We have to live a life of faith in order to experience an existence that’s worth something. When I speak about faith, I’m speaking about faith in both God and our dreams because I see the two as inseparable, really. Our dreams make us feel alive and eternal, so who do we think placed them into our hearts in the first place?
There can be no middle ground when it comes to believing. We must decide that our existence is destined to be noteworthy and move forward accordingly. Either life is about more than errands and punch clocks and subservience to glassy-eyed taskmasters or it’s not. Either one’s life is supposed to be singular and mystical, or it’s not. I don’t believe that a random and thoughtless life—one without Creator, spiritual depth, and soulful continuation after death—is worth getting very excited about. And neither is a life spent trudging along some soulless path that others tell us we ought to follow (i.e. denying our personality and abandoning our dreams).
But it takes faith to rise up to that next level of existence, the one that puts butterflies in our stomach each morning because we are so excited to step into it. When we are fueled by faith, our dreams seem logical. But when faith falters, we sink like St. Peter’s trembling feet into the murky sea tides of stress and self-doubt. That faithful disciple of Christ went from exuberant water-walker to torpid rock when he let go of his faith for a moment. When he took his eyes off faith, his reality changed in an instant. It transformed from hopeful and exciting to terrifying: That is how existence feels when faith slips away.Have you even let your faith get away from you? He you ever felt that sinking feeling? Have you ever believed that the naysayers and the cynics were actually the sages? Have you ever gotten convinced that your dreams were foolish or that your God was fictitious? Reality can go from enthralling to distressing in an instant if we begin to lose our grip on faith.
I think we are all familiar with the alternative to a passionate and playful level of existence. It’s called waking death. It’s called the bland and bored and angry life of the walking dead, and it only exists in the absence of faith. When we abandon faith (and this isn’t always a conscious process), our vision changes. The bright and vibrant colors we once enjoyed fade to dull grays and blacks. Our ears trade in bird songs for devilish taunts and shrieks. Life becomes a long series of workday alarms and noon-time tornado sirens. Anxiety and guilt and fear overtake us as we begin to get angry, both at ourselves and others, and we start to feel apathetic about the future. Sometimes this might be called depression and spur people to seek remedy, but most times, unfortunately, it isn’t even called anything. “That’s life,” people say, and then they shrug their shoulders and get on with the death march.
Faith can be a fragile thing until we become practiced at making it not so. Faith takes work! So how can we strengthen our faith so that it stays visible even in times of fear or confusion? Below is a list of tips to help you keep your faith alive and well, even during trying times. I hope that at least some of these items—and maybe all of them—will help to enjoy that next level of existence more consistently.
Exercise opens a portal for us. It allows us to escape the humdrum and step into the mystical. It allows us to escape neurosis and step into confidence and productivity. Exercise allows us to shed the skin that often feels so confining for us and instead float above our self-obsession and small-mindedness. Exercise is spiritual. Like the Gospel, it can dissolve our guilt, soothe our anger, and inspire compassion and creativity. Running is usually the type of exercise that I favor—it helps me to stay connected to God and to the dreams that He’s placed within me—but for you it might be walking, bicycling, swimming, or lifting weights. Just work up a sweat by any of those means, and you’ll be on your way to that next level of existence within half an hour.
ASSUME THE NAYSAYERS ARE ALWAYS WRONG
We tend to give negativity too much credence. Oftentimes, when someone assaults us with a dream-killing comment or criticism, we immediately think, “They must be right.” Too often we allow other people (unhappy people, thoughtless people) to move our eyes away from our own faith. But what about this? What if we flipped that script and began to see all negativity as foolishness. The next time some cynic or bully suggests that your dreams are misguided or that you’re your God is absent, why don’t you immediately reach for your faith so that you can recognize this beautiful truth: Your hopeful vision is the right one; it’s the boorish negativity that’s off base.
REMEMBER THE VISUAL OF ST. PETER
For me, there is perhaps no greater “Keeping the Faith” visual in the Bible. When Peter keeps his eyes on faith, anything is possible and fear is irrelevant. But when he begins to entertain doubts, his existence changes in an instant, and the world immediately becoming dark and frightful. When we feel ourselves sinking in such a manner, the question becomes: Do we stick with the doubts and accept a dark reality, or do we remember our faith and allow ourselves to be pulled back up to a rightful place of peace and excitement. That is our daily challenges: keeping our eyes on faith when the storms and doubts momentarily challenge us.
RECHARGE AS NECESSARY
Travel, stay nourished, and take breaks. Although faith is spiritual in nature, it is subject to very human and physical pitfalls. It can be worn down by hunger, sleeplessness, boredom, and burnout. Faith is mystical, but it doesn’t stay strong magically. It needs to be cultivated, and when we are feeling faint, we need to recharge our faith through proper self-care and new experiences.
MAKE DAILY DEVOTION A HABIT
Personal devotion can accomplish what church seldom can: It can allow us to find God without the interpretations or interference of others. It can touch our soul directly to the Creator. Regular, private devotion gets us into the habit of thinking spiritually every day, not just once a week. That is the sort of “at-all-times” faith that is needed to keep our existence on that higher level.
CONSUME THE OUTPUT OF OTHER DREAMERS
It isn’t difficult nowadays to find anger, cynicism, small-mindedness, or negativity. Those things are readily available for our consumption. Just turn on cable TV, the radio, or Netflix. Pick up any one of a thousand books or magazines. There is no shortage of negative media just waiting to kill our faith. But guess what? It really isn’t that difficult to find positivity and thoughtfulness either. Inspiring movies and songs and books are all around us. There is Positive at our fingertips each day, the sort of material created by people who embrace faith and get excited by idea of creating something positive in other people. Consume the positive more regularly than the negative, and your faith will be strengthened.
Write down your hopes and dreams and fears. Write down daily observations and insights. The activity of writing keeps your own voice alive, even when you aren’t otherwise articulating it. At times, hopefully, we will all feel bold enough to vocalize our dreams and anxieties and insights to others, but there will always be quiet times, too. Journaling keeps us faithful to our inner voice, even during the quiet periods.
REMEMBER YOUR CHILDHOOD PLAY
Kickball, blanket forts, make-believe. No limits, always entertaining, always inspired. Full of hope and faith. Existence as it ought to be. Remember those childhood feelings of total freedom, and lean heavily on such remembrances when your faith is being tested. Faith=Feelings of Freedom.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH OTHERS WHO BELIEVE IN YOUR DREAMS
Faith needs a support system. It needs encouragement. Maybe you currently have a strong support system or maybe you only know one other person who truly believes in you. It doesn’t matter. Cling to those people who are positive forces, and step back from the ones who are consistently sapping your energy with negativity.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE WORDS OF OTHERS WHO'VE ALREADY MADE DREAMS A REALITY
This idea is a mash-up of a couple of the above thoughts. You can surround yourself with fellow dreamers through reading (i.e. by consuming that positive media). Make a list of the public figures you admire and then search for narrative about their lives or interviews with them. Water the seeds of your faith with the inspiring words of others who have already learned how live on that next level.
It takes faith to make life worthwhile, and it takes a conscious effort to cultivate strong faith. By simply working a few of the above ideas into your upcoming weeks and months, I hope that you’ll be able to find stronger faith and improved mental, physical, and emotional health. Please remember to be patient and positive with yourself, and until next time, stay close to your God and your dreams.
MICHAEL PRIEBE is the author of THE LOVELY GRIND: SPIRITUAL INSPIRATION FOR WORKDAYS (90 Devotions for Stress Relief & Personal Growth). Get the book here, and sign-up for The Lovely Grind's mailing list here to receive all of Michael's blog posts and newsletters.