O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Faith and the Faded Tattoo

posted by Jason Boyett

I have two tattoos. Which isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. Everyone has tattoos now. One of mine is only a couple years old. My wife and I got matching ones on our 13th anniversary, Celtic love knots with four loops (loops for the two of us + each kid).

But I also have another tattoo. At least, I used to. I got it a few months after we got married, in the spring of 1995. It’s an ichthusa Jesus fish — on my ankle. Yes, it’s a cliche and not very creative, but I was only 21 at the time. After deciding I wanted a tattoo, I remember thinking that one of the best things about getting a tattoo that proclaimed my faith was that it was permanent. It would always be there. I’d never be able to hide my Christianity. (At least not when wearing short socks.)

This was at the tail-end of a really passionate season in my spiritual life, and I was inking my faith onto my skin, knowing it would be there forever.

That tattoo is nearly gone now. For whatever reason, it’s almost completely faded. I can still see it if I look for it, but if you saw me in shorts and flip-flops, you’d need to get down on your hands and knees and put your nose about six inches away from my ankle in order to see it. And that would make us both feel really awkward, so just take my word for it: Somehow I got a tattoo with an expiration date.

Now, don’t go reading too far into the symbolism. My faith isn’t as gone as the tattoo, and I’m nowhere close to saying my faith has faded away. But I think of my tattoo a lot, and about how spiritually gung-ho I was when I got it, and about how I’ve spent so much time since then in this period of doubt, and every once in awhile I’ll remember the tattoo and think about the connection between my ink and my doubt.

Tattoos aren’t supposed to disappear. Sometimes we’re surprised when things fade away. We didn’t want it or expect it, but it happens. And it happens all on its own.

When I asked the question on Tuesday about whether or not you were becoming more or less religious/faithful as you aged, I wasn’t surprised to hear from a number of readers who freely admitted that their faith was starting to fade, or had been fading for awhile, or was completely gone. And the fascinating thing about it was that they weren’t at all happy about it. They didn’t want to lose faith. Becoming less religious meant dealing with a lot of regret.

Haley wrote, “As I have gotten older the questions have begun to seep in and cause me to doubt severely. It breaks my heart, and the sad thing is no matter how much I pray for strong faith it never seems to come.”

David wrote, Much less [religious] as well, and it depresses the hell out of me. I’m not sure why I want to be religious, but I do, and then deeply regret that I’m unable to be.”

Tyler wrote, “I’ve always been filled with doubt, but in recent years the sound has grown too loud to ignore. I wish this weren’t the case, and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it.”

Growing up, I tended to think that those who doubted or rejected God were doing so out of sin. Losing faith was convenient. It gave people a moral out, I thought, so they could go out drinking and hooking up and doing drugs and taking advantage of guilt-free living.

But that’s rarely the case, is it? From personal experience and by talking to others in the same place as the commenters above, religious people often find their faith fading away…and they don’t like it. It’s happening on its own and seems to be out of their personal control. They didn’t go asking questions because they were prideful or stubborn or sinful or looking for a way out. The questions were just there, and the answers that eventually came weren’t intellectually or spiritually satisfying, and then the doubt crept in. And they prayed and prayed and prayed against it — Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! — but nothing ever changed.

In the face of doubt, I’ve prayed for my faith to increase. It hasn’t happened. Why not?

Yes, I still believe, but my belief isn’t always an intellectual belief, because my prayers for intellectual certainty or stronger faith haven’t been answered. So today my faith takes an active form rather than an intellectual one. My faith is what I do. And sometimes it’s all I know to do, because I haven’t figured out how to make myself believe. I can’t just flip a switch. There wasn’t a switch to turn my tattoo off, and there’s no switch to turn it back on either. I looked down one year and it just wasn’t as intense as it used to be.

“It depresses the hell out of me. I’m not sure why I want to be religious, but I do, and then deeply regret that I’m unable to be.”

I hear you, David. You’re not alone.

You guys are smart. Maybe you have answers to these questions:

Why does faith fade even when we don’t want it to?

When we pray for faith, “earnestly seeking him” in light of verses like Hebrews 11:6, then what does it mean when God doesn’t answer?

