Confessions of an Unbeliever

I’m becoming convinced that every single problem I face can be traced back to my unbelief in the promises of Jesus. Between sermons I’ve recently heard, articles and books I’ve read, and the experiences God has granted me recently, I am more certain that my uncertainty is the root cause of much of my grief and spiritual and emotional anguish.

For example, the hurt I experience from a friend who did not meet my expectations and in some way disappointed me is something that can be traced back to my unbelief in the promises of God. My worry about the future and what my career path looks like can be traced back to my unbelief in the promises of God. My proclivity to build walls around my heart and mentally or emotionally withdraw from intimate and vulnerable situations can be traced back to my unbelief in the promises of God.

How is this possible?

Because every time I let my circumstances dictate my emotional response – every time I allow hurt and frustration to inspire fear, worry, or insecurities which take over my mind, I am actively disbelieving that God is all-sufficient, as He says he is. Instead, I am choosing to place my security and my confidence in people and situations. And every time I misplace this security in someone or something other than God, I am setting myself up for an agonizing disappointment.

When my security is placed in anything other than God, the moment that a person or a thing does not meet my need for fulfillment, I am suddenly left feeling very empty and needy. This feeling profoundly affects my self-image, my interactions with others, and my motivation to excel or push forward to get past the misery of being let down.

Sound familiar?

Previously, I have thought of unbelief as a very passive offense. Example: “I don’t believe that going without food for a day will dramatically impact my physical well-being.” I can go through the day (and I often have) and neglect to eat, possibly because I forget to eat, but when I feel faint at the end of the day and then recall that I have not nourished my body all day, my unbelief becomes an active aggressor against my physical well-being.

In the same way, verbalizing that I believe in the promises of God holds no power when I live with a far different approach to relationships, tasks, trials, and joys. If I say I believe that God is all that I need yet I have a constant worry that plagues me daily or I turn to an unhealthy vice every time I’m depressed, then I am not actively living out that promise. On the contrary, I am actively living out my unbelief.

I was reading in John chapter 6 tonight. Right after the passage about the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus has a conversation with a crowd in Capernaum. Here is how the conversation went:

Crowd: “What must we do to be doing the works of God?”

Jesus: “This is the work of God: that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Crowd: “Then what signs do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness.”

Do you see what just happened in those few verses (John 6:28-31)? The crowds ask what the works of God are. Jesus says that believing in the Son of God is the work of God. And then the crowd asks what God is going to do to prove that. They want to be provided for in the way that they see fit. But what does Jesus say? (Check out verses 32-33 if you want the verbatim conversation.)

Jesus: “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Whoa. Jesus isn’t just the only bread that will satisfy, he is the TRUE bread. Those who come to Jesus will never hunger and never thirst. And he isn’t just talking about physical hunger and thirst here.

Do you see what is happening in this passage? These people want to be fulfilled. And they are accustomed to running to other things to fulfill them. But like us, they keep coming up empty. So they want Jesus to do something miraculous to show them that he is providing for them. And he replies by telling them he has already done something miraculous because HE is the miracle and HE is the only one who will ever satisfy.

So my question is this…why do I run from that truth and into the arms of other people, places, jobs, education, volunteer opportunities, social functions, things that will keep me busy in an attempt to fill a gap that only Jesus can fill?

Why do I, a lover of God who has been cleansed and healed and is being sanctified, continue to choose pain over power and defeat over victory when God so clearly spells out what true life and satisfaction looks like in His Word?

I could easily say that it is merely because I am sinful and fated to choose evil over good – that it is the way I am wired, as a human. But go with me here – let’s actually own up to some of this.

Could it be that like Adam and Eve, we continue to choose the fruit that we think will satisfy only to find that death awaits after the first bite? Could it be that in the midst of a garden of trees is the One tree that has life-giving fruit that will never leave us hungry yet we are continually distracted by the other trees which look more appetizing and settle for pain, self-loathing, disappointment, and hurt instead?

