From time to time people write me notes, mainly to encourage me with something they connected with in my writing. It’s always good to hear from people, to get to know my readers better.
Lately, I’ve been hearing from those who are struggling with the disappointments and the unexpected outcome of things. They’ve lost God or feel like God has lost them, or they’re holding onto God but everything around them says it’s a lost cause, why bother.
Lots of people are done with church, with religious institutions, with creeds, with structure and tradition, and they’re fleeing into the wilderness of society ready to define themselves by any other means than Christianity. Many of my friends have left the institution. These friends are spiritual, faith-filled, moral and upright people, but they’re not drawn to the institution any longer.
For some it’s not exactly intentional, it’s more of a peetering out. They attend a service for a couple weeks, then skip church, then attend for several Sundays, then slowly with sports season and taking their kids places, feel exhausted on Sunday mornings, tired of the show, the hoopla of it all, and skip again. Somehow they wake up and realize they haven’t been to church for over six months. And if they’re honest, they don’t miss it all that much.
My daughter shared with me that one of her teachers admitted to the classroom that religion was not a needed part of any society. Society could run well and good without the institution of any one religion. I laughed and cringed. We had a good long talk about it. I explained that we don’t really know if a society could run well and good without religion because we have never lived without it. Even the people hundreds and hundreds of years ago worshipped the sun or the moon.
A few years ago, I had a complete and total faith crisis. To the extent that I doubted everything I’ve believed about God. I’d read Genesis and it sounded more like a fairy tale than the sacred word of God. Everything I believed seemed to come up like ashes. I could hardly talk about God and not get the chills. I’d read old myths and fables from other cultures and they sounded just like some of the things I’d been taught about Jesus in Sunday school.
I didn’t share much of my crisis with anyone. Not because I was worried I’d be judged, although that was there too, but primarily because Christians have a tendency to minimize struggle and bat it away with faith-filled words and easy solutions. I was worried someone would hand me a copy of More Than a Carpenter or Evidence that Demands a Verdict. My crisis could easily have ceased to be a crisis if I’d had to listen to any Christian jargon. I simply would have walked away forever. So, I wrestled in private. My faith is more dear to me than my life itself, and losing it seemed a very real possibility.
I read a lot of books and I prayed. Sometimes my prayers were dry like bread crumbs, but mostly they were honest and real. The outpouring of a deep ache. It was the ache and confusion of a woman who had given her entire life to this faith, to the institution, to God and she was overwhelmingly disappointed with the outcome. This God she served was not the God she recognized anymore. This God would not reckon with bumper sticker slogans or deeply embedded cultural constructs.
I went to church sporadically. I prayed. I read more books. Eventually, I decided to take responsibility for my life in a way I had never done before, which was probably the real turning in the whole journey, the plot point God had been waiting for.
Some people tried to convince or shame me into belief, tell me that if I obeyed Jesus the feelings would come. Blah blah blah.
I arrived back in Seattle and was unsure about where my faith would lead me. I wondered if I’d walk away completely or if somehow I’d find a way to continue. I went to several different churches. I attended a Catholic church a few times, I went to yoga and found a peaceful grounding with God on the mat. I continued to flounder. People questioned my faith one to another, communicated they were worried about it, about me. For good reason, I suppose. And yet, this faith journey, while it is communal, is also deeply personal. You can’t force faith.
I’d go on walks and pray in tongues. I’d read the Bible, which helped. But did not alleviate the ache, or replenish my lack of faith.
Then, in the cold of the winter, at the conclusion of a long season of devastation, I fell in love. Deep, abiding love.
John would pray with me every night on the phone. Simple prayers. Gentle prayers. No solutions, no easy fixes, just honest supplication. We’d talk about my doubts, my questions, and he’d share his own. We’d go on long walks and he’d start praying out of nowhere. I recognized his spirit. He had spent a lot of time in the prayer closet and it showed in every particle of his being.
The strength I’d needed for survival, that had hardened and chiseled me into a force of nature was no longer needed. I could be soft. I could let the tenderness and the wholesome purity I’d cultivated with God most of life come out of hiding. It was seen and appreciated.
And slowly like the changing of seasons, my long drought came to an end. Not overnight and not like a silly, smitten school girl. It was different than that. I woke one day and realized that I didn’t have to force faith. It simply was there. I believed again. Scripture became succulent once more and I could hear the still small voice that had guided me for most of my life. The burden of duty and obligation ebbed out with the passing season and was replaced with honesty and responsibility, with a renewed sense of calling and a passion to love people. And to write. Always to write.
My faith is different now. It’s lost much of its youthful excitement, much of it’s absolutism. It is more complex and also more simple. I don’t pretend to understand God like I used to. God is truly quite beyond me. I have few easy solutions for other people. What I do have is a deep abiding sense of God’s presence, and a gentle faith practice that binds me to a relationship with God I’ve come to rely on. I pray all the time. The prayers are more quiet, less contrived. I have a more secure understanding of grace and of my own wholesome humanity.
We attend church services almost every week. This is remarkable to me.
I find I can face reality and the truth in ways I had been unable to for most of my life. I am able to talk to my kids about things, to pray with and for them in a new way. I still cry most days over some of the things that have transpired and how I was so desperately incapable of holding back the tide that almost swept me away. But while I’ve lost a great deal, I’ve also found a few things that seem to be of great price.
We don’t choose the path that leads us into authentic faith, most of the time it’s chosen for us. Our task, if we take it on, is to discover the goodness of God where we are, not where we’re supposed to be.
John and I have been reflecting on the verse in Job, “Man is born to trouble, sure as sparks fly upward.” How true that has been for me. As hard as I try to find the easy way, the road of peace and ease, trouble and heartache continually intersect and I am then forced to wrestle, to seek, to wait on God and risk finding out if God will suffice in my own moment of trouble.
I share all of this with you because it seems to me that it’s awful nice to hear from others who are willing to share their own faith journeys. We are not alone in our struggles, though much of the time it feels lonely.
Advent is about hope, of the long expectation.
It does not elude me that God used a very unexpected way to bring me back into life-giving faith. It should never escape our notice that God is not like us. God’s ways are higher, wider, farther reaching than we could ever imagine. Soli Deo Gloria.
Peace to you, as you wait in expectation.
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I would love to hear about your faith journey.