"Struggling with your Faith" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
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Are You Struggling With Your Faith?
When we begin the painful process of deconstruction‚ that is, when our beliefs start to change and we feel like we're losing our faith‚ we go through a series of relational transitions.
It can't be helped if you continue with integrity and courage. If you want to be true.
1. The first relational transition is with yourself.
You really weren't expecting, when you opened the door to legitimate questions and doubt, that their attendant beasts would come along with them. These beasts feed off your transitional instability‚ beasts like shame, guilt, and ultimately, fear. I remember lying awake at night when waves of fear would roll over me. In the daylight I felt some confidence that I was doing the right thing. I felt it was not only my right but my responsibility to explore my theological curiosities. But in the darkness this confidence would dissipate and leave me in cold sweats of terror. What if I was wrong? What if I'm making a terrible mistake? What if I am being deceived?
Because the problem with deception is you don't know when it's happening.
There were no books to read. They all seemed to be driving home their own agenda. There were no gurus to consult. They simply could not understand my particular dilemma.
I was on my own.
The temptation to revert back to a safer position was irresistible. But I also knew this would be¬†a grievous error that would not only cripple my spiritual journey but kill it.
There I was, all on my own, in complete spiritual solitude, wrestling with my questions and demons in a real and metaphorical darkness.
It took years, honestly, to come to a place where peace of mind finally came. I arrived, just in the nick of time, to a place where I was comfortable with myself and found peace.
2. The second transition is with your family.
The problem was I didn't understand myself. So how could I explain myself to others? I simply could not articulate my position. I wasn't even sure I had one. How could I articulate it to others? Even those closest to me‚ my friends, my family, my spouse. They were in the dark about me as much as I was. They were concerned.
For those who loved me and trusted me, I could honestly say, ‚ÄúI don't know what's happening. I don't know where I am. But you know me well enough that I'm not being irresponsible or giving up. I'm moving in a particular direction. I just don't know where I'll end up. I've always been intense about my spirituality, and I am now!"
I did my best explain when asked. But I felt like a mystic who'd returned from the desert and was asked to explain himself and what he saw. There are no words. I have feelings. I feel the effects of what I saw. It changed me. But putting these feelings into understandable words was impossible for me. I'm still in the painful process of trying to do that‚ not only for myself, but for those who care to understand.
Sure, I lost a lot of friends and "followers". There are even family who stand by perplexed. In time I might be able to explain myself. But for now they will have to accept me as I am with all my anomalies.
I had to settle in my heart that this would happen. But I already knew being true to myself and my spiritual path would offend others. So even though the grief of loss is¬†real, I was prepared for it mentally.
3. The final transition is with your church and religion.
I remember years ago, in my mid-twenties, before Lisa and I even had kids, confessing something that was rather prophetic to my mentor at the time. You see, I was an evangelical Christian sneaking off to visit a Roman Catholic sister for regular spiritual direction. One day she asked me, ‚ÄúWhat do you expect?‚Äù I said, ‚ÄúI will be called a heretic.‚Äù Her gentle response was, ‚ÄúHow do you feel about that?‚Äù I said, ‚ÄúI feel it is inevitable if I want to continue on my own path, but I'm afraid too.‚Äù She just gently nodded her head in loving affirmation.
Sure enough, what finally drove me from the ministry and ultimately from attending a local church regularly was me being accused of heresy. The church and I finally came to the amicable conclusion that we were no longer compatible theologically.
The cost was great. But I had to pay it.
I left not only as a pastor but as a believer. I believe I still have pastoral qualities and do pastoral things. I still believe I am still in the game when it comes to Christianity and the church. But generally as far as they're concerned, I'm out. I've left.
Which leads me to my final point.
4. Once you've settled with yourself, with your family and partner, and once you've settled with the church and your religion, then you can work backwards again.
Once the relational transitions were complete, I began to find the words to explain what was going on with me and where I stand. Well‚ sort of. It's still extremely difficult. But I'm taking a stab at it.
You see, once you're standing outside the gate all by yourself with yourself, then things start to make sense. You realize there's nothing left to cling to. You know there's nothing left to revert to. You conclude there is no magic. The cords have been cut. You finally resolve that it's all up to you. You're it! It's then you learn the necessary adult art of self-care. Here's where you see the ultimate value of courage and integrity. It's now when you see that you have to nourish yourself, mature yourself, and be yourself.
I've experienced peace beyond belief! I know others have too. And I know you can as well.
(*** If you're someone who's struggling with this, join the rest of us at The Lasting Supper. If you're a pastor in this same boat, join me at Leaving the Ministry.)