Christianity asserts that we are holistic beings — that our bodies, minds, and spirits are interlocked and interwoven and cannot be separated. And in terms of the mind, we are both intellectual and emotional beings. We have the capacity for ordered thought processes and we also feel deeply. The two parts of our mind are connected — as anyone that has ever taken a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) knows — feelings affect our thoughts and changing thought patterns can change our feelings. Our thoughts and feelings are also connected to our behaviours. Let me give you an oversimplified example: if we think unhappy thoughts, we feel sad, and our behaviour may be to cry.
Now, we cannot always help how we feel. Feelings happen to us. Sometimes they are rational feelings, where there is an underlying cause or trigger, and sometimes we cannot discern an obvious cause. The feelings are just there. I have to tread very carefully, because I am fully aware that many of us deal with debilitating feelings, and I am not, for a second, suggesting that there is an easy solution. I too once struggled with anxiety, suffered panic attacks, and had to deal with a long period of depression.
I once performed at a beatboxing gig for schoolchildren at The Copper Box Arena in London. The gig went really well and I felt fine. I walked out of the arena into the wide open space of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and suddenly felt the deepest anxiety. I was ill with it, with an overwhelming feeling of aloneness and disorientation. It felt like I was alone, treading water in a vast ocean. My prevailing thoughts were, “I am alone. I am helpless. I am nothing. I am tiny. I am unseen. I am invisible.” I needed help and so I reached for my phone and at that moment my phone battery ran out, which exacerbated the situation. I made my way to the nearby Westfield Stratford shopping mall, found a side corridor where there was a plug socket to charge my phone, sent a message to my friends, and curled up in a ball until they found me, which they eventually did. They comforted me, bought me a coffee, and helped calm my anxiety, which enabled me to function enough to travel home.
It was horrendous and I have the deepest empathy for those that also struggle with their mental health. For the sake of this talk, I simply want to make it clear that our thoughts and feelings co-exist and are consciously or unconsciously connected — as they are too to our physical behaviours.
Why is this important? Well, I sometimes wonder if we label some things as feelings when they are in fact also decisions and behaviours. Take love, for example. We often think of love as a feeling. The late and wonderful ‘Queen of Disco’, Donna Summer, sang to us, “Ooooh, I feel love, I feel love, I feel love…” But love is not just a feeling!
Jesus, after washing his disciples’ feet, and being betrayed, commanded his disciples to love one another. He didn’t say, “Feel love for one another.” Love is a verb. It is a doing word. We can choose to love even if we do not feel like loving. And we can think of other feelings in the same way too, such as doubt.
This week I was asked if I ever doubt my faith. Well, technically, as I will explain, faith and doubt coexist, but what they are asking me is whether I doubt my belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and whether I wonder if my trust in God is misplaced. And the answer is, yes, absolutely!
You see, I am not blindly following my Saviour, and I engage in serious rational thought and discussion about my beliefs. I question my beliefs on an almost daily basis. Do they stand up to scrutiny? Do they work out in practice? Do they make a difference to my life and to the lives of others? Do they affect how I live my life? And so on… It is not wrong to question one’s faith. And so, yes, I sometimes have doubts. I sometimes feel unsure. And yet, I rationally choose to have faith and place my trust in Christ. It is a decision that I continually make.
And those thought decisions affect my actions and the way I behave. But more than that, they affect what I experience too. Choosing to believe; choosing to have faith; choosing to trust in God’s love and forgiveness opens the door for me to experience that love and forgiveness in a transcendent way.
Now, you could argue that I am experiencing those things as a direct result of my thought processes, but it is somehow more than that. I experience and receive so much more than I give. For the tiny amount of faith I have in God, I receive a superabundance of blessings — including a deep sense of joy and inner peace. This, I understand, is what Jesus calls, “Life in all its fullness.” Despite its bumps and wobbles, pains and difficulties, life is wonderfully full.
And the reason for this, and the reason that the secular world cannot explain it, is that we are not just body and mind. We are body, mind and spirit and all three are interconnected. I can think peaceful thoughts. I can feel peaceful. I can exude calm and serenity in my manner. But… I can also experience a peace that “transcends all understanding.” As Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:7. “And (as we come to God) the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts (feelings) and your minds (thoughts) in Christ Jesus.”
But it all begins with a choice. A week last Saturday, at the cathedral, a whole bunch of adults publicly proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ in a special ceremony. They made a decision. The Bishop did not ask them, do you feel like turning to Christ? He asked them, “Do you turn to Christ?” To which they answered, “I turn to Christ.” And today, at St.Mark’s we had a blessing and thanksgiving for Brielle. The parents and sponsors made a public declaration to follow Christ and raise the children within our loving church family until the day when the children may also choose, for themselves, to follow Christ.
Friends, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Faithlessness is the opposite of faith! To doubt means there is the very real possibility that something does indeed exist, is real, and is true. Doubt says something may or may not be true and it sits on the continuum between faithlessness, where there is no absolutely no room for possibility, and certain faith.
If you have doubts, remember that you are in good company. Jesus’ disciples themselves had serious doubts, yet they chose to follow Him. Christians throughout the millennia have had doubts and yet their faith has led to God doing marvellous and wonderful things in the world. Love is a verb and so is faith.
Today, choose to have faith. Choose to believe that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again. Choose to trust in Him as your Lord and Saviour, and even if you have the tiniest amount of faith, it will open the door for you to experience the fullness of God’s love.
So, my prayer is this: May you have faith in the One who gives us life in all its fullness, and may you receive from God the abundant blessings of his love.