NIU Press authors' blogs

Faith in—and within—a Troubled World

Return to Home

For the majority of my adult life, I have thrived on routine and predictability. Devoted to clock and calendar, I approached each day as a series of tasks to be checked off —whether the day was spent on campus or on vacation. Like Benjamin Franklin’s self-assessment of his Thirteen Virtues, most nights I rated myself on my accomplishment of each objective as I laid in bed.

Then, at age 44, I was struck by parenthood. At age 50, the coronavirus brought the earth to a standstill.

So much for routine and predictability.

Enter faith.

“Faith” is not only one of the most ambiguous terms in human history, but also connotes one of humanity’s most ambiguous concepts.

“Faith” is not only one of the most ambiguous terms in human history but also connotes one of humanity’s most ambiguous concepts. The strength, depth, and application of one’s faith—whether it is religious or secular— varies with each individual, and is galvanized or weakened by the company one keeps. As the world sits in recovery of the massive destruction laden by COVID-19, the ways in which faith is defined and utilized are perhaps more pronounced now than ever.

As the 50-year-old father of a six-year-old son, my secular and sectarian faith is tested on a daily basis (along with my energy and patience). My wife Angie and I often find ourselves besieged by the word “why.” Why were we blessed with this beautiful, intelligent, loving boy? Yet, why can’t he seem to overcome his recurrent behavioral difficulties?

I must constantly remind myself that out of faith comes belief; out of steadfast belief comes action; and out of action underpinned with belief comes gradual, slow—but undeniable—growth.

On the latter question, I must constantly remind myself that out of faith comes belief; out of steadfast belief comes action; and out of action underpinned with belief comes gradual, slow—but undeniable—growth.

This is the very precept that summarizes the life of Bob Thomas.

This is the very precept that summarizes the life of Bob Thomas.

I first sat down with Bob at Christmastime in 2016 to discuss the possibility of writing his life’s story. By the time Thomas himself had reached fifty, he had already surmounted two separate and distinct professions, playing twelve years in the National Football League while simultaneously earning and using a law degree before becoming a justice on the Supreme Court of Illinois. Along the way were frequent pitfalls; but his stalwart faith was always a constant, functioning much the same as the stabilizer on an aircraft—preventing him from getting too low during the rough times and too high during the triumphs.

Appropriately, Bob cited this analogy in a personal memory. “When I was flying with the [Chicago] Bears to an away game and we’d experience turbulence on the plane, I would look around and make sure Walter [Payton] was on the flight.” Thomas recalled in referring to his most famous teammate, whose football skill emanated from a perfect physique and Spartan health. “Then I’d say to myself, ‘God’s not going to bring this plane down—we’ve got Payton on board.’

A mere twelve years following his retirement from football, however, the seemingly indestructible Payton contracted a rare liver disease and died in 1999 at the age of 45.

“We’re all destined to that reality one day,” Thomas continued. “And when someone bigger than life succumbs to death, it’s a wake-up call for all of us. In the end, we have to ask ourselves: ‘What do we have to trust in? Who do we have to trust in?'”

“And when someone bigger than life succumbs to death, it’s a wake-up call for all of us. In the end, we have to ask ourselves: ‘What do we have to trust in? Who do we have to trust in?'”

To paraphrase Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, having a purpose in life can beat just about anything—even a pandemic.

So hang in there, world. Things can—and will —change. And having a semblance of faith will make the journey a little lighter along the way.


Former professional baseball scout Doug Feldmann is the author of A View from Two Benches: Bob Thomas in Football and the Law (published under our NIU Press imprint.) Feldmann has written eleven other books and is a professor in the College of Education at Northern Kentucky University. Follow him on Twitter @D_FeldmannBooks and find more about his work at dougfeldmannbooks.com.

Book Finder