And what in the world happened to my tattoo?



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Cheryl Ensom

posted March 26, 2010 at 3:04 pm


Great post, Jason. I found the link on Twitter via Rachel Held Evans and it caught my attention because I just blogged about tattoos as symbolism, too! :)My faith has faded, I guess you could say. Or my faith in a specific list of principles/theologies/beliefs. But I guess I don't find that troubling. For me, faith subsiding is like the tide receding; I find treasures left in the sand. Solid ground. Truth. I'm going to think about this some more…Thanks for the post, jason!



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David Henson

posted March 26, 2010 at 3:06 pm


"So today my faith takes an active form rather than an intellectual one. My faith is what I do."It might just be that you only now have faith and what you thought was faith before was not.Maybe this is how God helps unbelief when we pray for belief. Instead of belief, God gives us faith, the faith to act. Also, it is reassuring for me personally (because I'm with you here) that when God originally sent the Israelites into the wilderness, the explanation given wasn't so that they could wander, but that they could celebrate. So perhaps we should meet our own wildernesses with joy rather than anxiety? I don't know, but that's where I'm at.A blog I read Prayful Agnosis shared a W.H. Auden quote that might be useful:"Every Christian has to make a transition from the child’s ‘We believe still’ to the adult’s ‘I believe again’. This cannot have been easy to make at any time, and in our age it is rarely made, it would seem, without a hiatus of unbelief."



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Chris Hill

posted March 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm


“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” If my faith is genuine then it’s going to manifest itself. I've always believed that when I've prayed for my faith to increase, God has granted new opportunities to be put to work "feeding his sheep". “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation, old things are passed (faded) away and behold all things become new.” – Hey, maybe this faith in an active form calls for a new tattoo. ;)



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Web Knitter

posted March 26, 2010 at 3:28 pm


Perhaps faith isn't supposed to stay static. We change as people as we age; our experiences shape us as we grow in age and wisdom. Perhaps you're missing the more enthusiastic and more innocent faith of your youth. Older, more experienced faith would have to stretch to encompass changed circumstances and experiences. Belief doesn't have to go away–I think it just grows up.



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Rachel H. Evans

posted March 26, 2010 at 3:50 pm


Cheryl – I really like the imagery of finding treasures left in the sand. Beautiful!Sometimes I find such treasures too, but other times the beach is pretty barren. Recently I've been frustrated by the fact that, with all the attention I've tried to devote to Lent and the upcoming Holy Week, I'm still wrestling with doubts about the resurrection, life after death, and the Christian faith in general. At times I give up wrestling altogether, and my faith just grows numb and cold. But I haven't walked way from faith altogether, not yet. Mainly because of those rare, extraordinary moments in life when I experienced something very much like the divine. Most of these experiences happened among the poor and the sick (particularly in India), so I get the feeling that the best place to look for "answers" is not in books or at seminars but among "the least of these." I'm convinced that if there are any pieces of Jesus left in this world, they can be found there. Also, every time I hear Nessum Dorma, I think to myself, "There's probably a God." Great post, Jason. Thanks for sharing with such thoughtfulness and vulnerability – both here and in O Me of Little Faith. (This is a veiled way of bragging about the fact that I got an advance copy.)



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Meg Baxter

posted March 26, 2010 at 4:15 pm


I like what Chris Hill said: "If my faith is genuine then it’s going to manifest itself. I've always believed that when I've prayed for my faith to increase, God has granted new opportunities to be put to work 'feeding his sheep'."I only came to know Christ at 18, but even then, there was no lightening strike conversion, just a, "Hey God, if you're really real, I guess I'll give you a shot"-type prayer. :oS I have grown since then, but mine has almost always been an "intellectual" faith, meaning a daily decision to follow Christ, not based on a feeling or a super-spiritual experience. Many times over the years, as I seem to revert to my God-ignoring ways, I have prayed not for "more faith," but for the desire and motivation and self-discipline to pursue Him in His Word. Because followign Christ is not easy. And it's not His job to pick up the slack where our faith is waning. He already did His job by dying on the cross. Our job is to actively pursue His teachings, to converse with Him about them through prayer, and to act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit (to whom we are sensitive only through active pursuit). And on and on it goes. That's my take anyway. I'm constantly reminding myself that asking for more faith without cracking open my Bible or praying for others, or even providing practical help to someone, is an empty – and selfish – prayer.