Jesus is standing before us with his arms open wide and with holes in both hands saying,

“It is me. I am the One that will satisfy. I am the only One that will satisfy. Stop deriving your value from the approval of others. Stop hiding behind humor, sarcasm, indifference, pride, humility, material possessions, family, friends, careers…stop relying on all of those things to keep you stable, to be your security, because you want them to sustain you but they won’t. You want them to make you stronger, but your dire need for those things to satisfy you and fill that gap inside of you is draining all of the life out of you – can’t you see? Come to ME. And I will give you life to the fullest. And I will give you life everlasting.”

I really feel like God is saying that to me in this season of transition, soul-searching, strength-finding, career building. And I feel like God is saying that to all of us, every day, as we turn to lesser gods for strength and come up empty and wanting every time. 

We should not be discouraged by our unsuccessful attempts to find satisfaction. On the contrary, we should be greatly encouraged that those things do not satisfy. Because in our misery – in our search for satisfaction – we find Jesus waiting to embrace us and fill us with an endless supply of all that we will ever need.

His grace is sufficient. For me. His grace is all-sufficient for me.

May we enter into active belief.

To contact the author of this post with private questions or comments, please email Sarah at gallaghorical@gmail.com.

When Contentment is an Uphill Battle

Sometimes life is hard. Not because anything traumatic has happened or because a big change is coming up, but merely because everything is staying the same. There’s nothing in sight to anticipate. The routine is dull and heartache is magnified because there isn’t any temporary high to numb it, like a relaxing vacation or a move or a new job or something big that shakes your whole world in a scary yet exciting way.

Today is one of those days. This week is one of those weeks. This summer, it seems, is one of those summers. College graduation is behind me and a lot of recent grads that I’ve talked to are in the same boat. And the boat is actually a pretty sad raft called “What’s Next?”

It’s a depressing question. It’s a depressing mentality. Because it implies that whatever is next is always better than what is. If someone is single, everyone wants to know when they are going to start dating. If a couple is dating, everyone wants to know when they are getting married. After a couple is married for a little while, their friends are dying to know when they are going to have kids. Are you with me here? We are never satisfied by what is.

So my question is, why are we always looking for that next thing? Why do we get a kick out of stuff that is out of the ordinary but we can’t enjoy each day as an adventure?

I don’t have an answer. I’m wrestling with this a lot. In my personal life, I’m trying to navigate what it looks like to do life with people. To be sharpened by people. To be sharpened into the woman God wants me to be for Him and eventually, into the wife that I will one day be to a husband. In my professional life, I am always seeking to know the greater purpose to each task I am doing. I am also considering pursuing a seminary degree. 

But you know what I’m figuring out? God doesn’t want me to be satisfied by any of those things. I can’t derive my meaning from people, a job, extracurricular pursuits, because none of it will fill me up.

I’m trying to, though. I’m trying to find meaning and satisfaction in those things just because I think that is what we’ve trained ourselves to do. And God is testing me on it. Big time. And it has led to lots of tears, some agitated basketball playing in the backyard, some intense journaling. Once I found myself arguing with God, out loud, at a public park and then when I realized I was talking out loud, I turned around to see if anyone heard me.

A friend sent me a verse from Philippians the other day. I agree that it is a lesson that God is trying to teach me, but I’m really struggling to be able to honestly say this. Check it out:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 

-Philippians 4:11-12

My biggest issue with this is that I too often try to derive my contentment from circumstances. I wish I knew what I was here for. I wish I knew what God wants me to do while I’m here on earth. But I understand that figuring it out is a process and that God walks with us in this process and reminds us that He is enough, regardless of the pain, emptiness, loss, and loneliness that life allows.

It’s an uphill battle. How do I fight complacency with my day-to-day circumstances? How do I tame the restless spirit within that always wants to move on to the next thing? How do I learn satisfaction even when life isn’t that exciting?

There is beauty in the ordinary. God reminded me of that last night in a sweet way that spoke to me in a very personal way. Thank you for that, Father.

I approach this subject with a sense of inadequacy, helplessness, sorrow, hope, and surrender. Teach me, Lord. Open my eyes to see what you have for me.

Because as you teach us in the following verse in that passage,

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

-Philippians 4:12

To God be the glory.