By Steve Lofts
What do we know about faith? That is a big question and, when asked to provide testimony, my initial reaction was that of being immeasurably unqualified to speak on the subject.
You see, faith has always been a part of my life, but for many years—most of my teens and 20s, in fact—it lay dormant, buried deep under pursuits of education and career. Even these past few years, as faith has re-entered and increasingly informed my day-to-day life, it is not something I’ve thought about with intent. It has been more of a silent partner that is always there, grounding me when I get too excited and lifting me up when doubts weigh heavy. Determined to have something of value to share with you all today, I decided to do some digging.
Searching for answers about faith, I did what any ill-prepared yet practical person would do nowadays and turned to Google. While browsing I found mostly useless references to faith, from Webster’s definition of it as a firm belief in something for which there is no proof, to George Michael’s 1987 number-one hit song telling me I gotta have faith, faith, faith, which quick math tells us is three times better than having just one faith.
Among the top Google search results, the only insightful references were articles on Mother Teresa’s well-documented crisis of faith. In dozens of letters she wrote to confidants throughout the latter half of her life, she expressed persistent and painful doubts about her own faith. In one of those letters she writes, in part: "Lord, my God, you have thrown [me] away as unwanted—unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer, no, no one. Alone. Where is my faith?"
As fascinating and reassuring as it is to know that even Mother Teresa had doubts, I thought better of trying to compare my own wayward journey in faith to that of a saint. So I turned instead to someone much closer to me for inspiration, someone who planted the seed of faith in me when I was a child and has tended to it ever since, even when I didn’t particularly want it tended to. Someone whose faith helped her navigate many challenges, disappointments and losses with a grace and kindness that I am in awe of to this day.
My mom was, is and will always be a devout Catholic. Growing up, my three siblings and I attended Catholic school, went to Mass and Sunday school, and were reprimanded whenever one of us took the Lord’s name in vain. Despite our mom’s deep faith and commitment to the church, all of us kids followed a pattern established by my older brother when he became a teenager: we lost our faith and stopped going to church. I don’t know what happens to the human brain during the teenage years, but some irrepressible force transformed me from a kid who believed everything his mom told him to a young adult whose primary functions were to question every word she said and reject every belief she held to be true. I didn’t realize it at the time, but her life of faith continued to inform my own life of faith during those teenage years, despite my obstinate nature.
When I was eight years old, my parents called all of us kids into the family room for a meeting. This was 1987, the same year George Michael’s song "Faith" dominated the radio, and our family room was painfully stereotypical of that decade. Floor to ceiling wood-paneled walls, a bulky box TV that was also inexplicably wood-paneled, a sliding-glass door that did more sticking than sliding and an off-white popcorn ceiling—a common ceiling treatment at that time, evidently invented by someone who lacked any faith or perhaps had too much of it. In either case, this was the room in which my family’s life would be forever changed. As an eight-year-old kid I didn’t understand what divorce entailed or how much strain it would put on the family, most especially my mom. I just knew that it meant our father wouldn’t be living with us anymore. My main concern that day was whether our dog, Chaps, would stay with us or leave with our father.
Pretty small potatoes compared to what my mom was faced with.
At 38 years of age, and with four kids to parent on her own, she had the daunting task of transforming overnight from a full-time mom and part-time bank teller to a full-time mom and full-time career woman. She continued to work part time at the bank during the day while taking classes at night to become a certified paralegal, a career that she just retired from after 30 years. While juggling this already full schedule, she somehow found the energy and patience to spend quality time with each of us four kids, making sure we were loved, encouraged, well fed and safely transported to and from our many after-school and weekend activities.
She also made it a priority to remain active in her church community, generously giving of both her time and limited resources to support its good works. Every Sunday, as she would write a check to the church, all I saw was the latest Nintendo game I would never play or a new Gap shirt I would never wear. What I did not see was how much this giving to the church meant to her and how much she got in return. What I did not see was how her faith acted as a deep wellspring of endurance and hope, helping her overcome the challenges, stresses and loneliness inherent to being a single parent. What I did not see was how faith gave her strength to shelter us kids from the harsh realities of life, so that we could dream big and chase those dreams with confidence. What I did not see was that, through her faith in God and commitment to family, she was lovingly watering that very seed of faith planted in me as a child, knowing that it would one-day grow strong enough and resilient enough to help me weather life’s storms.
Standing here today, I reflect on the fact that I am 38 years old, the very age my mom was when my father and she sat us down in that tragically '80s family room to give us the talk no parent wants to give their kids. And I wonder: If faced with the same challenges she overcame, would I be equipped to overcome them, as well?
That is a question I can’t answer for certain, and hope I never have to answer. But what I do know for certain is this: without faith, I wouldn’t stand a chance.
Steve Lofts and his wife, Casey, have been members of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church since January 2017. He currently serves as a Deacon in the Officer Class of 2020. He shared this testimony on Sunday, March 18, 2018. This season of testimony accompanies the Lenten Sermon Series, Sifting the Real from the Fake in Life and Faith.