The Chaplain's Corner - June 2017

How do I keep from  losing my own faith?

by Chaplain Gary Cortese

A good friend and fellow chaplain recently had the privilege of pinning the badge of police officer on one of his children. I can still remember his son as a baby! A few years later he was playing baseball in college, and now he is at the start of his law enforcement career in a busy New York City suburb. What a proud moment for my friend and his family.

This happy occasion for my friend’s son comes on the heels of a question that was presented to me by three seasoned police officers from across the nation. All three officers have approximately the same length of service with their respective departments; they do not know of each other, and are serving in large cities. The question each one asked me (at separate times) is identical and indicative of a common concern shared by many of our men and women in uniform: “How do I keep from losing my own faith?” Now, this question has not been asked just three times, but has been a recurring theme for as long as I can remember. And this question is asked by men and women both in and out of uniform.

Our personal faith may differ, but it is central to who we are. It guides us, motivates and inspires us; it gives us purpose and passion, and helps us face the unknown. So what happens when you experience a crisis of faith? I’d like to share the following helpful thoughts with you, regardless of what you personally believe.

First, living in the “real” world means that we will experience pain, fear, heartache, confusion and disappointment. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. This, however, does not negate our faith, but is a reflection on the inequities of this world’s system. Despite our best efforts and wishes, we simply cannot control or prevent everything, nor should we try. Every person has a sphere of influence – and that influence starts with them. What do you do to maintain you? In today’s world, we stay connected to everyone and everything leaving little time for us. We must focus primarily on our sphere or realm, and learn to release what is not under our authority or control. If we hold on to every bad thing, we will eventually experience a crisis of faith.

Second, you must cultivate the seeds of faith in your heart, or they lie dormant. But understand that something is always growing in the field of your heart, good or bad. How do you cultivate the good seeds? The same way bad seeds are cultivated: through environmental conditions and time. Police, Fire and EMS cannot choose their environment, that is, the calls they respond to. So, environmental factors outside of the actual calls are vital to maintaining personal faith. I recently advised a police officer who was experiencing a crisis of faith to develop a “faith network” outside of the job, maintaining a positive environment, so that good seeds would continue to grow. This takes time and effort.

Next, we all have a “breaking point.” We cannot pack 10 pounds of stuff in a five pound sack without something breaking. As tough as we think we are, we still need to disengage and recharge. Again, this varies from person to person, but the point is to just do it – in healthy ways.

Finally, if it’s gone too far, and that dark cloud has gotten too big, you must ask for help. There’s no shame in temporarily losing your way, but there is much peril in staying lost. A network of faith isn’t for the good and positive times only, but for the lowest of the bad times, as well. Far too many people retreat to the practice of Self-medicating trying to ease the pain, while they isolate themselves. Remember, there are resources available and you are not alone – your Chaplain Division is here to help.