Keeping the faith in hard times

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Recently, a vintage dude taking his leave from me did so with a cheery "Keep the faith, brother!" It was like a sixties flashback.

Back in the day, I would answer this blessing with a big ol' goofy grin and my hand held jauntily high in a peace sign. These days, I am more likely to look at my acquaintance with a big ol' cynical grin and, "What could you possibly mean by that, 'dude'?"

When one has worn out more than one pair of soles trodding this earthly plane, one just might find it harder and harder to keep one's faith. And with the idealism of youth a fading memory, cynicism has fertile ground to take root. This is a shame because undoubtedly, faithfulness can be an asset in today's uncertain world, in the modern challenges of marriage, in maintaining a belief in one's self after so many bruising disappointments.

So how does one keep the faith?

Strangely enough, the most practical advice I have ever heard on how to keep the faith comes from the very religious Father Gabriel Ferrer of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, Calif.

While he agrees that those with religion might "have a better chance at maintaining faith in the face of difficulties," he will also tell me that anyone can access the "essence of faithfulness" by a simple commitment to showing up for our lives.

Showing up is the first of a four-step process that Ferrer proposes as a path to keeping our faith in any worldly situation which is uncertain and where a faith in the process and ourselves is vital. It means not hiding from whatever difficult situation or challenging relationship issue we are faced with. We can begin to access our faith by not running away from the reality confronting us.

The second step is pay attention. This means, according to Ferrer, "Getting out of your own head and not allowing the fear that confusing or worrying times can bring to cause your own thoughts to whirl around and paralyze you." Like the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, one is required to stay in the moment, not in one's head.

Tell the truth is the third step. In order to do this one, we have to be committed to reality, not the sometimes more comforting delusions supported by our denial systems. To get to the truth, claims Ferrer, you may have to refuse "staying solitary in your pain, you may have to reach out to others, sometimes in spite of what you feel like doing. Also, when you sense something, don't be afraid to bring it out in the open where it can be affirmed and challenged."

The final step: Don't get attached to the results. This one is often the hardest for us mortals. We will often be so focused on the desired outcome of our efforts that we don't pay sufficient attention to the process. And, of course, being attached to the results breeds a faith-leeching disappointment when they aren't realized. "Refuse to be defined by the outcome of such endeavors as job searches and certainly other folks' behavior," advises Ferrer. "We should realize that, as my mother was fond of saying, 'This too shall pass.'"

There you have it: Show up, tell the truth, pay attention and don't get attached to the results. No matter whether you are talking marriage, a new job or beginning a new and uncharted journey in life, this strikes me as a simple but profound recipe for keeping a grounded faith.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh, a Cape Girardeau native, is a clinical psychologist who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@semissourian.com. For more on the topics covered in Healthspan, visit his Web site: www.HealthspanWeb.com.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: