I am an atheist, but I believe in faith.
My mother has spent most of her 40-year nursing career serving underprivileged communities. She understands the damaging effects of poverty on the poor. And she daily confronts people who feel contempt for those who have little or nothing.
Yet my mother has faith in the human spirit and in God. Her conviction stems from the first time she saw someone die. The difference between a living being and a dead body was enough to nurture a lifetime of belief. I’ve never heard her expound upon her religious philosophies, but I know that her faith buoys her in a decade she views as the darkest she’s seen.
My father too has faith. Born in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, he knows firsthand how poverty and famine can devastate families and nations. Often he feels powerless to alter the course that history has set for Africa and her people.
But he has faith that small acts matter. He sent home money every year until she died and he continues to help my uncle and his children. Having spent 17 years struggling to find full-time employment in America, he hands homegrown tomatoes to people walking by his garden and he sometimes mows our elderly neighbor’s lawn. He trusts that kindness matters, even when circumstance makes us feel small.
My sister suffers from depression, but has learned to function through her sadness and even, sometimes, to be happy. She has faith in the act of living. A college friend of mine, born in a refugee camp after her family fled Eritrea, believes in God. How else, she asks, can she explain her journey from that tent in Africa to a college in the Minnesota? My friend Anna, losing her mother to pancreatic cancer, put her faith in letting go, believing that her mother would know heaven.
I have faith that I will one day be the woman I want to be. I will love my friends and my family for who they are. I will live in service to others. I will drink hot tea and read good books and listen quietly to thunder rolling in across the sky. I will cherish life. I am not this woman yet. But I have faith that I will be.
I have seen faith save people. Move them. Make them. In college an Evangelical classmate asked me how, if I didn’t believe in God, I could allow people to think that one existed. The best answer I could give him was that I do not know that I am right; I only believe that I am right. Conviction proves nothing but conviction. It sustains me nonetheless.
Faith is often presented as a leap out over unknowable depths. But in my experience, life throws us out over those depths without our consent. Faith is what prevents me from looking down or being consumed by the fall. I cannot begrudge those whose beliefs do the same for them.
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