Miracle on 34th Street: Overcoming Unbelief
by Virginia Forste
If you grew up in Ohio, you may not be familiar with the Publix grocery store chain. In my opinion, Publix is the Disney World of grocery stores. Their customer service is exemplary. Teenage employees speak to adults confidently, eager to offer assistance. It’s hard to tell who is upper management, because of the professionalism with which each interaction is handled. Employees will not roll their eyes when you inquire about the location of the cardamom (I only needed it for that one recipe!). In that store I feel like Julie Andrews on the mountainside, twirling from joy: “The hills are alive with the sound of produce . . .” Alas, the closest Publix is near the Kentucky/Tennessee border. Yes, I sigh a little each time I remember this.
Experiences. Actions. Beliefs.
Our experiences shape our beliefs and those in turn shape our actions. I have had so many positive experiences with Publix that one could argue I could start a Publix fan club. Good experiences reinforce good thoughts. Kroger, I do not feel the same way about you. I have had mostly neutral or poor experiences with them. In my assessment, Kroger is in third place—and there are only two contestants.
In the classic Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, we meet Doris Walker, a divorcee, mother and corporate executive, as she is organizing the start of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In this opening scene we also meet Kris Kringle, the Santa Claus that stars in the parade. The climax of the story is when a lawyer, Fred Gailey, takes on the state’s case of mental competency to prove that Kris is not crazy and really is Santa Claus, as he claims.
At one point when Doris and Fred are speaking, we hear a comment most likely referencing Doris’s past relationships. Perhaps she internalized some unrealistic expectations and was later deeply hurt. This could be the reason she does not believe in “fairy tales.” Later, Fred says to Doris, “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”
Spoiler alert: Mr. Gailey does not actually prove that Kris Kringle is Santa Claus; he provides evidence that prompts the court to dismiss the case. The movie isn’t as much about Santa Claus as it is about the fact that our beliefs are not fixed entities.
In the beginning in the movie, Doris does not believe in Santa Claus. She does not believe in Santa, although she is very fond of Kris. The viewer gets the sense that she wants to believe, and various experiences encourage her along the way. In the final scene, we see Doris experiencing the wonder and magic of Christmas. We see her joy and belief in something she cannot prove.
An Unbelieving Generation
The Bible has many examples of people turning from disbelief to faith. One such story is in Mark 9. Here we meet a boy who was possessed by a violent demon since childhood. The boy’s father brings his son to the disciples for healing. Unfortunately, the disciples do not have enough faith on their own to be successful in driving out the demon. The father then presents his son to Jesus, explaining the problem.
Exasperated, I imagine Jesus rolling his eyes while saying, “You unbelieving generation.” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me” (Mark 9:19, NIV).
So the father obeys but adds an understandable but cringeworthy aside: “But if you can do anything . . .” (Mark 9:22, NIV). Jesus replies, “If you can?” Watch out, man, those are fightin’ words! How frustrated Jesus must feel here. He knows the extent of his power, but he is surrounded by those who do not.
Similar to the story of the paralytic brought to Jesus by his friends, this story isn’t really about illness. It’s about the father’s belief and ours. There are times for all of us when we don’t have enough belief and we cry out like the father does in verse 24: “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!” (NIV).
Increasing Our Belief
If we desire for God to help us with our unbelief, we must be willing to saturate ourselves in positive experiences and actions. This will increase our faith and allow us to be more open to experiences and actions that will continue the cycle.
Even in this restricted environment, our church has serving opportunities. In-person experiences include assisting with Christmas Eve services, greeting guests at entrances, and operating as section hosts (helping guests find seats in the auditorium). The Engage wall in our lobby and the Prayer Room also offer places to listen and pray with guests. Online opportunities include Bible study hosts and CC Live chat room hosts.
There’s a reason it’s called “exercising your faith.” Volunteering to make blankets for hospitalized children does require time, money (bus fare or gas to bring you to the service opportunity), and sweat. It will take something from you, but you will be repaid in joy.
Give God the benefit of the doubt. Much relationship advice is about changing our beliefs. We’re told to give others the benefit of the doubt. As a mom, I can believe my children have kind hearts even though their actions sometimes result in more work for me, such as when they are practicing independence in putting syrup on their waffles!
How can you build your faith right now? Christmas is just a few days away! Go here for service times at Christ’s Church, both in person and online. Remember to P.I.E this Christmas! Pray for your One. Invite your One. Engage with your One. There couldn’t be an easier time to invite a friend or neighbor to church than now—after all, they’ll know many of the songs! May God take your beliefs in him to a deeper level this season!
Virginia Forste is a former elementary education teacher and stay-at-home mom who frequently blogs with other moms at textingthetruth.com.