Struggle is the sign of an authentic faith journey. There is no magic bullet. No “happily ever after.” No simple instructions to follow.
We like to pretend like there is.
Simple instructions and a clear path are encouraging, affirming, and give us a sense of stability in a world overrun with chaos and fear. We like God to say,
“Do X, Y, & Z and everything will work out fine” because it makes us feel safe.
The problem is, the entire Bible is God asking people to leave their safety and step into something very risky and very uncertain.
For Abraham, it was leaving his country and going God knows where!
For Noah, it was building a giant-a** boat in the middle of nowhere.
For David it was facing a warrior giant and serving a king that wanted to kill him
For Daniel, it was defying an entire kingdom and risking death to pray.
For Jesus, it was being the God people needed, not the one the expected or wanted…and it killed him.
For us in our western society, God is calling us to step out of our comfortable beliefs, and open our eyes to see and ears to hear something that often makes us and our churches nervous.
Questioning your beliefs can be incredibly scary.
Most of us have heard that we shouldn’t question these things,
That to question shows a lack of commitment,
that we are on a dangerous road,
that we should just “have faith”
The truth of the matter is, no genuine journey of faith continues for a lifetime without struggle. At some point you must muck about through the grime and the sludge, blinded by fog, wondering where the hell you’re going and just how you are supposed to get wherever “there” is!
In the words of the late and wonderful Rachel Held Evans,
“Those who say having a childlike faith
means not asking questions
haven’t met many children.”
I will not tell you that this stage of life is easy
because it’s not.
It often feels like you’re ripping out everything you’ve built your life and hope on.
Sometimes you wonder if anyone you love will continue to love you.
You worry they won’t understand, they will judge, and eventually they will give up on you altogether.
I also will not tell you where this part of the journey leads. These seasons of darkness, of wandering, and of doubt are just that…seasons. They come much more than once and they are all meant to lead you to a new place of discovery and transformation as a human.
Instead, I will offer you what I can.
I will share with you the little I have learned from my own extensive doubting, questioning, and fumbling around in the dark. If you do these five things I believe you will not only find a place on which to stand, but you will eventually find a new hope, a new joy, and a deeper sense of belonging in this world.
So without further ado, here is my list of
5 most important things to remember when questioning your beliefs:
1. Isolation kills
The more I live life and the more I learn about people, the more I am convinced that the single most destructive thing in our world is isolation.
Loneliness is a sign of isolation. In many cases it is a prerequisite to Isolation. But Isolation is a whole other beast. Isolation tell us we are alone, that there is no one else like us, that no one else will ever understand. Eventually, isolation convinces us there is no escape from our current situation.
Left to our own devices, our human minds that wrestle and fight for security and for human connection will ultimately create a vacuum where no positive, forward-moving thoughts can survive. When we feel totally and completely alone in a situation or in our own feelings, everything around us just confirms that feeling and builds like a snowball rolling down the hill until we have a giant avalanche that destroys us from the inside out.
When you are questioning your beliefs, perhaps the most important thing you can do to do so in a healthy manner is to stay connected with people that you trust.
And I don’t mean people you trust with this issue. When you are having issues of faith, your pastor is likely not your best option (unless your pastor is a close close friend with whom you’ve walked through daily life). He may in your mind or the minds of others be an “expert” on issues of God, but if he is not the person you talk with about your routine work and home life, then consider someone else for this.
The person or people you surround yourself with when going through a faith crisis or evaluation are people who:
- Know you fairly well. People you talk about anything with no matter how boring or silly it seems.
- Have shown vulnerability with you. People who not only have walked through hard times with you, but who have opened up and welcomed you in to their difficult seasons as well. This forms the trust necessary to navigate such uncertain times as a conversion of faith.
- Show a commitment to you. They must be people who show you in tangible ways that your relationship is not based on what you believe.
There are of course plenty of people that can be your friends and even “good friends” that do not make this list. Many people in my life have not put in the work and effort to understand certain areas of my life and personality. They are good friends who love and care for me and would be there when I needed them, but they don’t try to understand my language and they don’t put forth much effort to consider the unique ways I see God. These are great friends and gifts from God, but they are not the people He as given me to walk through this part of my life with.
