Sunday’s Wisdom #318: Faith and Common Sense

“Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to. I mean, just because things don’t turn out the way you want them to the first time, you’ve still got to believe in people.”
– Doris Walker, Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

This quote comes towards the end of the movie, throughout which one Mrs. Doris Walker has been the voice of logic, practicality, unvarnished truth, and common sense. She’s all business, all realism, and no playing pretend. It’s fairly understandable, considering how hard she’s had to work in order to succeed at career, all for the sake of raising her daughter after the girl’s father turned out to be anything but the Prince Charming which Doris had hoped for. Basically, the dreams and imaginations of her youth have fallen from her eyes, and taken with them the general faith she had in other people.

Then she meets a man who calls himself Kris Kringle, the real Santa Claus, and try as she might to keep her hard-boiled common sense, she slowly finds herself believing in him. Her daughter learns to imagine and play pretend, while Doris Walker herself learns to open herself up enough to have faith in others again, including faith in a handsome man who cares deeply for both her and her daughter. Then, when her daughter is bitterly disappointed in how Kris has apparently failed to come through for her, and get her the one thing she most wanted in the whole world, it is Doris who tells her that she must keep believing anyway. She has learned from her own experience what life is like without faith, and she has learned anew what it’s like to live with faith, even if “common sense” would call such foolish.

The child listens to their parent, and believes as best they can, and, sure enough, faith is rewarded with what she wants, practically immediately.

Most faith, of any kind, usually is not rewarded so quickly, or in such a way as perfectly matches what and how we want things to be, but, then again, neither does faith itself usually come so easily as it does in the movies. Most everything doesn’t come that easy, be it faith, true love, romance, revenge, victory over clearly-evil enemies, forgiveness for past misdeeds, etc. Stories are, after all, exaggerations. We tell them not because they’re realistic, but because the point of them still stands.

The point remains that if faith endures disappointments, if only because it must, then it may indeed be rewarded in time. Though, it may not be – and usually isn’t – in the way we want or expect.

Take, for instance, romance, true love, and happily ever after. A girl might think that the first man she has a crush on is her true love, and he might be a fine, upstanding gentleman in every possible way. When it goes badly, as it usually will, her heart gets broken. Thus burned, she has a choice: she can either risk getting burned again (albeit having learned, hopefully, how to better handle the flame) or she can attempt to avoid the metaphorical fire altogether and live a very cold life indeed. If she opens her heart again, yes, she may get hurt again, but if she keeps at it, and keeps learning, then one day she may find a man who will love her truly and absolutely. That man might be someone she passes on the street every day, or it could be an old friend she never realized was such a fine man, or it could be a colleague, or someone with a common interest, or someone with no common interests whatsoever. As long as the door is open, it could be anyone who finally comes through for her, and thus her faith, which endured many disappointments, is rewarded.

For another example, a man might be devastated by failure in his efforts. I am personally familiar with that, my life being littered with scores of many kinds of failures. But just because it doesn’t work out the way I want it to, that doesn’t mean I give up. Such as, for instance, when I have been unemployed. There have been so many times I applied, was called in for an interview, and thought I did really well at it, only to be informed that I didn’t get the job. So there I was, failing at something as basic as providing for myself with my own effort. It was agony, and no end was ever in sight. I hated when I was asked how the job hunt was going, because it didn’t matter anymore if I was making some sort of progress at any given opportunity, the only real progress would be when I was hired. And there were times I seriously wanted to die instead of bear that agony yet again the next day. I wanted to give up, but I kept trying. I had to. I had to keep trying if I was ever going to succeed, and it didn’t matter how many failures were behind me. I needed only one success. Now, I am employed and immensely grateful for it.

A third example: a child might come home in tears when they learn that there are mean, cruel, unkind people in the world. They might give up on kindness altogether as they grow up. Or, alternatively, they might keep that childlike faith in the basic goodness of people, and practice it themselves. In response to how horrible the world is, they could offer solace and succor to those in need. When they see how hard life is, they could do something nice to cheer someone who is having a bad day. When someone is hurting so much that they lash out, this kind child, who is becoming a kind adult, could give them cookies, a hug, a few kind words. This may do nothing, of it may be heal a tormented soul.

Faith lives through the “common sense” that calls it useless, that says everyone is out for themselves and you can’t trust in anyone or anything. Faith drives us forward through storms that seem endless while one is in them, though every storm eventually breaks. Faith is what ignites hope in a world of darkness and despair, a world that simply does not understand faith, and so derides it at every opportunity.

Be that faith the hope that one can find love even after heartbreak, or that one can succeed no matter how one has failed, or that people are basically good, no matter the terrible things we have done to each other, the faith we choose to keep will carry us through any storm.

Faith is its own common sense.

Even if that faith is in the spirit of giving which gave rise to stories of a fat, old man in a red suit coming down the chimney to leave presents for good girls and boys on the night before we celebrate the birth of the Son of God.

Merry Christmas!

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