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When my youngest brother was little he loved to be tossed into the swimming pool.
We’d pick him up and throw him underhand, like lobbing a softball, into the deep end and watch him sink and then pop his head up from the surface, look for the nearest side of the pool and swim toward it.
I’m pretty sure we’d get arrested for doing that today, but 50-something years ago people did stupid stuff like that all the time. (Not to mention it wasn’t even our pool. We used to hop the fence and use our neighbor’s pool when they were gone, hoisting our little brother over the fence with us. I don’t know where our parents were when we did this.)
I guess you could say our brother, whom we surprisingly managed not to kill, had great faith in us. Why else would he willingly want to follow us into deep water?
One could argue that a toddler can’t reason, but that only makes the argument for his faith stronger. He just trusted us. Plus, it was fun.
Someone once explained faith like this: It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff and stepping off, certain one of two things will happen. There will either be something solid to stand on or you will learn to fly.
Faith doesn’t allow for being certain you’ll go splat on the rocks.
At one time I had “stepping off the edge” faith, but that was a long time ago. When I first sensed Jesus saying, “Follow me,” I knew I was willing to follow him anywhere — over the fence and into the pool.
Often I wonder what happened to that faith. Isn’t faith supposed to grow? Get bigger, stronger, taller, deeper?
Does faith change? Is it supposed to?
Today I would probably go up to the fence and think, “Too high. I might get splinters climbing over it. Besides, I don’t want to get my hair wet in the pool.”
Is crazy, leap-off-the-cliff faith reserved for the young? Does middle-age faith slow with age just as the body slows? I don’t know; that’s why I’m asking.
The New Testament writer of Hebrews says faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1), which, frankly, is clear as mud. How can I be certain of something I can’t see?
Noah spent 100 years building a giant boat in the desert expecting a flood, even though he had never even seen it rain before.
Instead of getting a golf cart and a condo at a Florida retirement community, the Bible tells of senior citizens Abraham and Sarah spending their golden years setting up a nursery in anticipation of a baby God had promised them. Both they and Noah had crazy faith, faith that believes the impossible is more than possible and that God specializes in impossible situations. That’s the faith of grand visions and glorious dreams.
Other places in the Bible illustrate faith as actions borne of desperation: a mother begging Jesus for mercy for her demon-possessed daughter, a Roman soldier asking Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant, a blind man asking to see and a leper asking to be made whole.
That kind of faith happens when you’ve exhausted all your own resources and options, when you’ve done all you could and nothing has worked.
It’s when you realize you have nowhere else to go except to God and even though you may do it trembling, you reach out your hand with hope, even if it’s mixed with doubt, expecting him to be there — and he is, and he pulls you in and up and holds you close.
I believe that God meets us where we are and accepts our faith no matter how big or how small, whether it’s toddler-sized, running-to-the-fence-eager-to-be-tossed-in-the-water faith, barely-there faith or something in between.
Maybe faith is like a muscle. Maybe when crazy faith shrivels to barely-there faith it just needs to be exercised. I don’t know.
I do know, however, that Jesus said all anyone needs is faith the size of a mustard seed — teeny, puny, tentative, shaky, doubting faith in a God who calms the most violent storms with just a word.
Jesus said that kind of teeny faith in a gigantic God moves the tallest mountains. That kind of teeny faith heals broken hearts and broken lives, changes the hardest hearts — maybe even mine.
I have that kind of faith. Maybe some day it’ll grow or maybe it won’t. Either way, I know the faith I have is all I need.
Just knowing that actually makes my faith grow a tiny bit, so there’s hope even for me.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.