Recently a young man came to me very upset. Faith and a belief in God had been strong pillars of his upbringing. He had relied on his beliefs and up until this point this had helped him manage the ups and downs of life and love. But something happened that caused him to wonder if he was believing in a fairy tale? “Were God and Santa in the same category?” He called me in a fit of depression, almost grief-like, as if questioning God’s existence was like losing a long- trusted friend.
Hyrum Smith, co-founder of Franklin Quest (later turned to Franklin Covey), teaches a logical model for understanding the power and impact of our beliefs and assists us with making decisions. When we have a belief, it leads to an “if-then” rule that dictates our behavior. Our behavior then leads to results that either support our human needs, or defy them. When it comes to our relationship with others, with God, or with ourselves, the behavior that results from our beliefs can heavily impact our reality.
For instance, if one holds the belief that “men (or women) cheat,” the resulting if-then rule may be “If men cheat, then I should hold back my love, intimacy and trust.” The challenge is that holding back can impact the relationship such that the other person may be pushed away. The very thing you are trying to protect yourself from is negatively influenced by the behavior that results from your beliefs. Ultimately, our need for love, safety and connection isn’t met, not because men cheat, but because we have held back.
When our needs are not being met, what most of us do is try to change our actions (or the actions of others). Since our actions are driven by our beliefs, we may find that we eventually sabotage our own efforts to improve the situation, due to the unchallenged and unchanged belief that is ruling our behavior in the first place. Try as we might to trust, if we believe at our core that we will be betrayed, it is an uphill effort. Ultimately, if we want to get different results, we need to examine our beliefs to see if they are influencing our actions in a way that serves us or hinders us. Then, we need to consciously embrace or change our beliefs so that the resulting behaviors are in alignment with what we want as an outcome.
So I encouraged the young man questioning God to examine his beliefs down the if-then path to see if they led where he wanted to go. Since we cannot ultimately prove beyond a shadow of a doubt whether there is or is not a God, we have to choose which belief serves us best. This choice may be made easier by looking at the results of our beliefs rather than solely at the belief itself.
For me it works like this: If I believe there is a God, then I feel watched over, protected, like there is purpose to life. What I do matters. I am connected to all others. There are miracles and magic surrounding me. As a result of these beliefs I am happier, more joyful, hopeful and driven to do good things in the world. If I believe that there is no God, then I feel lonely, disconnected, like what I do doesn’t really matter beyond my own gain. There are no miracles, magic, guidance or assistance. The result is that I feel depressed, lonely, insecure, fearful and purposeless. This is where my young friend found himself and quite honestly, this just doesn’t feel good.
When faced with not knowing which belief to believe, choose the one that makes your life happier, more joyful and leads to healthier choices. Then, explore what you choose to believe God actually is. Perhaps it isn’t the “if there is a God” that is the question to grapple with, but rather “what is God?” Grounded in the faith that there is God, we can explore our other questions regarding God without the impending result of doubt that comes when we lose faith.
This same model of exploration applies to all beliefs. “If I believe this, then what?” Examine which behaviors are likely to result from your beliefs, whether they will serve your needs over time, or not. Then choose the beliefs that will guide your life— and your relationships—where you actually want to go.