What punctuation marks your faith?

GRAPHIC punctuation marks

It’s back-to-school time, so let’s do a quick review of the basics. We can skip the multiplication tables and sentence diagrams. But I thought we could take a few minutes to examine punctuation marks—and see what they can teach us about our relationship with God.

Period (.) End of sentence. Factual. True. When God speaks, it’s usually a simple, declarative sentence. Go. Stop. Trust. Follow me. Our culture has tried to make us believe that our faith isn’t strong enough unless we reside in a place of certainty. And sure, that’s a great place to be. Sometimes our beliefs are absolute and sure, and we’re strongly rooted in our faith. We simply know what we know. But do you know what else I know? It’s OK to not remain here all the time.

Exclamation point (!) Wow! God is amazing! I see Him! I want you to know Him! The best way to approach God is with thanksgiving—by noticing all that He does, all that He is, and letting ourselves feel the awe and wonder He inspires. And the best way to get someone else excited is to express yourself genuinely and enthusiastically. It’s hard to maintain this level of excitement over the long term, though—we get tired, other worries crowd their way in, and so on. It takes sustained effort to remain here and it’s a wonderful place to be, but I spend more time with the next one…

The question mark (?) When Jesus asked questions, He was trying to help people uncover truths: Who do YOU say that I am? Questions aren’t bad, even in our faith. It really all comes down to intent. Are you asking questions in the hopes of arriving at a stronger, more accurate belief of who God is? Or are you looking for excuses not to commit to Him? Think of Thomas—he may have been labeled a doubter, but isn’t he the only one who got to touch the resurrected Jesus? His questions demanded a direct, tangible answer. Do yours? If you’re hungry for more of God, if you want to find more and go deeper, please—ask away!

The ellipsis (…) This mark indicates when something is missing, showing a place where words or thoughts have been removed. It also shows where a conversation fades to nothingness. I think, if we’re honest, we can all see a few of these ellipses over the course of our faith—someone hurt you, or God didn’t answer your prayer as you’d expected. Maybe you simply stopped seeing God and wandered away unintentionally. Those dots are a normal part of our stories. If you find yourself here, take heart—for something to be missing in the middle, there has to be something both before and after the gap. Keep looking for God, and before long, you’ll find yourself on the other side of the dots.

Quotation marks (“ ”) Most of what I know about God I’ve learned from others—pastors and teachers, yes, but also friends, acquaintances, writers, musicians, and celebrities. (Occasionally, we learn the most from seeing what we don’t want to do.) When we get excited about something, it’s natural to share it—she said this, he taught me that. This is where quotation marks come in handy. Don’t just mimic what you hear, though. Evaluate it, use wisdom, and verify its accuracy. And remember that you don’t always have to look far away—trust in the truth of your own experiences, too. They often make the most moving testimonies.

The comma (,) This is a good place to be—in the middle. Seeing all the things God is doing. Collecting lessons and gathering knowledge. Experiencing the different names and faces of our God, one after another. Understanding that even when one thing happens (good or bad), it’s followed almost immediately by something else. The good news that commas bring is the fact that your story isn’t over yet.

All of these marks are useful and necessary. No value judgment is implied in any of them—they’re part of your own personal story, your natural expression of God’s involvement in your life. So will you take a minute and think about your faith life? Which punctuation mark is your default? Is your life expressing what you want to say? Don’t feel bad if you’re not there yet (or ever). As any English teacher will tell you, it’s important to vary sentence structure. Straightforward sentences are fine. But not if there are no other kinds. And other times, don’t you think questions are best? Some days, all we can do is exclaim about the goodness of God! On others, we may sit in silence, reveling in His mercy and His grace, His kindness, His gentleness, His variety, and His great love for us. Through it all, though, we can know one thing. However we express ourselves, we can rest assured that God will lead us through all of these different phases. And oh, what a story we will have to tell!

Dear Lord, speak to us in sentences we can understand. Help us express our love and gratitude, build a deeper trust in You, and never run out of words to say. You have so much to offer us… whether we’re asking, quoting, listing your traits or hungering for more. Put Your mark in our lives, never to be removed, never to be erased. Amen.

Kelly Stanley

Kelly O’Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she is also a redhead who’s pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She blogs at kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.

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  1. What a GREAT illustration!
    Thanks for the visual!
    Hugs to you!

  2. What a great post today! I will definitely be able to rdmember these points. I was in ??? for too long, but thankfully I’ve moved into !!!. Praise our God who faithfully restores!

  3. Kelly,

    This piece and your analogies of the seasons of prayer are so beautiful and fitting. Your writing on prayer always challenges me. Sometimes so much that it hurts, because I knew what it was once like to live in the periods and exclamation points of prayer and there seemed to be no end to it. Until it did. Now I’ve been in the question marks and eclipses for so long, that it too seems endless. I know that I carry a lot of shame around too for being in this place for so long because it feels so much like a betrayal to the person of prayer I once was. Thank you for continuing to remind me that there is still something beyond. Thank you for reminding me that prayer is a conversation worth having, painful or broken as it might be.


    Kallie C.

    • I hear you — and feel much the same way. But I also believe that God’s grace is endless. And that although He never changes, we do. As a result, we’ll never have quite the same relationship with Him that we did years ago. AND THAT’S OK. He’s still God. He still wants us. And we still have access. xo

  4. fantastic post, bless you.


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