A Primer for those Struggling with Faith
[featured-image link=”null” link_single=”inherit” single_newwindow=”false”]Image courtesy of Coralie Mercier, licensed under Creative Commons[/featured-image]
One of my main goals as a teacher, counselor, pastor, and writer is to help people who are really feeling lost on the faith journey. At the bottom of this post you will find links to posts that I believe might be helpful to you if you have found yourself in that position of struggling to get, or hang on to, faith. And if that’s you, there are several other things I want you to know.
Struggling with Faith IS the Faith Journey
As a marriage counselor I tell premarital couples that they will not always feel about each other the way they feel now. Times of dryness and difficulty, and perhaps even great struggle, are part of the marriage journey. When couples don’t know this they get to those times and fear the relationship may be over. What we need for our faith life, in order to hang in there, is first and foremost the knowledge that the struggle itself is part of the journey and not a sign that we have wandered down some other path. In other words, you are okay.
You Can’t Go Back the Way You Came
There’s something about the journey of life, that we can rarely go back the way we came. If you used to be a person of deep faith, but lately have found yourself struggling to hang on, you can find faith again. But not where you left it lying before. You are growing and changing. You are learning more about yourself and the world, and you will need a new vision — a new understanding — of faith that allows for a God that is larger than the one you used to believe in. As you move through your struggle, and faith is again within reach for you, don’t try to make it just like what you believed before. Some of your old beliefs are going to have to go. Others will remain but in a different form. Others will present themselves to you as new truths and you will have to wrestle with them for a while. Jesus captured this struggle best:
Matthew 9:16-17 (MSG) 16 …”No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. 17 And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.”
If you used to have deep faith but lately are really struggling with faith, it’s because your bottles are cracked. Your life experience (the contents of the bottle) got too big for the container it was in (your current worldview, including your understanding of God). As you struggle through your questions and difficulties, you will need to put these ideas into brand new bottles — a new way of understanding God and God’s activity in your life and in the world. The simple struggles with faith are always over the content of the bottles (whether or not we fully believe this or that doctrine about God.). The real struggles with faith are the ones that break our bottles and leave them in shards all around. The bottle couldn’t contain the amount of liquid in it anymore. So it’s futile to try to put that broken bottle back together again. But you can get a new and bigger bottle that will accommodate your new understanding and experiences perfectly.
As You Struggle to Choose Your Beliefs, Your Beliefs Are Choosing You
Evangelical Christians grow up believing that belief is simply a choice. But ironically, I can only believe that as long as I am not actually believing but merely assuming that what my parents, friends, teachers, or other authority figures believe is equally valid for me. True belief is the result of your life experience, combined with whatever wisdom you have been able to glean from it, along with your best understanding of who God must be in light of it. You might say it this way:
Belief = Experience + Wisdom + Current Understanding of God
The less experience (and thus possible conclusions you could glean from it) you have had, the less you can actually believe. You can only do what you are told, or (mis)take another person’s belief for your own. This is why the evangelical understandings of “believe and receive” is flawed. No one can come to true belief simply by being told to believe. And if you are struggling with faith, you know how true this is: after all, despite your sincere desire for faith, you have not even been able to order yourself to believe.
So, like I promised, below you will find a collection of posts that I hope can be helpful as you are on this difficult, but rewarding, journey — struggling with faith.
P is for Progress Q is for Quest O is for Orthodoxy Magical or Mystical I is for Inspiration H is for Hell The River F is for Freedom C is for Clarity B is for Balance Reading Scripture Choose Life Be the Change, prts. 1-5 How to Know God (in 921 words) Desperately Seeking My Soul The Hopeless Believer The Shadow Openness Love, or Correct Beliefs? Things I Don’t Know God and Me On Changing The Prayer of Faith Dismissing Religion The Shame That Drives Us Goodbye to Moralism The Almost-Gospel I Think I’m Gonna Puke If… Dumb-Shitness Weakness Can God Use People Who Don’t Serve Him? The Church Stinks The Only Thing You Need You Already Have When Religion Kills Making The Spiritual World Real Count Me In With The Crooks and Whores Growing Up Become What You Believe