George Michael was right. You do gotta have faith. But what is it? Why is it important? And how do you grow it like the proverbial mustard seed?
Before we moved to America, I took a pilgrimage to the Mecca of extreme leisure in Queenstown, New Zealand, to do a Bungee jump. I did it to get in touch with myself before taking a plunge of faith into a new culture. I felt some fear, but my controller managed to rationalize the jump. Hundreds of people do this every day, I thought. They wouldn’t let me do it if it was risky. There’s no risk here. Before I jumped, I had beaten my fear into a corner. By the time I jumped, my inner controller had shut me down to protect me from the experience. The controller is on duty ALL the time, trying to be helpful but often control is counteractive to change.
In the book, Switch; How To Change Things When Change Is Hard, Dan and Chip Heath describe the dilemma of being worn out by the controller. People aren’t lazy or resistant to change, they say. They simply get worn out.
When people exhaust their self-control, what they’re exhausting are the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure. In other words, they’re exhausting precisely the mental muscles needed to make a big change. So when you hear people say that change is hard because people are lazy or resistant, that’s flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. Change is hard because people wear themselves out.
Imagine how much energy you would have to put into change, if you stopped wasting so much energy trying to control things you can’t possibly control. In terms of the Bungee, imagine how much more I would have enjoyed it if I’d really let go.
A Leap of Faith Helps You Realize Your Potential
We want to control our experience so that we don’t feel fear. But without fear, how would we push ourselves to new limits? You learn from rabbit holes and bungee jumps, loss and change, that it’s not the fall that’s frightening. It’s the fear of the landing.
After each experience of surrender, fear’s false evidence is less convincing. You’ve made it before and you can do it again. Once you get beyond your well laid plans, you discover potential that the controller hadn’t even allowed you to consider. The controller is often the overbearing part of you, squeezing out other parts such as spontaneity, freedom, openness and surrender.
A Leap of Faith Gets You Unstuck
The final scene in Thelma and Louise is one of the most famous scenes in film history. They get themselves in a bunch of trouble, and don’t know what to do. They can’t go back, and there’s no obvious way forward. They’re in a car with the Grand Canyon in front of them and a cordon of police cars surrounding them. They look at each other and say, “Let’s keep going.” They hold hands and drive the car right off the cliff. The movie ends with the car in mid air over the cliff. For them, freedom is worth the price of death.
Imagine if we took the same approach to living. Surrendering control is the price for freedom. Sometimes we get ourselves stuck. We don’t know where to turn, and so we keep up the illusion of control. We keep going through the motions to appease the inner control panel. Imagine if we said, “Let’s keep going. Dive down the rabbit’s hole. Go all in.”
Like Thelma and Louise, a lot of the cliffs (including the so called “Fiscal Cliff”) are crises we have created for ourselves. There comes a time to go over the cliff, as if to hit the reset button. Let things end that need to end. Stop going through the motions. Be prepared to start over.
There’s a lot to be said for making plans, setting intentions and taking rational steps from one plan to the next. However the reality is that much of life doesn’t go according to plan. There come many points where in the words of Margaret Shepard, “Your only available transportation is a leap of faith.”
I don’t mean faith in the religious sense. Religions have their way of describing faith, but faith is bigger than religion. Nor do I mean that you abandon your rational faculties when you leap. Take your brain with you when you jump. Faith as I’m talking about it is trusting yourself.
Its a leap of faith because its often counter intuitive. You sometimes have to persevere against the odds. You often have to coax yourself out of comfort zones, and believe you can do things you’ve never done before. Faith is a word that describes taking a first step. As Martin Luther King said,
Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
Faith is the best word we have in the English language to describe trusting yourself and trusting the flow of life, when the odds seem stacked against you. Faith is important, for ALL people, not just religious people. Faith is one of the ways we get to unseat the mighty controller, get beneath fear and find our true character as people. In the words of Jane Evershed,
It’s yours, take it,
Leap like a lunatic
Over the chasm below
Erupting as you go
Your true self awaits you
NOW you will know