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Jamie

posted March 26, 2010 at 4:33 pm


I wanted to comment the other day, but was really taken aback and not sure what to say at the myriad of people who are struggling with faith and sounding so hopeless. Faith and hope are strongly interlinked in the Bible, and maybe by losing hope, or forgetting the Glory that hope, faith wains as well. Without going into what could potentially offensive observations of American and or/Christian culture….the Lord says "you will seek me, and find me when you seek with all your Heart" from my experience He truly comes through, and I don't think I'm special. It seems that the times I wasn't "feeling it" were resulting from half hearted efforts…or self-seeking, masked as God-seeking. On a seperate note, something that came to my mind reading some of these comments was the story of the Rich man looking out from his eternal doom, and asking that Lazerus be sent to warn his family. Abraham said ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ And I think there is some truth to that…because I am seeing miracles and faith building things happening a lot. And maybe some of you are too….but it's just not convincing? I am by no means a spiritual giant…so perhaps the Lord has graciously given me a measure of faith, because from where I am standing this thing is too big and too real to doubt. Just some disheveled thoughts as the wee morning Call to Prayer rings out from the mosques.



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Denise

posted March 26, 2010 at 5:19 pm


About your tattoo: I once went with a friend who desired a tattoo on her ankle BELOW the ankle bone. Tattoo Joe said, "No way, Jose. It's above the sock line or nothing." Having seen many tattoos below the ankle bone, we were surprised. Why was he being such a despot? Turns out the epidermis on the foot is thicker making those tattoos fade. (So he was being more of a benevolent dictator than a despot.)(I'll ponder on the deeper questions later.)



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Jason Boyett

posted March 26, 2010 at 5:42 pm


Thanks for the insight, Denise. Mine was/is above the ankle bone, though.



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Anna Broadway

posted March 26, 2010 at 7:41 pm


When I was going through my fading-faith crisis in college and grad-school, the thing I eventually began to compare it to was a piece of precious pottery that had broken. Initially I was panicked, because it had seemed to me that God resided in that jar, and if it was broken, my faith had shattered with it.But eventually I began to discover that no longer finding God in the ways and places I had before didn't mean that He had altogether gone out of existence, but rather that He was revealing Himself in other ways; the jar was just one form in which I'd encountered a part of Him. Before, I'd met God in "devotions," and I would consider them to be "good devotions" when it seemed like a passage of scripture really resonated with something I was facing in my life that day. But during the peak of the crisis, sometimes the greatest emotional experience came when reading a part of the Bible left me cold. One time I even wept over this, which was not an experience through which I expected to meet God, but in a strange way felt like it might be that. Ultimately, that long season was one of losing the initial paradigm of God I'd had, going a long while of not knowing at all what I believed about Him or could expect from Him, except that a) I believed He existed, b) I believed the Bible was a reliable source of information about Him and c) I believed the local church was important in sorting all that out, despite its imperfections … and gradually coming into a place of greater intimacy with God and strengthened faith. To use the tattoo metaphor, I think it's almost like one tattoo faded, but other tattoos, other marks have since then gradually appeared on other parts of me — all of them activated in response to the same constant thing outside me, but activated differently in me as different parts of me change and become more or less responsive to that external thing. Don't extrapolate that analogy too far, but what I'm trying to say, I guess, is that it scared me at first when my relationship with God changed. I thought that how things had been was the only way they could/would ever be, and that losing that meant losing the relationship altogether. Instead, I've come to see that things were merely deepening, and that by letting go of the old ways and modes of relating, I was being prepared to receive new ones.



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Denise

posted March 26, 2010 at 7:53 pm


Wow, Anna Broadway. Well put. (What she said.)



