By Michael A. Maday

“You gotta have faith!” This we tell our despondent friend. To someone disappointed or shocked by one of life’s unexpected turns, we advise, “Hey, keep the faith!”

Faith is one of those words, like love or prayer, that gets used so much it almost loses its meaning. The dictionary defines it in many ways, including “belief and trust in and loyalty to God” and “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” In Hebrews 11:1, we read the famous biblical definition: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

According to the metaphysical system of Charles Fillmore, Unity’s co-founder, faith is one of the twelve powers, or twelve interdependent aspects of the Christ self, within us. Faith is considered a foundation power because Peter, who represents faith, was one of the first disciples chosen by Jesus.

Mr. Fillmore defined faith as “the perceiving power of the mind linked with the power to shape substance.” This dynamic definition gives fresh meaning to Jesus’ statement: “According to your faith let it be done to you” (Mt. 9:29). From what we perceive, we mold in our thoughts, words, and actions a magnetic energy that draws to us its equivalent from the world. Thus, through our faith, we shape our lives.

But if faith is a perceiving power, aren’t we always using it? Aren’t we virtually always filled with perceptions? Yes, we are always exercising our power of faith, but not always in positive ways.

Do we not have faith in our fears and faith in our failures? We have faith in dumb luck; we have faith in trickery. We have faith in disease; we have faith in the power of atom bombs. Obviously, it would be wise to contemplate in what direction we are moving or rather, in what direction our minds are taking us.

Discovering Our Faith

At some point early in our lives, it must have occurred to each of us that there was a power and presence beyond our immediate grasp. Maybe as a child walking through the dead of winter, we saw a green shoot coming up. We looked at this sign of life and were astounded. “How could this be?” we demanded to know. “How incredible life must be!”

Or maybe it was looking up at the stars at night and feeling that sense of cosmic joy and wonder. “Wow,” we thought, “This is really something!” Or perhaps one spring morning we were helping our mother plant her garden, and we dug up a pile of dirt, to find myriads of insects scurrying away and a whole world of life and order suddenly disturbed. “Something is running this show,” we thought.

Our life experience is actually the source of our faith. We place our faith in what our experience tells us is so. Our experience, of course, has as much to do with our point of view and our attitude as it does with what actually happens. So here we find that what we see is usually what we get. Much of what we perceive is defined by what we have perceived in the past; our present faith is determined by our previous faith-it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Faith can then quickly become blind, ripe with prejudice and limited thinking.

This is why Charles Fillmore wisely tells us that each of the twelve powers, even faith, must be in harmony with the other powers. Often, the power of understanding is linked with faith. Understanding brings an openness to new ideas and an edge of discernment that is a precursor to true wisdom.

Indeed, in collaboration with understanding and with love, faith tends to gravitate towards what we may call true faith, or faith in God. This is so much more than a belief in a given system of principles. It is a simple yet profound knowing that divinity is real and is at the core of our existence. This knowing is both mystical and practical, for it causes our souls to soar to the highest heights of ecstasy, while it also moves our feet to take all the necessary steps in our personal process of evolution.

Choice of Direction

Faith in God is, of course, what we usually mean when we use the word faith. But faith in God is most importantly a choice of direction. We choose to place our power of faith in God as we choose not to stay stuck in the places of fear and hopelessness.

One day as a mother was washing dishes, her teenage son walked into the kitchen and with great urgency asked her, “How can you believe in God?” He wasn’t being sarcastic; he earnestly wanted to know. “When I was younger,” he went on, “I used to find it easier. Now I can see all the suffering and injustice in the world, and I find it hard to believe.”

The mother paused before speaking, resting her hands (still covered with soapsuds) on the edge of the sink and taking a moment to turn within and ask for guidance. “I don’t just believe,” she said, “I know. I know that love is real and that God is that love.”

She paused again, because she could feel there was more.

“It’s a choice,” she added. “I choose to believe because I see what the world seems to be like when I don’t believe there is a God. I’m happier when I have faith. I’m nicer to people. I’m more patient. So I choose to believe over and over and over again.”

Indeed, it is during our darkest hours that we can learn the most about our faith. When life’s challenges are getting us down and we feel our pain, our depression, and our childhood fears re-emerging to consume us again, our opportunity is greatest.

When we get in touch with our personal helplessness while staying connected to the divine order of things, we trust that all is well, despite the pain we are feeling. Then we begin to discover new and deeper levels to our power of faith. In truth, the more in touch we get with our true helplessness while we stay rooted in our divine security, the more space we create for our faith to grow. The more faith we feel, the more powerful we become.

After all, when Jesus was saying, “The Son can do nothing on his own” (Jn. 5:19) and “the Father who dwells in me does his works” (Jn. 14:10), He was giving us the greatest understanding of both helplessness and faith. Often, hiding behind our bluster of self-assurance and arrogance is a defended sense of faith in our worthlessness.

Do you worry about whether what you just said will be misunderstood? Are you anxious that someone may not like you? Are you afraid to speak your personal truth? Through all of this, is there not a faith in unworthiness? Think about how often we choose to have faith that there is something wrong! Why else do we struggle so often to be in control? Where is our faith?

Indeed, only as our capacity to let go grows and we allow ourselves to truly relax into our essential helplessness can we permit ourselves to deepen our trust in God.

The Experience of Faith

There was once a climber who had conquered many mountains. One day while he was climbing, a gust of wind unbalanced him and he missed his footing. He began to slide down the rock face toward the edge of the cliff. Just before he was to go over, his hand grabbed a ledge and he hung there, suspended in midair. Desperately, he tried to pull himself up, but he wasn’t strong enough. There was nothing he could do to save himself.

“Lord,” he pleaded, “You know I’ve always believed in You, and now I need You. Nobody else can help me now. Please come to my rescue!”

The Lord answered: “Yes, Harry, I hear your prayer. Before I can help you, though, there is one thing that you must do.”

“Oh, Lord,” said Harry, “Anything! I’ll do anything! What must I do?”

“Harry,” the Lord said, “First, you have to let go of that ledge.”

We are all in Harry’s predicament. “Letting go and letting God” is never as easy as it sounds. Surrendering to a Higher Power is all about becoming more conscious and often offers us knowledge of things we initially do not want to know! Nevertheless, surrendering our personal helplessness is a critical step to knowing our true faith and our true power.

Becoming able to truly face our darkest depressions or to feel our deepest fears actually allows us, in the course of time, to feel the bliss of God’s presence.

I once watched a mother pushing her baby in a stroller down a slight hill. The mother was quite focused on not allowing the stroller to roll too fast, but her baby son was blissfully unaware of the effort she was making. He just babbled and waved his hands and enjoyed himself I realized how natural it is to have faith, how innate it is. The baby’s faith in his mother was complete; he had no awareness of any potential danger.

It occurs to me that true faith, faith in God, is like that. Life doesn’t always feel like a smooth and fascinating ride guided by someone in whom we have unconditional faith. Our rides have bumps, sometimes bruises. We may sometimes fear being thrown from the carriage. At times, it seems we gain too much speed and we go out of control-or we get totally stuck and the wheels won’t turn! We may imagine there is no one steering and no one knowing or caring where we are headed. However, in fact, our journey is being guided, all along.

It is our faith that brings us this knowledge. And as we choose the direction of our faith and stay close to the faith that softens our hearts, we experience an ongoing revelation of God’s eternal love.