"Believing takes practice."
(Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)
It's actually a startling thought. If it's true, it means that our believing -- our faith -- is something we work at, something we choose, something we develop and foster and nurture -- something that requires . . . practice.
Honestly, that's not how we normally think about believing. Most of the time, we see believing as the first step. And then, once we believe, everything grows from that. If the Madeleine L'Engle quote is correct, however, believing isn't the first step at all. On the contrary, believing comes after some serious practice.
And after we work at it for a while -- if we practice hard -- we might come to the place of belief.
It's a fascinating idea. It makes me think of how a doctor practices medicine, or how an attorney practices law. And especially during the days of a global pandemic, if we stop to think about it, we will have to admit that every single day will require that we practice believing!
The point is that, if we don't practice hard, we might never reach the point of belief.
That story from Mark 9 comes to mind. A desperate father is begging Jesus to heal his son. He says to Jesus, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Jesus focuses on the father's first phrase: "If you can?"
If you can?
What do you hear in those words? Doubt? Desperation? Hope? Does the father think Jesus can do something or not? Does he mean, "I'm not sure I really believe you can, but I hope I'm wrong about that"? Or does he mean, "I don't think anybody can make things better for us, but you're my last hope"? Or does he mean, "I'm not really sure, but I want so much to believe that you can do something for us"?
If you can?
Jesus goes on to say: "Everything is possible for him who believes." And that word from Jesus forces the desperate father to ask himself the only question that matters: "Am I one who believes?"
The father responds: "Oh Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief."
There it is! Do you hear it? Lord, I do believe -- but my belief could use some more practice!
During these days, right now, we are living that story in Mark 9: desperate for Jesus to help us, fully aware of our need, broken to the point of despair. We are an awful lot like that desperate father, pleading for Jesus to do something.
And then we hear Jesus respond to our desperation with his calm confidence: "Everything is possible if you believe." Which is when we simply must ask ourselves the only question that matters: "Am I one who believes?"
Just like that father in the story, most of us are probably not where we want to be when it comes to believing. For most of us, our believing could use some more practice.
But that's what these days are for: these are good days to practice believing.
And if we practice well, we will discover one day that we actually believe.