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Kristian

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:53 pm


I think it's a natural progression to lose some of your childish, unquestioning faith as you age and gain wisdom. This should be especially true to religious flavours that are at odds with reality and observable evidence around us; biblical literalism for one.I think part of it might be that we're creatures who seek efficiency in our efforts, and having faith in something that makes no logical sense and is at conflict with most things outside your own head takes a lot of effort.I suppose that's what faith is – belief without, and despite, evidence. It creates an evolutionary and cultural conflict when we treat blind faith as a virtue, and logic as a vice.Losing faith as you get older and more experienced in life is a natural progression. Part of growing up. Perhaps the wrong thing to do is compare how much faith you had long ago to how much you have today, because you're not exactly the same kind of person anymore. My life goals, ideals and priorities were a whole lot different when I was 10 or 20 years old than they're now at 34.Perhaps the right thing to do is to ask yourself if you can be a happy person and a good parent with the amount of faith you have left. You probably would have sucked at parenting at age of 10. This is a different ballgame.



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Adriana Feliz

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:11 pm


I'm used to reading an article/blog post on a problem I relate to and towards the end the author will give some simple solution to it. Problem solved.I wanted this post to be one of those. some things don't have an answer, I guess.Passages like Luke 11 (seek and you will find) and Acts 17:27 only add to my doubt. If you are seeking (wholeheartedly) why won't God show up? Some will claim that he's closer than we can imagine (he's always there) but still there is an undeniable feeling of despair and loneliness that mere words won't solve. My guess is that we don't really want answers we want a change of feeling. We want to go back to when it felt right. I'm currently trying to "fake it 'till i make it."



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JamesBrett

posted March 27, 2010 at 12:20 am


simple. your faith was made of henna. blood is required for a tattoo to last…



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Katherine Laine

posted March 28, 2010 at 1:08 pm


A week after my brother got a fairly large tattoo on his stomach (don't ask me why), it was so faded that it looked like it had been there for 15 years!The 'word on the street' was that some people's bodies just reject the ink.Either that or the tattoo artist was using boot-leg ink.



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Joshua Heavin

posted March 28, 2010 at 3:37 pm


Many students grow up spoon-fed their parents' faith within a bubble of entertainment-driven youth group events. The faith of many students exists from youth camp, to the next event in three weeks, to DNOW, to the spring retreat, etc. and believe that a Christian is merely someone who doesn't drink, have sex and watch R-rated movies (unless they're about Jesus). And frankly, that is nothing more than Christ-less, moralistic deism. Functionally, religious performance and behavior modification is what makes one right before God and earns his favor to obtain an idol, rather than God himself, and in such a system God doesn't really matter outside of serving me. And sadly, this is the religion of most young 'evangelicals.'There are a million factors that contribute to this issue. Some blame liberal schools and teachers while others talk about how college ministry doesn't have enough flashing lights and whistles to attract students. In all honesty college students don't need events where Evel Knievel jumps over a cross- there is plenty of that in youth ministry. What college students need is an understanding of what the nature and character of God is revealed in the gospel of grace. Perhaps the cause of the drastic amounts of college students leaving church is well, church. And I'm not the guy (though I used to be) who wants to bash the church and say ‘I like Jesus but not the church’, considering that Jesus loved the church so abundantly he suffered and died for her (Eph 5). But I contend that the future of American Christianity will rise or fall on the issue of renouncing behavior modifying, religious performance and boldly, and biblically, proclaiming the gospel of grace, for God’s glory and our joy. Religion says, “I obey, therefore I am loved,” while the gospel says that in Christ I am loved undeservedly, therefore I obey. This gospel must be held precious and dear: the offensive cross, the offensive message that men's righteousness can't save, and the truth that the Christian's life consists not of avoiding 'bad' behaviors and doing 'good behaviors,' but of ever-increasing joy in making much of Jesus. Biblical, missional Christianity must be embraced to reach a de-churched/post-Christian generation that followed 7 steps to their Best Life Now until their wife died or they got cancer. I am baffled that there exists a dialogue about whether the church should be ‘missional.’ The Christian confession is that Christ came from heaven as the perfect missionary and engaged culture to edify the saints and reconcile the lost for God’s glory. How can we not join in that beautiful narrative? There is a desperate need for community in this generation, as evidenced by the remedying attempts of Facebook and Twitter. We don’t need to invite students to hang out with the church crowd. We need Christians to go make culture amongst people where they are at, in their contexts, that is Christ-centered and loves people well, where they are at. In high school when I became a Christian I all but ditched out on my non-Christian friends because I started hanging out with the youth group kids. How many opportunities did I miss because of that, to love those kids and pour the hope of glory into their lives? We need missional church leaders, but we desperately need missional Christians.And there must be a push to realize and proclaim the all-satisfying fulfillment that is in Christ alone. In a generation seeking satisfaction for the deepest longings of their souls for value, acceptance and to make a difference, they must hear the devastating news they have committed two sins: they forsaken the fount of living water and hewn out broken cisterns that can not quench. But what marvelous, magnificent, glorious hope there is in the precious grace is revealed in the cross where Jesus interceded on our behalf, reconciled all things to himself and allows us to never thirst again.A few scattered thoughts stirring in me for some time-



