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OPINION | PAUL PRATHER: A mantra about faith

by Paul Prather | November 13, 2021 at 3:45 a.m.

The Washington Post recently ran an exceedingly moving story about first lady Jill Biden's return to faith in God.

It was a politics-free look at Biden's recovery from the emotional and spiritual desert she entered following the 2015 death of her stepson, Beau, who died of brain cancer at 46.

Biden wrote in her memoir "Where the Light Enters" that afterward she felt "like a piece of china that's been glued back together again," the Post reported.

She quit attending church.

"I couldn't even pray," she recently told Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, S.C., fighting through tears. "I wondered if I would ever feel joy again."

But in 2019, she went to Brookland Baptist with her husband on a campaign stop.

Something about Jill Biden touched the pastor's wife, Robin Jackson. Jackson approached and asked if Biden would like to become her prayer partner. Biden didn't know what a prayer partner was, but she said OK. They exchanged numbers.

"I don't know if she could see the grief that I still feel hides behind my smile," Biden recounted in her more recent visit to the South Carolina church. "But I do know that when she spoke, it was as if God was saying to me, 'OK, Jill, you've had enough time. It's time to come home.'"

Since that 2019 meeting, Jackson has texted Biden every week to let her know she's still praying for her. Through this partnership, Biden testified, she has experienced a reawakening.

"In the depths of our brokenness we can start to believe that healing ourselves will never be possible," she told the congregation. "And the truth is, we're right. We can't heal ourselves alone. But with God all things are possible."

Biden wasn't raised in a religious family. She became a Christian and joined a Presbyterian church on her own when she was 16.

The story of her crisis of faith struck a chord with me. I know that no matter how long you've been a believer in God, no matter your denomination, no matter your station in life -- pauper or president's wife -- sooner or later your faith will be sorely battered.

I'm always amused, and sometimes a bit annoyed, by those who assume that people of faith just blithely trundle along through life, naively believing without examination whatever precepts their church happens to hand out.

I've been a spiritual pilgrim for many years, and a pastor almost as long, and I can tell you that's not how faith generally works. If it does work that way for a few people, they're the exceptions rather than the rule.

Mainly, life pancakes churchgoers as inevitably as it pancakes self-avowed heathens and everybody in-between. Jobs fail. Parents die. Beloved children struggle with learning disabilities. Spouses cheat. MRIs show ominous spots.

Life on Earth takes no prisoners. Nobody gets off this planet alive except astronauts, and even they have to come back when their mission is over.

Faith gets tested. Sometimes it fails the test. Or it wavers and wilts -- and then, somehow, almost magically, begins to sprout again.

I read another excellent story, about the late evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans, among the better Christian writers in the business, who died a couple of years ago at 37, leaving behind a grieving husband, two tiny children and an unfinished manuscript. []

Her widower, Daniel Jonce Evans, handed over her unpublished writings to her friend, author Jeff Chu, and asked Chu to finish them. He has crafted them into a new book, "Wholehearted Faith."

The New York Times ran a Q-and-A interview with Daniel Evans and Chu. Evans talked candidly about how confusing it is to go on as a single parent.

But Chu, the writer, added the thing I wanted to pass along:

"Rachel often would say, 'On the days when I believe ...' That's a line that shows up over and over in her talks and in her writing, and I think it was a candid acknowledgment of the reality of faith for so many of us. Christianity is, let's be honest, a super weird story. And it's also an invitation to ask big questions. How do you not ask big questions about the suffering in this world? ... One of the gifts that Rachel gave me, and I think one that she left for the world, was her gentle encouragement to keep wrestling, to keep asking questions, to keep seeking because all of this is complicated. But ultimately, I think she believes the love that was underneath all of it was worth chasing."

It's odd. I've used that same line forever: "On the days when I believe." Because some days I don't believe. Maybe some days you don't believe, either.

That's OK. Doubt is part of the journey. Because life is hard for all of us. The Good News does occasionally sound like crazy news.

Happy to say, we're not in this fix alone. Even when we feel alone, we've got prayer partners out there searching for us. And there's a God who can locate a withered up mustard seed of faith moldering in a broken spirit, then use it to move mountains.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, Ky. You can email him at


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