The 2nd grade class of St. James Catholic School in Oregon City, OR was not a particularly bright bunch in 1989. We slouched our socks and picked our noses and jockeyed to be Teacher’s Pet. There was seriously not a lot to write home about this particular group of kids. We were also forced to memorize the multiplication tables through the twelves. Did us puny, distracted 8 year olds really know anything about the grouping of numbers? No. I don’t think we were even taught what it meant to multiply until another year or so. But we drilled those rote, memorized facts every day, until the whole class knew their times tables forward and back. And when we did progress through the years and get tested periodically, we were glad to have those facts at the ready. We plugged those facts into our problems, confident that they were true… even if we didn’t know why they were true.
I was thinking about this the other day when I was knocking my head against the wall in trying to fully comprehend what it means in the Bible where it says “Faith is a free gift…” I used to beg and beg and beg for this free gift and wonder where the heck it was?! Why didn’t I ever feel all warm and fuzzy and start ordering mountains around and such?! I prayed hard for faith all the time! Well, because I am the queen of strange (and sometimes, mildly inappropriate) analogies, my 2nd grade multiplication tables came back to me. Those facts have been a “free gift” to me my whole life. And while I’m no math whiz, I clearly understand the methodology behind the number facts now. But for a very long time, I didn’t. I could just plug in the right answers because I knew they were right… not because I understood them.
This is very often my faith life as an adult now. I’ll be honest. I don’t “get it” more often than not these days. I can not intellectually conquer the theology behind Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him…”. But the older I get, the more delighted I am to become childlike in ‘not getting it.’ After decades of trying to research and philosophize and “grasp” Catholicism, I have reached a point where I just throw my hands up now and want to leave that to smarter people than me. Plumbing the depths and breadth of our faith is so far beyond what my brain can handle in the context of the life I’ve been given… I am content anymore to simply play in the shallow end of the pool where I just take everything at face value.
Jesus says “Have no fear.” Okay. Jesus says “Eat my body.” Okay. Jesus says “Have faith.” Okay. Trying to master the enormity of what that means is just plain too hard. The Catechism defines faith like this: “[Faith is] both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed.”
There is nothing about warm fuzzies there. Joy! Faith is an act of the will, a choice to be made. A response to a gift we receive from God but don’t necessarily understand or feel! I’m pretty sure Flannery O’Connor is considered on par with the Catechism right?! Well, she is responsible for my very favorite definition of faith of all time: “Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.” Amen.
So when I’m faced with extraordinary situations that challenge my relationship with God and my identity in Him… I think of Romans 8:28. Then I shrug my shoulders and say “Okay. I choose faith. I choose He who has the words of Eternal Life…”
Because I’ve got no better answer to the question. Thankfully the cheat sheet to the Exam of Life has already been imprinted on my mind. 2 x 2 = 4 whether we understand that fact or not. And God has us in the palm of His hand and is working constantly for our good… whether we understand that or not. What a relief.