“Life is a journey; travel it well.”
Life is a lot like a trip or a journey. As we travel through the years of life we all grow physically every year and we learn by the experiences we pass through. Growth simply happens to us in many ways. We can aid our own personal journey as we grow if we will—physically, mentally, and emotionally—making our life a better and more positive one. Our “Faith Journey, ” however, follows a different road. It is a heart chosen journey. The general journey of life happens to us all, but the faith journey happens only to those who decide to seek and walk it. As A. W. Tozer once wrote: “Faith is not merely a journey for the feet, but it is a journey for the heart.”
To understand anyone’s faith journey better, you need to look back at his or her early life. For myself, I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but my family moved to Knoxville shortly after—so all my childhood memories are of Knoxville. I grew up in a rural suburban area of South Knoxville in a pretty Dogwood Trails neighborhood, where quiet streets wound in and out among small well-kept homes with spacious yards, shady trees, gardens and flowers. As soon as I was old enough, I walked and biked those streets and explored the nearby countryside, parks, and mountain trails. My father was an engineer, my mother a home economics teacher before staying home with my brother and me. Mother’s domestic arts continued at home; she sewed, gardened, grew flowers, and worked in church and civic groups. Dad, a skilled handyman, enjoyed his shop, our yard, garden, and property.
My parents were good, moral, Christian people. They instilled strong values, a good work ethic, and a value for education in my brother and me. Our journey in life is always impacted by those who guide and lead us—by families, schools, neighbors, community, local and national government, and our country’s broader social institutions. I was blessed to grow up in a value-laden home, a wholesome neighborhood and time. I believe our society is not as healthy in that way now as when I was a girl.
I did not see faith as a “journey” when growing up. It was simply a given background element of my life. We went to church on Sundays, we believed in God and the principles of the Christian faith. Mother read me stories of faith at home; I went to Sunday School and Bible School where I learned more. Morals, respect for faith and country, were an integral part of community and school and the lives of our neighbors and friends. I attended a series of Communicants classes, joined the church, and had my first disappointment in the ritual of faith. Somehow, it seemed that joining the church and making a commitment of faith should have changed me or made a difference. It didn’t. In Sunday School and at home I began to ask questions but the answers I got were not satisfying. I was hungry for something deeper and stronger, but I didn’t know how to find it. Everyone else around me seemed content where they were.
These feelings intensified through junior high and high school. My father had been transferred to North Little Rock, Arkansas. We moved to a more city environment and I went to bigger schools. I missed Tennessee and all my friends—and I wasn’t happy overall in those years. I felt I had journeyed into a foreign land I didn’t belong in. I looked forward to college and a change, but looking back, I know I was seeking and searching for something deeper in those years. After leaving home, I wandered down a lot of pathways that taught me various lessons, not all good, but underneath an inner discontent always lurked. Like the old Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is?” I felt like I was missing something vital. And I was.
J.L. and I met at the University of Tennessee and married after he graduated, while I finished college. We’d known a similar childhood and upbringing. In J.L.’s hometown of Athens, he attended high school with the friends he’d known all his life, creating a happier school experience for him. He had been raised, too, in a Christian home, with church and faith a big part of his life, but like me he’d grown discontent with church and the aspects of faith it presented. We married in church in Knoxville, and we attended church after we married, but we couldn’t see much difference in the lives of those we knew within the church and those we knew, un-churched, in the world. Church to us was, quite frankly, boring. We were not growing spiritually in any way from what we received there.
Later, settled into our first home and expecting our first child, we sat down in the living room one evening and had a good talk. We decided what we wanted was a faith like Abraham’s in the Bible, something vital and real, with a relationship with God. We wanted to talk with God and Him to us, to really know Him, for faith to mean something every day. Otherwise what was the point? J.L. and I had not grown up in families that prayed together, except a rote prayer or blessing at dinner, but we said a first prayer together that night, letting God know we planned to start seeking for a real and strong faith to live by and to raise our children in. We asked God to help us find a faith like Abraham’s that was real, vital, and strong.
I didn’t realize it at that point in time but that was the beginning of our “Journey in Faith”—that we wanted more, were seeking for more, and were willing to pursue that quest. J.L and I dug out a Bible we had in the house and I got books at the library about men and woman of faith to see how they’d arrived at that place. It was slow work but we kept after it. We talked to people, to friends and family, to our pastor—all of whom assured us we were “fine” because we believed and went to church. They were wrong.
