by Terra Atkinson
In his work The Life of Pi, author Yann Martel tells a tale of a boy who survives a shipwreck in a lifeboat, his only other passenger a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The book (and the amazing movie based on the book) leaves the reader to make the choice at the end whether to believe that the story of his survival is factual—that he really did survive for months in the ocean with a Bengal tiger—or was a metaphor for himself being the tiger, with other survivors who eventually passed away represented by other animals. The question is posed as such: Out of the two stories, which do you prefer?
The story as told of the boy surviving with a tiger is unbelievable, hard to wrap your mind around. The story about the other passengers being human is easier to accept—it makes more sense to our minds. But the author challenges the reader that to have faith is to believe in the sometimes unbelievable. Faith is having a belief in something we cannot wrap our minds around.
Faith and Challenges
When I was first thinking about this topic, I realized that there were so many stories I could tell, so many experiences I could relate from these past five years as a mom to a child who is medically complex that would tell you why my faith has been strengthened through this experience.
My stories are of watching my child fight to earn every skill she has gained, of watching her defy the odds doctors gave her through her early illnesses, of knowing in my heart that something was desperately wrong with her little body and begging God to let her survive until the next doctor’s appointment so we could get more answers, more help, more time.
But to understand why all of these experiences have served only to deepen my faith, you would have to understand that I grew up knowing what faith was. Real faith, trust, belief—that a God who was much bigger than I could ever comprehend cared about me, and cared about the things both big and small that mattered to me.
I was raised in a religious home—but my parents were more than just religious. They believed in their relationship with God, and they passed that on to us. Life was not always easy, but we learned early on that God would provide a way through any situation. It was not always the preferred way, it was not always easy or comfortable, but there was always a way.
At the end of the day, that’s really what faith is. It’s believing that no matter what the circumstances may be, there’s a way through it. It is opening yourself up to experience the miraculous and unbelievable because you believe that anything is possible. Having faith is eye opening and beautiful and breathtaking, if you’re willing to take that chance and let yourself believe.
This is why my faith has been strengthened through some very dark times these past five years.
I have been to church less—but I have experienced the love and community and togetherness of what church really is far more.
My prayers have become less wordy and full of beautiful words we are “supposed” to say, and more about dumping my real feelings out to God (including a few swears sometimes probably). But they have become more REAL by being the gut-wrenching cries from the pit of my stomach to please help me, help my baby, help my family.
I have far less resources to handle even bigger issues, and yet I have realized that I am content. We have our true needs covered, and our wants have become trivialities compared to the thought of NOT having our daughter with us.
The Definition of Faith
This is what my faith has become: Knowing that God has had His hand on our daughter from her very first breath, and He will continue to have His hand on her until her last. We do not know when that will be, and we continue to hope that it is a long, long, long time from now. I do not know what all will come between now and then—but I know it will involve many more sleepless nights, many more gray hairs, many more bedside vigils with machines beeping out vitals and pumps giving her life-saving medication.
I have accepted these things, and while I do not love them, I have made peace with them. They are a part of our life, just as the tiger in the story I first mentioned was part of Pi’s life. You learn how to survive in what seems like dangerous situations. The things you will see and survive in this life with your child will seem like crossing the ocean with a tiger in your boat to other people. They will not believe what you endure, but you will know.
You will know that you survived the unsurvivable because you had the faith to keep going, day in and day out.
Pi, the main character in the story, has a conversation with an interviewer and says that, “Faith is a house with many rooms.” The interviewer asks, “But there is no room for doubt?” And Pi replies, “Oh, there is plenty—on every floor! Doubt is useful—it keeps faith a living thing. After all, you cannot know the strength of your faith until it is tested.”
Our children, whatever their challenges, may challenge our beliefs, may suck every last drop of strength out of us in the day to day meeting of their needs, but they strengthen our resolve, they strengthen our faith.
Simply put, I have learned to believe in God because I have learned to believe in my daughter, and she has taught me to believe in myself.
Faith. Hope. Love. One and the same.