For example, when I was a little girl, my mother used to garden in the back yard. I know the first time I helped her plant seeds, it was frustrating waiting for those seeds to begin sprouting. I started to lose my hope that they would grow.
In my impatience, I was tempted to go dig them up to be sure they were growing, but my mother told me that not only was it normal for it to take more than 2 days for the plant to sprout but that trying to hurry the process would only kill the plant.
Instead, Mom encouraged me by letting me know that the waiting time was normal. She assured me it was important to continue watering that plant and getting rid of weeds so it could continue to work on growing until it was ready to push itself above the soil. My mom was right, of course, and 10 days later the work we'd been doing all along to nurture that plant began to pay off. The first green shoots showed above the soil.
Faith and Hope
My mom believed that the seeds she planted would grow eventually. That's faith. She couldn't see the growth but knew it was happening anyway. Her faith in the process of the seed's growth, confirmed over years of watching it happen time and again, allowed her to keep hope alive that these seeds would grow. With hope, she was able to water the plants and eventually experience the growth she'd had faith would happen.
People with no faith are like that impatient, inexperienced little girl. Only there is no one around them to help them understand that just because they don't see something happening doesn't mean it isn't happening. So they either try to rush the growth and kill the plant in the process or they give up because it doesn't seem to be working and kill it through neglect.
They never get to see the evidence of what was happening because of this. That's why they tell you, and they are speaking the truth, that they see no evidence to support God's existence.
Eventually they stop hoping that the seeds will grow at all and they stop planting the seeds because they don't see the point. People with no faith may have hope temporarily, but it doesn't last long before their inexperience or their impatience kills it off.
Lessons from Kindergarten
When I was studying to get my associates in education, I was assigned to help teach in a kindergarten class. I will never forget the day the teacher gave everybody (including me) a small, damp cotton pad, a pumpkin seed, a jewelry sized zipper baggie, and a piece of string. We were instructed to put the cotton pad and the pumpkin seed in the baggie, then close it securely. The string was then threaded through a hole at the top of the baggie and we wore these around our necks for the rest of the week.
It was fascinating to watch the normally hidden process of a seed's growth. Within 12 hours of contact with that damp pad, there was a tiny bump at the bottom of the seed. Another 12 hours and the long thin strands of a root had pushed its way out. Over the days that went by those roots grew and grew and branched off and grew and branched off again and grew until eventually the seed began to shake off its outer covering and begin to uncoil in preparation for pushing itself up above the soil.
The lesson was so clear. Just because you do not see something happening, does not mean it isn't. In fact, long before you see the seed poke its head above the soil, there is a lot of work taking place to be sure the plant's roots are firmly embedded and able to support that growth upward when it does happen.
The Waiting Time
I said this hit home powerfully with me tonight because I am going through a crisis of faith in the process of following my calling to spread messages of hope to others. There are plenty of seeds being planted, but nothing has appeared yet and I was beginning to doubt whether or not I was on the right path. I told God how I felt and asked for consolation, for a confirmation that I was doing what I needed to be doing.
The lessons from that time in the kindergarten class floated to my mind, and I knew what I was being told. Just because I do not see things happening does not mean that they are not happening. Quite often it simply means that the roots to support the answer to my prayers are being put down and multiplied so that when it does finally spring up, it will be healthy and strong.
Waiting times like these are never easy. They are agonizing and, if you don't have a stockpile of evidence to rely upon, can lead you to give up. I have a great deal of experience with prayers being answered, so I know what to expect and I have hope even when I don't see things working.
My lack of faith, though, in my own ability leads me to give up too soon on the seeds I plant. Too often, I try to rush them along because I'm worried they won't grow, and I end up killing them. Or, I plant them but neglect them because they seem to take too long and so I assume nothing is coming from them.
The Gift of Encouragement
That's why encouragement is such an important ingredient in helping people to hold on to faith and hope during that waiting time. Encouragement passes on the experience and the knowledge that you've gained through trial and error to help the doubting person believe. If my mother hadn't encouraged me in the growing of things, I might well have given up trying, assuming it just wasn't something I was meant to do.