2. This is not a crisis, It’s growing
This is not a crisis. Despite what others may say or you may be tempted to feel, this is not you entering a “slippery slope” or “jumping off the ledge.” Some people will try to discourage you or correct your heading to get you out of this season as quickly as possible. They mean well, but ultimately they are just afraid of addressing their own doubts because the unknown future is terrifying.
Instead of seeing this as something terrible and dangerous, remind yourself daily that this is part of an authentic journey.
This is not you getting further away from God, rather it is like you moving from the shallow pool to the deep end.
You have no idea what is down there. It feels scary. It feels uncertain. You COULD drown.
But ultimately it is an opportunity for discovery, for intrigue, and for more play than you ever imagined. It’s like jumping off the diving board for the first time, only to realize all those times you stayed where it was safe, you were really missing out.
When it comes to a great spiritual upheaval, having a sober mind about it and preventing yourself from escalating the situation will serve you well to receive it for the gift that it can and will ultimately be.
3. Stay open-minded and open-ended or you will miss the point
Oftentimes we are so daunted by the difficulties of the season we are in, that we just want to find “the answer” and be done with it so we can get back to normal life.
The problem is, most of the time when it comes to seasons of doubt, there is no “the answer.”
God is not concerned with what we think or know, but rather with who we are and how we are becoming that person. So when you are working hard to find the point in all of this, instead tell yourself,
“This is a process. All I need to do is be present to this moment and know that this too will pass in time.”
4. Be patient
Be patient with others.
They are most likely trying to help the only way they know how, and though it is often anything but helpful, they do mean well. Ultimately, unless they are part of that inner circle that you trust, they are not on this journey. It is your path to walk and God means to open your eyes to the purpose of it, not theirs. So don’t get down when other people aren’t on board.
Be patient with yourself.
You will feel like a crazy person. You will feel like this season will never end and there is nothing you can do about it. You will likely feel like this is some kind of punishment from God and that you are doing something to deserve it.
It is none of these things.
God is simply showing you another aspect of what it is to be human, so that you can live with more love, peace, and purpose in your life as a whole. Do not give in to the temptation to beat yourself up by saying that you are doing something wrong or messing it all up. Just give it time.
Be patient with God.
Being patient with Him does not mean you have to be nice to Him. The Holy Spirit is tough, tougher than you. She can take a few angry blows from Her friend who is hurting. In fact, she prefers it. It’s called vulnerability, and it’s essential for a thriving relationship.
God relishes the opportunity to be let in to your inner world, even if it is in turmoil. So open up to Him and be patient with His response and timing.
5. Take what is beneficial from this experience, and let go of the rest
Ultimately, God is walking you through a new and challenging time in your life. You will experience, hear, say, and do some things that are really helpful and eye opening
but you will also experience, hear, say, and do some things that are ultimately not very helpful.
Work to create a filter that holds on to what is valuable and beneficial, the things that meet you where you are and lovingly help you see more and become more
then let yourself be free of all the rest.
Anything said, felt, or encountered during this season that creates more anxiety, more bitterness, more anger, or a greater sense of obligation and expectation…let it drop to the floor
You don’t need it and God is not trying to further burden you. He is actually trying to lighten your load (Matthew 11:30).
You don’t have to take in or retain all the information and lessons from this season of life. There is no test to pass or fail. God is molding you from the slightly lumpy piece of clay into more of a work of art, but it’s a process.
So keep what is beneficial, and let the rest fall through your hands.
There is my list of 5 things to do when questioning your beliefs. If you find yourself in a season where you’re not sure what you believe—or maybe what you want to believe—or if you are struggling with the type of Christianity you see around you, I wrote a book for people like you and me, and I would love to share it with you. It’s called Giving Up Sunday and you can find it in paperback or as an ebook on Amazon by clicking the link below.
I love you, friend. You are not alone on the journey. God is doing something great and millions of others are being pulled to this new country with you.
I hope to meet you on the road.