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kdlyn22

posted March 30, 2010 at 11:23 am


Do you think previous generations struggled to maintain their faith as much as we do, or in the same way?



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Jason Boyett

posted March 30, 2010 at 11:35 am


@kdlyn22:That's a really good question. I think all generations probably struggle to maintain the faith or beliefs of previous generations. Some do, some don't, and that's how beliefs (and religious ideas) evolve. Each generation, however, has different things to deal with, from the Copernican revolution in the 16th century to the Enlightenment/Age of Reason to the scientific and medical advances of our current age.To say that this generation "has it the worst" is probably short-sighted and a bad idea. I'm always hesitant to say stuff like that because it's such a self-absorbed mindset. But this is certainly a unique time. The postmodern culture, the global connectedness, the advances in neuroscience…all of these lead to a lot of religious questioning. A perfect storm of spiritual uncertainty, if you will. :)



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kdlyn22

posted March 30, 2010 at 12:17 pm


Ah, as soon as I begin to feel entitled about having questions regarding my faith you take that away by making me see the bigger picture. Haha! Good point about previous generations having their own issues to deal with. I see the strong-willed, firm-fisted gray-hairs at church and have a hard time imagining them having doubts or questions regarding their beliefs, but somehow I'm sure they did and still do. (Or at least that's what I'm riding on to ease my guilt for not being so firm these days) Thanks for the insight!



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Dan Martin

posted March 31, 2010 at 10:31 am


Jason, I just found you via Mason's "New Ways Theology" blog. Gotta say that I really resonate with your post here (well, except for never having any epidermal ink myself). Not that I ever had the on-fire kind of relational faith you describe…that has been denied me despite years of desire going back to my childhood when my parents were involved in the Charismatic movement of the 70s. However, I definitely had a lot more certainty about a lot more stuff than I do now.Your rumination about living your faith rather than (primarily) believing it is cogent. I do think we'd have less trouble finding a compelling faith if we had more active communities of Jesus-followers with whom to sweat and pray. I can say without a doubt that my own faith has suffered severely from over a decade in a typical right-wing evangelical church where how you think is everything, but nobody really thinks about much with any depth.My own approach (as will be evident if you want to wander my own blog) has been to spend a lot of thought on where we've missed it theologically, and I think I've come across some helpful stuff there. But when I actually stop and consider the silence where others use "relationship" language, I still come up as empty as ever. I find myself wondering if it's all just an elaborate human construct. But then I see a beautiful sunset, or the gorgeous California mountains, and I just can't believe that all that wholly-unnecessary beauty "just happened. . ."And then I look at the GOOD that is contained in the gospels themselves, and how antithetical it is to everything around it–then and now–and I can't convince myself that's just human creation either. So ya know, there's something out there. Why I can't meet it more personally, I have no clue, but there's something…



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Dan Martin

posted March 31, 2010 at 10:31 am


forgot to check the "subscribe" box…



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Fiber Arts Spirit

posted April 3, 2010 at 9:24 am


Part of the problem is that, as people of the scientific age, we see faith as intellectual. Abraham Hechel said that Faith follows wonder & Awe, and maybe we've lost the ability to wonder or be awed by anything . . . .



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