I’ve been rereading passages in Unseen by my friend Sara Hagerty where she points out Mary of Bethany in her messy, beautiful, desperation for Jesus.  Sara’s words invite readers to cultivate a hunger born from a heart desperate for the Lord. 

Do you ever consider yourself desperate? 

It’s not a comfortable word to own, but I’m reminded of a moment a few years ago when I found myself walking the aisles of a bookstore in a new town.

My eyes landed on a paperback simply entitled, “desperate.”  I’d never read anything by the author but as I began to read, I found her words giving language to some of my inner strife.  Even so, I gently placed the book back on the shelf, unsure whether I was ‘desperate’ enough to buy a book that proclaimed my feelings so candidly to the bookstore cashier.

Not two days later I went back into the store and purchased the book.

In the hours between leaving the store and returning, that word circled in my head over and over again.  I wrestled with the definition of desperate.  I hesitated. And as I got comfortable with the notion that I was desperate, I felt a release – a deep, subconscious sigh, as distinct as the breath I take the moment my feet hit the sand at the beach.  

My problem with admitting my desperation was the (seeming) implication of an unfilled, unmet need.  As a Christian, such an implication seemed like a condemnation of the faith that I claim.  As a Christian occasionally regarded by some to be a leader or mentor, to admit my desperation for God seemed to invite scrutiny of my faith and raise doubts about my spiritual “fitness.”  

How do I reconcile my desperation with the perception (or fear) that it implies failing faith?  I don’t.  Instead, like that day with the book, I step smack dab into the middle of that feeling of desperation and look for Him.

My desperation reveals the gap between what I claim to believe and what I’m living.

How I feel stems from my experiences, and all too often my experiences don’t match the expectations created by a surface level understanding of God, of Jesus, and the life we are given as believers.

The gospel remains superficial when it’s limited to what we see.

What I’ve learned is that admitting my desperation reveals the source of the gap: unbelief. It’s wedged in my heart, hidden well below the surface.  No one else sees it.  It’s uniquely mine, as personal to me as my fingerprint.

In Mark 9, after the disciples fail to heal a little boy suffering from seizures caused by an evil spirit, the father begs Jesus to help his son if he can.  Afraid of asking too much and encountering more disappointment, the father caveated his request with “if.”  {How often do we do the same?}

Jesus replies, “IF you can? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”  

More often than not, I hear myself in father’s response: “I do believe! Help my unbelief!”  

Every time I read that story, I imagine those listening to the exchange heard the father’s desperation.  He longed to believe.  He didn’t need to explain his unbelief to Jesus.  Jesus already knew.  

Jesus knows my unbelief too.  Even before I am willing to own the word ‘desperate,’ Jesus sees my hidden turmoil.  He understands even before I have words to express my doubt. I don’t have to explain to him my biggest battle for my faith, in every season or circumstance, no matter where I live, is in my mind. {what is it for you?}

Years ago I hesitated to buy the book entitled, ‘desperate’ because I feared the assumption by the cashier that I was without hope.  Instead, I’ve begun to realize that owning my desperation and confessing my unbelief is evidence of great hope.  The exact place I’m most desperate for the Lord is the exact space where I know I will encounter Him.  And, more often than not, this is done in secret.  No one else notices.  He fills in the cracks where unbelief is trying to take root, replacing emptiness with His word, truth, and life. 

For the last few years I’ve been scratching away in notebooks (on napkins, the backs of receipts, and other scratch paper) trying to capture my stories about wrestling unbelief and striving to live what I believe, rather than believing what I live. 

It’s a subtle shift of words, but I’ve found it to be a lifeline of hope in the midst of my deepest pits, darkest valleys, and even in the most mundane moments of life.  

Day by day, I whisper, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?” 

Every moment I choose to live a life defined by what I believe, I am winning the battle in my mind.  The alternative is believing the narrative written by my emotions or experiences.

What story will you write with your life this year? 

Every moment of every day offers an opportunity to showcase what we believe: 

the words we say, 

the thoughts we rehearse, 

the decisions we make, 

how we spend our time, 

how we give, 

how we love …

Endeavoring to Live What I Believe is an imperfect process. I have to confess part of my hesitation to share many of the stories and thoughts about #livewhatyoubelieve is my constant awareness of the gap between what I claim to believe and what I live. {How can I encourage my friends with any credibility if those closest to me might point out where I fall short?}

But then I remember the end of the story in Mark 9. In response to the father’s confession of unbelief, Jesus doesn’t condemn or turn away. Jesus heals. 

Owning my unbelief doesn’t disqualify me. Naming my unbelief invites healing. 

Consider beginning 2019 with a new approach to life. 

Examine the gap between what you claim to believe and what you’re living. 

Expose the roots of unbelief – for me, it’s often fear, doubt, disappointment, complacency, pride {what is it for you?}

Embrace the Grace that heals.