rebel because I didn’t want to go to church on Sundays. lol Later developed a stronger connection to God because I got older and started to make my own decisions without my parent pressuring me to. Then when I thought I was at my strongest, I got in touch with my cousins from St.Louis. They’re Apostolic and their religion follows the Bible almost literally. I was so thrown off because their church and style of living was so different from ours and yet they read the same exact bible that we did as Catholics. The preached their word all the time and their whole life revolved strictly around their religion. I came home confused as hell and the first question I asked my parents when they picked me up from the airport was, “I need to know why we use the same bible as them but they live totally different. Are we living wrong?” My mom explained that some religions interpret the bible literally while others more loosely. That wasn’t enough for me. For months after I struggled with my faith to the point where I stopped praying at night. (Something I had been doing since I could talk) Then recently I finally regained my belief in being Catholic. I truly believe it’s because God felt my thoughts and questions and allowed me go through a period of doubt. He knew I would come back but it took that doubt for me to realize how big of a piece was missing from me without my faith. I hope you find the piece that you feel is missing, if that’s how you feel. A recent story in the news reminds me of what you expressed about the injustices of the world. A relative of Oscar Grant (the African American man shot in the back and killed by a BART police officer) said after the police officer received a measly 2 years with time served (so basically will spend another 7 months in jail) that there can be no pace without justice. I beg to differ with her. The injustices of the world should not erase our peace of mind, our faith or our reason to thrive. The injustices of the world should and will effects us but to take away our reason to live in peace or keep our faith, no. If the injustices of the world can do this then what is our reason for living? Even if there is one answer to “What is our reason for living?”, then let that be the reason behind solidifying your faith. I’m sorry this is so long  great post !

    • @ Alejandra – No need to apologize for long comments. I love them :) … Thank you for sharing about your faith, and how you struggled with it in the past. I like your closing thought very much.

  10. thanks for this post. i am pretty sure you know where i land on this, but wanted to take a moment to encourage you. i think often times people can assume & therefore make others feel they need to be cheerful and happily accepting the hard things in life to have faith. (i know for what we have walked thru the past few yrs i have really seen this at least) not so. this is a fallen world and there is severe pain and grief and disappointment. look at the psalms – not a lot of shiny happy people, you know? in fact psalm 88 has no happy ending & does not end with “yet i will trust the Lord” as all the other psalms do. it is a rather depressing psalm, but i personally think that is just because it is expected we will question, wonder and need to figure it out. faith does not come from going to P.B.S. (wink) or growing up in a “christian family.” God is the One who gives faith. i admire you for giving it thought and opening up your journey a bit for all of us. you are a gifted writer. :) hope this comes across in the loving and respectful tone it is being written in.

  11. ps – that should be P.B.C., not P.B.S. ;)

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