If you've got it, you're full

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The quote sprang from the page! I read it again and again trying to apply it to my life. "It takes effort and although it grows in our hearts, we have to foster its growth," Peggy Cahn wrote, "because faith is like air in a balloon. If you've got it you're full, if you don't you're empty."

"How true," I thought. When everything in life is going well, we think we are filled with faith. Sometimes we have just returned from a retreat, read an uplifting book, or listened to an inspiring sermon. We think to ourselves, "I'll always feel close to God. There's nothing that can ever destroy my belief in Jesus' love, protection and guidance."

Then someone rejects us without a reason. We lose our job or a friend betrays us. Perhaps someone dies too soon for us to understand the reason why. Or maybe life becomes too daily and hum-drum. Then, rather than believing we're on top of things, we feel empty. We sense we're all alone, often powerless -- like a wounded ship sailing on a sea too turbulent for its condition.

What happened to that sure faith, we wonder? We were so confident a short time ago. But something went wrong. Then we remember it's been awhile since our faith was nurtured. Faith is like anything else that lives and grows. It must be tended and nourished. It perhaps doesn't always take a large amount of faith to feel secure but even that small bit can be lost if it isn't fed.

Faith grows in our hearts, and we must foster its growth. A baseball player has to practice regularly to keep his skills polished, a singer sings and a writer writes. Any endeavor requires use, education and work. Keeping one's faith strong operates on the same principle. Although faith is a gift from God we must do our part to keep it alive and active.

When people have faith in God everything in life operates better. It's worth keeping. Job interviews, relationships with friends, or even an argument with someone can be handled more effectively when one has faith. The opposite holds true when people fail to have faith. Like a balloon containing little or no air, you are empty and flat without belief. Often it doesn't take much to deplete one's reservoir. Without use, faith can rust like an old piece of machinery left unattended.

Without faith it's difficult for people to hope, and without hope life holds little meaning. Hope propels us forward, keeping despair at length. By having faith we can genuinely believe we are God's beloved. If we could visualize and absorb that fact -- and it is a fact -- we would always be confident and secure.

How can we nourish our faith? Everyone likes to feel comfortable and protected. I talked with a young person recently who said, "Just when I think I have it all together, I suddenly hit a rut. Why is this so when I was so upbeat yesterday?" As I tried to answer her question, I looked into my pattern of faith. Like most, I usually think I have a lot of faith but then, I fall off my mountain. I wrestle with why, wondering how I can climb back up to my place of well-being. I remembered I need to read Scripture, inspirational literature or listen to a good sermon daily. I pray, too, but sometimes God still seems unreachable. I can become empty like that balloon without air. Matthew 17:20 tells us, "if we have faith only as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible to us." Our challenge is to nourish and use that small mustard seed of faith to keep it alive and growing!

Ellen Shuck is director of religious education at St. Mary's Cathedral in Cape Girardeau.

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