Making Believe to Faith

What Sesame Street Taught Me About Belief

Guest Contributor / 5.30.23

This article is by Jenoa Sapunarich:

Recently, in a bid to have just a few minutes of downtime I hastily threw on an episode of Sesame Street for my one-year-old to watch after dinner. Its nostalgic power was hypnotic. Many years have passed since I’ve watched any Sesame Street (except for this bit with Roy Kent!) and the show’s soothing energy was exactly what we both needed after a long day with short naps.

The episode I selected happened to be about pretending. Elmo is teaching Abby to “make believe” as he says. He repeats the phrase “making believe” over and over again, in that slow pace meant for toddlers’ minds to comprehend. “I’m making believe I’m a frog” Elmo echoes as he ribbits and Abby eventually starts to catch on. Abby imagines she’s become a chicken until, like magic, she begins to levitate and sparkles surround her.

I’ll admit, I got sucked into the episode, but I think mostly it was the phrase “making believe” that caught my attention. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone phrase it quite like that, mostly I’ve always heard people just say “make believe.” Maybe this is semantics, but the subtle difference in the phrasing caught my attention.

When my days are long and I’m exhausted from the duties of being a mom, wife, friend, and worker, belief seems far away. It’s not doubt or lack of faith, more a lack of attention. I’m tired and, if I’m honest, I’d rather watch TV than read the Bible. In seasons of errant belief I look forward to church more than ever. Every Sunday as I hear the good news of Christ for me, as I say the ancient words of belief summed up the Nicene Creed, when I confess my sins in union with the whole church by reading aloud the words of The Confession of Sin, this is my attempt at “making believe.”

Can You Say the Creed (and Still Call Your Soul Your Own)? ~ Francis Spufford from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

This isn’t “make believe,” I’m not wishful thinking; when I say these words real belief brims up inside me. These prayers and confessions are wayposts when I can’t see the way forward myself, helping faith shine in the dark corners of my being. Hope, faith, and belief all bloom as I take part in the liturgy. As Elmo guides Abby, so the Book of Common Prayer (hoisted by the Holy Spirit) guides me, just as it has guided people for hundreds of years before me.

By the end of the service, my cup overfloweth with belief. The well-worn passages from the BCP, the enduring hymns, and the timeless message of grace give me the ability to believe it’s all true. The receptive actions of hearing, of standing and sitting, kneeling in prayer, and taking communion, the making of belief, give me so much relief. An important reminder that it’s all going to be okay.

Most Sundays I enter church with my belief meter hovering around 50%, but always 100% looking for relief. Yet even when my belief is at its strongest, you won’t find me surrounded by sparkles like muppet Abby, and you probably won’t see me levitating. But that’s okay. I don’t need to; it’s all been done on my behalf. It’s not magic or make believe that Jesus did those things, Jesus’ both sparkled (Luke 9) and levitated (Acts 1).

“You’re doing it” is what Elmo exclaims to Abby as she floats above him. “You’re making believe!”

When I don’t feel like doing anything, when I’m depleted and just want a few minutes of downtime, Jesus’ proclamation from the cross is the best relief I can hear. He doesn’t cajole me to believe harder, or to make believe more, he simply says to me and to us all: “it is finished.” Amen!

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