A parish I used to visit on occasion used to do a version of the creed that I loved. The presider would say the words of the creed and the congregation would respond: “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.”
To be honest, for a person in ministry, I can’t think of a better prayer and so I’ve stayed with that prayer that came up in my time of prayer during my 19th annotation retreat. I’ll probably sit with it as a mantra for the next few days, in fact.
Do I really believe that God is all I need? Do I really buy everything that we say in the creed? Do I believe that faith alone has the power to move mountains?
Hard things to take all in one sitting to be sure. But this mantra allows me to really engage with Jesus in prayer. It is a bit like the serenity prayer that Phil Fox Rose wrote about on Busted Halonot that long ago. I need to have the faith to believe in God, despite my unbelief. I need to surrender to that unbelief and to give that to God to help with overcoming my doubts and eliminating my fears.
It is difficult to believe that God could be all that I need. I often crave things that I know aren’t good for me. I head straight for things that I know place me outside of that relationship that God calls me into.
In Mark’s Gospel, these simple words are found on the lips of a man whose son is convulsing with a demon. Jesus’ followers were unable to drive the demon out and so they call Jesus onto the scene. Jesus rolls his eyes at the lack of faith that the crowd here has, including the boy’s father who even has a whisper of doubt that anyone, Jesus included could help his son. It seems hopeless, even for Jesus.
And so the man tells Jesus that he indeed believes that Jesus can help his son and he asks Jesus to help his unbelief.
The disciples wonder why they couldn’t drive out the demon and Jesus offers another simple answer to their question:
He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”
My friend Margaret once said, “Did you ever have a relationship where you met with a friend once a week and all you did was talk about the same things and did the same exact activities in the same place? If so, ask yourself if your relationship with God is like that too.”
I think I have that tendency. The tendency to stop talking daily to God and to put off prayer in favor of other things that I’d rather do–or other things that are just time wasters. And when I don’t keep developing this relationship with God then I am doomed to face my fears alone–not because God abandons me, but because I often abandon God and turn to other people, places, things, activities that I choose over and against prayer.
I am officially on retreat now for the next few months. I am doing the Ignatian Exercises in the format called the “19th Annontation.” For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, St Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits as they are better known) developed a series of “spiritual exercises” that were to be done over a 30 day period. It’s essentially done as “a long retreat.” But he also made annotations in his book of exercises that state that people who don’t have time to be secluded for 30 straight days should be allowed to do the exercises over a longer period of time. So that is what I am doing now. I have to pray an hour a day, with scripture and in quiet. Not an easy task for me and I am getting used to making the time for this. I’m also supposed to journal a bit about my feelings during my prayer time. So I’ll try to share some of that with you as the time goes on.
Today I would say that I feel humbled by the words of the demonic’s father. He awakens me to the fact that while I believe, I do need help as well. There are plenty of things that trip me up, plenty of things that lock me into fear and hopelessness. Sometimes I get discouraged when things don’t go well and I need the opportunity to take the long view and relax and know that in the end, God is really all I need and that God will see me through regardless.
But God won’t help me if I don’t let God help me. I need to continue to listen to God’s whisper in prayer and to sit quietly for at least some time during the day and let that relationship develop into something that feeds me beyond my hunger.
My prayer today is that I can see Jesus more clearly in my troubled times and can continue to walk with Jesus daily, even when I am untroubled. Pray that I may be able to listen and be patient for God’s voice to lead me out of my unbelief and arrogance.
And I will do the same for you.
For we all believe in something. But we also need God for those times of unbelief.
We believe Lord, help our unbelief.