“Becoming. You are becoming that for which I created and redeemed you. You are becoming what are you are not yet. You are becoming what only I can see. When your love for Me is perfected, there will be no fear of Me. When you know as you are known, there will be no need to hide. Where My image and My plan have become what you are, then fullness of joy will be yours. In the meantime, My child, press toward the mark. Keep becoming.”
The late Hal Helms penned these words during one of his times of listening prayer. These words, which he first wrote in his prayer journal, were later published as volume I of the daily devotional called, Echoes of Eternity: Listening to the Father.
Seven years ago, on April 8th, 2013, I read this very same devotional entry, and in reading it, the Lord affirmed that BECOMING would be the word to mark my call in ministry. Our first BECOMING retreat took place, with 30 women, one year later, at a monastery on Cape Cod.
Helms was a mentor and a personal friend of both my grandmother, Beverley Marks, and my mother, Geraldine Marks. As lay members of the ecumenical monastic community where Helms lived and wrote during his lifetime, my Mom and my Mema learned a great deal about the kind of deep inner healing that comes through regular confession of sin and in the quieting of one’s soul before God to hear the Spirit’s whispers. Growing up, these two women were my spiritual mentors. I learned from them that believing isn’t something that happens all at once; but instead, that our belief systems grow over time as we experience God in the context of our own stories. God designed it to be this way. In the modern church community, we often upend ourselves and others by teaching that is possible to own by experience all the teachings of Christ the very moment we first believe. Perhaps our minds want to embrace it all, and our hearts are willing to accept and affirm it all, but our lives do not as yet reflect it all. We have certainly not yet experienced all of the Lord’s many character aspects in the context of our own lives and relationships inside of time.
Though a new Christian believer is seen as clean and righteous before the Father the moment he first believes and entrusts his soul to God; and though the atoning blood of Jesus has symbolically covered him, there is still genuine work of faith to be done this side of heaven so that the Lord’s beautiful character can be manifest in and through him. This is the work of BECOMING! We are meant to be BECOMING more of some things and less of others. These changes to our character will become manifest in our lives and relationships overtime as we experience the transformative power of the Spirit at work in and through us. God has to first reveal Himself to us in the context of our neediness so that He can then work His character in us so that it can, in turn, be manifest in power through us. This transformation happens over time, experience by experience, day by day. The temples of our lives are built stone upon stone, experiential belief upon experiential belief.
My 96-year-old Russian teacher, Olga Nicolaevna Pontchujova, struggled much with believing all the things Christianity and the Bible taught, even up to the end of her life on earth. Over the many years of Olga giving me private Russian language lessons, she would, on rare occasions, allow me to choose the book for us to use in our dictation sessions. But when I would choose the Bible as my literary choice for dictation, Olga would be dismayed, and I’d say even afraid. Looking back now, I can understand how it made sense for her to be bothered by my choice of books. At the time, I thought she was ornery, like how she’d act when I would leave her apartment with one of her pencils accidentally, and she would make me walk ten blocks back to return it.
After decades of communist brainwashing and living through the Russian pogroms, when religious leaders were sent to die in Siberian gulags; not to mention having been herself imprisoned during World war II in a German concentration camp, I now realize that Olga had legitimate reasons for her fear and dismay at my choosing the Bible for dictation. But Olga loved me like I was her child and would allow even what she did not desire to be for my sake. She called me her Kerrichka, her gordost, which means my dearest Kerry, my pride. Also, though she loved me like I was her own, it wasn’t until after her death that I came to learn she once had borne two children of her own who’d been killed by Hitler’s army during the second world war. This happened just before she and her husband were taken as prisoners of war and locked up in a Nazi work camp in Germany. Apparently, after the war, when she came as a refugee under the Truman doctrine to the US, she had confided in only one woman, Mrs. Pitko, about the existence of her two deceased children. Olga, however, had made Mrs. Pitko swear never to share with anyone about this great pain of hers. Upon Olga’s death, Mrs. Pitko shared this long-held secret with me, as she felt I should know because of Olga’s great love for me.
The decades of communist and fascist instilled fears gave Olga many false beliefs that she would have to wrestle with in order to believe Christian teachings. My desire to use the Bible for dictation in our lessons was not because I wanted to challenge Olga’s beliefs, but because in my youthful innocence, I wanted to learn how to speak and write the scriptures in this foreign language I had chosen. I had started studying with Olga when I was only ten years old, and as a child, I had no sense of Olga’s deep well of historical soul pain and suffering. Despite her fear and repulsion, Olga allowed the reading of the Bible during dictation for my sake and the sake of our relationship.
After many years of our dictation sessions using the Bible, Olga came to believe, at least as much as she could! After I went to college, my parents moved Olga from her tiny apartment above the pizza shop downtown to live across the street from them so they could assist her in her old age. It was during those years that Olga confided in my Mom about how she had come to believe in Jesus and now considered herself a Christian. But she shared how she struggled to understand everything because so much of it goes against a lifetime of programmed false beliefs in atheism and a nothingness after death.
My mother shared with Olga a Bible verse found in Mark 9:24 that says, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” This verse brought immense hope and joy to Olga. “Yes, yes! That will be my prayer,” Olga’s heart cried out to Mom. My mother had brought this widow’s heart such great joy. That very day, Olga realized she no longer had to pretend that she fully understood or believed every piece of the word with every fiber of her being just because she thought my Mom and I believed this way. Olga realized that she could be right where she was, in the hope and the tension and the in-between of being reprogrammed away from the lies and fears of nothingness to the truth of love and faith of somethingness! She asked my Mom to write down that prayer so she could repeat it daily. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” Olga prayed to Jesus from that point forward. She wanted to affirm that she did believe, but that she needed help to believe in the areas where confusion and pain remained.
When Olga died, we found that piece of paper in her desk, but now it was quite tattered and worn from years of being held and handled. There in my mother’s handwriting, we read, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Olga had kept it in her desk, where she worked and wrote every day.
I believe Olga’s prayer is the purest prayer of any human heart! Not one of us can own all the understanding and all the belief all the time. I know God gave me my children, but I am struggling to believe He will provide for our children’s college expenses. I know God has provided our food daily, but I struggle to understand why he allowed my brother to become blind. We are all always in the in-between, growing and maturing in our belief systems as we experience the character of God in our own life stories, real-time.
We buried Olga with that piece of paper because it declared the most profound truth of her soul’s own authentic journey of BECOMING in God! Like so many of us, Olga engaged in the deep work of faith, genuinely seeking to reconcile her lived experiences with the deep truth of God’s love for her and His incomprehensible ways!
But grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. II Peter 3:18