In a season when we were renting an old farmhouse near the Smoky Mountains between homes, J.L. traveling a lot with sales and me home with our first baby, we were still seeking. J.L. and I had read by that time accounts of several evangelists and men and women of faith who all talked about a pivotal change moment in their lives when they were “saved” or “born again” and truly found the Lord. It seemed that every person with a strong faith we read about had experienced this moment—moving from just believing to coming into something deeper and real, into a relationship with God and into change and newness. We wanted this and we began to seek and pray for it, but we couldn’t figure out what to do to “get it.” Church people, our family, told us we were Christians and already “had it.” They were wrong again. As J.L. said, “if you have an experience you ought to know it.”
It got to be almost a joke with us, trying to figure out how to get this experience of being “saved” or “born again.” J.L. was traveling a lot at that time with his work and when he came home after trips, we’d ask each other: “Well, did you figure out how to get born again this week?” One time when J.L. came home, he said: “Yes, I did.” I could tell from his face and his excitement that he had, too. He’d prayed with an evangelist on television who’d led him in a prayer to get saved. Amazing—that the answer was just a heartfelt prayer. J.L. shared the words he remembered praying. Very little Christian television existed then, but I went out in the field not long after and prayed that prayer for myself—asking the Lord into my life, giving myself and my life to Him. A beautiful knowing and sense of God swept through me as I did. I knew-that-I-knew-that-I-knew that I was changed in that moment and made new, that God had moved into my soul and life and being.
My Journey of Faith moved into a new level then. The words of the Bible came alive to me with the Spirit of God helping my understanding. J.L. and I were constantly sharing with excitement what we learned and read. We began to get books and tapes from different ministries to help us grow richer and deeper in faith. Churches often criticize television ministries but I think people wouldn’t reach out to them so much if the church was doing what it should be to grow people in faith within its doors. In the churches we attended, including several denominations, we could not get the answers we needed. We could not find the vital faith and relationship with God we were seeking. I could have sat on one pew or another, in one church or another, and never found the truth I needed or been taught how to grow in faith after I did. I’m not saying there weren’t people in the churches we attended who had a real and vital faith, but they did not communicate it to me or to J.L. in a way for either of us to find it, too. And that’s sad to me.
In the world, we grow in many ways physically and intellectually whether we like it or not … but I learned that the “Journey of Faith” is different. It is “chosen.” We get to choose whether we come into the Family of God, into living in the rich Kingdom of God every day, and into relationship with God or not. At every step, how far you go in faith is due to your own “choice”… your own hunger and desire for more, your willingness to journey on, to seek, to want to grow. Romans 10: 17 advises, too, that “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”. Once into relationship, you can seek and grow through studying and reading the Bible, or the Word of God, daily or stagnate in place in your journey. Faith won’t simply happen to you. It won’t fall on you like rain. It comes from your efforts, your seeking, your study, your reaching out to God daily, your wanting it. God may stand at the door and knock, but you have to open that door and invite Him in, not only once, but every day. You have to seek, to ask, to want more of God and of faith to find it. Either you are moving forth in that journey by daily effort, by ongoing seeking, study, prayer and a hunger for more. Or you’re not.
Like that old hymn that talks about how you have to walk that lonesome valley by yourself and that nobody else can walk it for you, those words are true. That’s the way the Faith Journey is. You may have a good church, strong leaders—and if so you’re blessed—especially if they convict and encourage you to seek, to pray, and to diligently study and desire to grow in your faith. I hope they share with you, too, the incredible benefits in doing so, the blessings and joy of living in the Kingdom of God, and that they push you to seek for more every day. I hope, too, that your church pastor or pastors’ personal zeal and joy in the journey, and that their vital life of daily faith, constantly makes you want what they have. However, regardless of your life or church experiences, the Journey of Faith is yours alone to make. No one is keeping you from a deeper place in God but yourself even if no one encourages you to go there. We all know you have to study and work in any subject area that we want more of in order to grow in that area of knowledge, skill, or expertise. Faith is no different. If you spend any time with J.L. and me you will quickly see that we keep journeying on every day in our Faith Journey. We’re always reading and learning and sharing. We’re always hungry for more and excited every time we learn new things of faith. Like a couple of kids at Christmas we can’t wait to see what’s next on this journey.
My closing word to you is: If you have not found an exciting, vital faith to satisfy your soul, if you’re not living a rich, abundant life, if you don’t have a personal relationship with God, if He doesn’t talk with you and walk with you, then DON’T let anyone talk you out of seeking for more—or convince you there isn’t more. If no one goes on in this journey with J.L. and me, if no one encourages us or celebrates with us the milestones of growth in the journey, we’re still moving on. Together we explore, travel, and hike a lot in the natural—but no adventure has ever matched the Journey of Faith.
Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.