It occurs to me, in writing about having “faith,” that in some ways, it’s not actually something that we “do.”
In many other areas of human endeavor, we make an effort. We make an effort to learn. We make an effort to master some skill. We make an effort to achieve a goal.
Having faith fundamentally includes precisely the opposite element: Rather than “doing,” we “let go.”
It’s something like the difference between “swimming” and “floating.” To float, we need do nothing. Much the opposite, really. To float, we must lean back, relax, and allow the water to keep us up. The more we “do,” the less we “float.”
On an emotional level, “letting go” is the essential moment of faith.
Some actions might be required of us in the process, of course. Finding a job, for example: We might believe that if we sit at home watching TV, G-d will send the right job to us at the proper time. In reality, it’s much more typical that we have to be “out there trying,” in some way. Sending resumes; making calls; networking; etc. But if we do this in the belief that our own action alone provides the outcome, then we’re likely to feel frustrated (maybe even angry or depressed) when our efforts are futile. Instead, “faith” means taking the actions that seem to be necessary, while internally letting go of the outcome. The outcome is out of our hands.
I’ve heard “success phrases” like “Make It Happen” or “Close the Deal” and so on. But some of the literature for doing business that I’ve read is more practical: Do your best. Don’t give up. Try another way. It means that sometimes, we can’t “make it happen.” Sometimes, we can’t “close the deal.” At those times, we re-direct our efforts elsewhere. The best “sales people” are never down about a negative outcome. They simply redirect their attention and energy to another client, another sale; sometimes, even another product or business altogether.
I once taught in a Hebrew school with a woman who drove a large van. She didn’t have small children. I didn’t understand why she had such seemingly oversized transportation. When I asked her one day, she told me that she’d owned a furniture store that had closed. As she was selling everything off, she noticed a lot of buyers interested in wicker furniture. So, after closing the store, she bought the van and began selling wicker furniture out of it, supplementing her income by teaching.
Faith doesn’t mean “passivity.” It means letting go of, and adjusting to, the outcome of our efforts.
When should we act? When should we not act? Rav Kook wrote that part of spiritual growth is developing greater and greater intuition about that very question. There really are no absolute rules. It varies greatly by who we are, what the situation is, what the timing is, etc.
But our deepest meditations or prayers will only be of limited value until we’re able to be as flexible in life as my friend with the van.
Faith, then, is much like floating.
We do what we’re able, leaving the outcome up to that Presence in which our heart always finds its deepest, purest rest.