How Strong Is Your Faith?

When bad things happen to good people, it is important not to waste time in negative ruminations, questioning why God has allowed such a terrible thing to happen

At a conceptual level most people will affirm that their faith in God or a higher power is quite strong, and yet, the strength of faith is usually discovered only when one encounters loss or suffering. It's amazing how in the face of fear, faith morphs into the hero of hope, but in loss, it is easily villainized and discarded.

The Feebleness of Faith

I'm sure you've all seen young ones switch seductive screensavers on their mobiles with godly images around exam time. Some will even scribble Om symbols on their answer sheets to consecrate their faith. Similarly, hospital waiting rooms resound with bhajan ringtones and chants, in the hope for divine intervention. An exacting holiness descends upon the otherwise indifferent attitude to faith in perilous circumstances.

On the flip side, when results are not as one desires, or when doctors fail to deliver good news, faith can quite quickly disintegrate into anger and atheism. This is routinely experienced in grief circles I facilitate, where some men and women of faith, depedestalise and abandon God, feeling deeply betrayed when a loved one dies.

It takes courage, contemplation and commitment to be steadfast in one's faith through life's undulations. If faith is lost when things don't go our way, it only proves that the God we believe in is a false God whose purpose is simply to fulfill our desires and expectations. When God, Force, Source or whatever name we call it by is defined by the fulfillment of our wishes, it most certainly isn't the creator of all things we are investing our trust in, but more likely, an infantile imagination that James Fowler calls ‘intuitive projection’ in the primary stages of faith.

Strengthening Faith

In my work with understanding and development of faith, I have found that it requires deliberate effort and inner work, particularly in the face of adversity. Suffering compels us to examine our lives, urging us to seek the true purpose of incarnating. In doing so, we are faced, quite unexpectedly, with philosophical questions and truths that we otherwise tend to avoid, such as the finiteness of life, having and losing people and things, and the role of faith in helping us live meaningfully.

When lighting strikes, people of unshakeable faith don't question ‘why me’, for they trust in divine intelligence and universal laws. Instead, they pray for strength to accept their suffering whilst firmly believing that whatsoever has befallen them was meant to be. Even though they may not comprehend the woeful experience, and may actually be deeply aggrieved, they are still able to lean quite spontaneously into something bigger, from which they derive hope and strength. Such a temple of faith, in my view, is built on three limbs, prodigality, neutrality and intentional suffering.

Three Limbs of Faith

Limb 1: Prodigality

When bad things happen to good people, it is important not to waste time in negative ruminations, questioning why God has allowed such a terrible thing to happen. This merely nourishes the need to blame and discredit God because fear has arisen in your heart. When fear is met with more fear, its strength is doubled, making you feel terrified and out of control. But when a frequency diametrically opposite to fear, namely faith, meets with it, the fear wave collapses and suddenly, you feel calmer and more able to bear your discomfort.

This is why the pain of loss is made much harder when one free falls through the rabbit hole of violent emotions without reining them in by a deeper understanding about one's unconscious fears and the wisdom of life itself. Prodigality urges you not to waste your time and energy trying to fight, resist or blame God for what has happened but instead to trust deeply.

By resisting the instinctive tendency to become despondent and hopeless, you intuitively and naturally begin to build faith in a greater power. This is no easy task and takes a lot of inner work and effort, but it brings rich rewards because in choosing to bear your troubles with fortitude, faith is automatically made stronger.

Limb 2: Neutrality

When bad things happen, those of limited faith react violently to the tragedies of life. But when you become aware of these habitual and instinctive reactions, and train yourself to disengage consciously from them, the mind remains anchored in faith and seeks better, more useful ways of dealing with adversity.

Neutrality requires you to embrace the wisdom that whatever has happened is okay, and was meant to be. This of course is easier said than done, but if you can view misfortune through this lens, you are more likely to access logic over emotion to make sense of your situation and move towards acceptance.

By approaching adverse situations with the attitude of acceptance, without wasting much time resisting what has happened or asking ‘why me’ questions, you can move to the next empowering step of ‘what should I do now, and allow faith to guide you towards rehabilitating your broken self. However, when the bridge between yourself and the higher self is broken, and faith is too weak, recovery can take very long because people whose faith is damaged, do not heal spontaneously.

Call it radical acceptance or surrender, arriving at the point of neutrality requires that you accept what has happened in the quickest possible way by sacrificing all resistance and animosity of the ego mind. In this way, faith is intrinsically fortified for you have learnt to surrender personal will in favor of Higher will. The Sufi mystics called this tawakkul, a trust so entrenched in the Divine that no matter what happens you know that it is just how it's meant to be.

Limb 3: Suffering Intentionally

Acceptance does not imply that you are relieved of your pain, it simply indicates that you are willing to suffer consciously without resistance. Even though this may sound counterintuitive to many who feel ‘who the hell wants to suffer at all’, scientific wisdom says that by reducing emotional resistance you reduce fear and the intensity of suffering. For example, if you are very tense about an impending surgery, the body will release more cortisol into your bloodstream hampering the process of healing. But if you accept that there will be some discomfort and pray for the strength to bear it gracefully, the body will relax and allow healing to occur more easily.

Most of us are terrified of suffering, which makes the experience even harder. But when you understand that suffering is a catalyst for growth, an evolutionary impulse that allows you to access hidden wisdom through lived experience, you can embrace suffering more willingly. The ability to embrace your discomfort without escaping it or pretending to be strong, is exactly what suffering intentionally entails.

When you trust in this evolutionary impulse, mysteries of life begin to reveal themselves, and many of life's complexities and paradoxes suddenly seem to make sense.

Faith Strength Test

Using a five point scale to rank your authentic response to adversity, ask yourself the following questions to evaluate the strength of your faith.

1. Prodigality: Do I waste a lot of time and energy worrying, venting and brooding when bad things happen?

2. Neutrality: Is it difficult or easy for me to remain neutral and accept difficult circumstances with an attitude of surrender, trusting that whatever has happened was meant to be?

3. Intentional Suffering: Am I able to embrace discomfort, by processing my reactions and working through them rather than avoiding, escaping, denying or repressing the uneasiness by distracting my mind or powering through it?

Regardless of what your current score is, you can choose to start building or fortifying your temple of faith by practicing the three limbs described above. By mastering these practices, you shall someday transcend the self, becoming impervious to suffering and perhaps, even witness the truth about all things.

Suzy Singh is an Acclaimed Mental Health Therapist, Relationship Counselor, Grief Expert & International Author

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How Strong Is Your Faith? Suzy Singh


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