Failing Fearlessly

During one of our many trips to our favorite local coffee shop, my friend Whitney—with her hands and bright blue eyes moving and expressive—began speaking to me about her journey in search of a feasible faith where she could be comfortable as she is, with people who are genuine, and with nothing over-spiritualized.

More than a year ago, she confessed to me that she did not know exactly what she was looking for; she assumed she would recognize it if and when she found it. If she could pick up the pieces without falling apart or deserting faith altogether, she said she might become Catholic — that is, if she didn’t find something better.

“It’s the Fish Frys during Lent,” she explained, only half joking.

Our friend Lanie is Catholic, and her family has always invited us to the weekly Friday Fish Fry during Lent at their parish, and I can definitely see why all this good food and community might persuade someone to convert. The funny thing is that what actually attracts both of us to the Catholic faith is the liturgy, the rituals, and the traditions—something that seems a little incongruent with some of the other aspects of Whitney’s character.

Whitney is almost a nomad. If she found a way to do it, she would spend a large amount of her life camping—living in a tent, carrying all she needs in her backpack, waking up to sunlight streaming through the tent and moving on when she hears the next mountain or forest calling her name. She would be very happy, for a time. She could also live in an urban city with efficient public transportation, abundant cafes and huge farmers’ markets, and be happy there, for a time. In fact, she has been happy in many different places, doing many different things, but she has always moved on in search of something else while, at the same time, leaving parts of herself in the places she has left behind. In the past five years, she has lived in six or seven different cities, soothing her wanderlust by continually moving and searching for whatever it is she is looking for.

In the years that I have been friends with Whitney — since Sunday school during our elementary years — I have learned that even if it takes her a while, she usually does find what she has been looking for. She is patient that way, waiting for the right thing — the perfect fit — to come along. I know God is drawing her, and I know that God also is patient, waiting for the right moment.

Many of our recent conversations have come back to the issue of faith, and Whitney’s honesty about her doubts has allowed me to reciprocate. Whitney may not know what she is looking for yet, but she sees the hurt and brokenness of the world and wants to make it right. She wants to change the world, to be part of a social revolution that reaches to the most basic needs of people. She has been deeply hurt by the church and she (like many of us) is tired of the “Just-have-some-Jesus” answer — as if Jesus were a magic condiment that you sprinkle on top of your problems to make them go away — when she sees that what people really need is food and healthcare and a place to live.

I see and feel the same brokenness, I have the same questions as she does, and even if I don’t have answers, I can be honest about my search for them and my belief that there is value in the search. I can tell her that I believe Jesus is the answer to the hurt of the world in very real and concrete ways, that the gospel truly changes lives, that God is working to redeem and heal all of creation, and I can echo Whitney as she says, “I know I can’t change the world alone, but I’m trying to just fail fearlessly.”

Author: Alicia McClintic

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