FAITH THAT FITS
I find the phrase ‘one size fits all’ ironic. These ready-made clothes are garments that are made to fit everybody and in reality they fit nobody. If you think about it the idea is quite contradictory. People are not created by machinery and produced in sizes. It is rightly consequential then that clothes which are created this way will not fit these same people. No person is an exact duplicate of another or of a machine’s model. The same is true for faith.
Faith is not a one size fits all mass produced affair. It is always a custom made job. To inhabit a faith that is anything less than tailor made would be to live a faith that is never really yours, that will never really fit you, serve your figure, your curves, your height, your form…it is to live a life in hand-me-downs and hand-me-downs don’t last.
“A relationship with God is not a prefabricated job, faith is not ready-made and one size does not fit all.”
Think about the clothes you wear, are they made to fit you or do you make yourself to fit them? Waiting to grow taller or lose weight to better fit the garment? Why do we insist on clothing ourselves in that which was not made for us, that which does not fit us? There is a classical biblical story about this very instance – David’s refusal to wear Saul’s armor. To be sure Saul’s armor was fitting- for Saul! However, if David reckons he can do better work with a sling and some stones then for goodness sake give him the sling! If he is going to live his life and face his challenges why hinder him by asking him to do so in another person’s clothes?
Thomas Carlyle, author of ‘Sator Resartus’ (The Tailor Re-Tailored) stressed that if we expect a person to live in the ready-made clothes, politics, ethics, feelings, theology and beliefs of another they will be forever trapped between who they are and who those ready-made clothes make them out to be. Not only this but a life lived according to an adopted set of principles and beliefs is a life in which growth cannot flourish or be measured for the original starting point will always remain obscured. Almost 180 years later Carlyle’s premise continues to ring true. Trying to wear someone else’s’ faith is just like trying to wear their clothes, they will never really fit.
It is a puzzlement then that we spend so much time inspecting and comparing other people’s clothes. So many people appear to be wearing clothes that were never made for them. Picture a little girl playing dress ups, all decked out in her grandma’s finery. The clothes brought out the best in her grandma, they fitted the old woman beautifully, but on the granddaughter the same clothes look out of place and the girl is lost within them. The same is true of faith. If we put on our grandparents or our parents beliefs, accepting them as conclusions without first understanding their premises we will forever be playing dress up, lost inside a set of beliefs that have not been tailored to who we are. We will be trying to force our bodies to inhabit clothes that do not fit but rather jar and distort who we are while blinding us to our own authentic appearance.
It is not just our parents and grandparents faith we so readily put on in place of creating and tailoring our own but other’s as well. For instance, when I was 16 I read the collected sermons of John Wesley for the first time. In retrospect I think the experience did more harm than good because for a time I tried to force my inner experience into the mold represented by that book and that man’s thought – it was impossible, I am not John Wesley. I was trying to think like Wesley, to weep as he wept, to have my heart ‘strangely warmed’ as his was and find my faith precisely as he found his. It wasn’t until I gave up reading his work and gave myself a month of only reading the bible that I started to find my way.
“Trying to wear someone else’s’ faith is just like trying to wear their clothes, they will never really fit.“
And herein lies the whole truth; our souls no more resemble each other than our bodies. They are not made in a standardized mold and turned out by the million. They cannot all be clothed the same way. Ready-made faith like ready-made clothes will never exactly fit. Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, Bunyan and Wesley, Wright and McLaren, may all help. They may encourage me by showing me how they – each for themselves – found their way into the presence of God and, like Christian at the Palace Beautiful, were robed and armed for pilgrimage. However, if they and their work lead me to believe that I must experience their feelings, enjoy their joys, pass through their trials, struggle, engage, love and live just as they did, they have done me serious damage and left me a wearer of ready-made clothes, of a ready-made faith that does not belong to me. They have led me away from those secret chambers of relationship with the divine where faith is formed, where I am measured and faith is tailored to me.
“Faith is not a one size fits all mass produced affair. It is always a custom made job.“
Too often we live our lives without checking to see what we’re wearing, without examining our beliefs and testing them to conclude where they came from, how they came to be within us and who they might belong to if not to us. A relationship with God is not a prefabricated job, faith is not ready-made and one size does not fit all. We have to take off our ready-made clothes and maybe this means being naked for a while to see who we are underneath those assumed and adopted ideas and beliefs. We have to make an appointment with our tailor. We need to set time aside to take our own measurements, to cut our own fabrics and to begin to sew, under the tailor’s direction, our own clothes, to construct our own faith, a faith we can inhabit authentically, a faith that fits.