Category Archives: Faith Crisis
I spent more than two days this week without access to the internet at home. Now, for most folks, this is a mere annoyance. But for me, it was overwhelming. You see, my “day job” is working for a law firm as a paralegal – from home. Meaning, a day without internet at my house means searching out a WiFi signal on my laptop somewhere else so I can earn a living. It means transferring my phone extension to my cell phone, uprooting my laptop and a second computer monitor, and finding a place to perch that has reliable internet. (Thankfully, I do have a second job that does have reliable internet and an extra desk for me in Dan’s office!)
This whole process has made me feel powerless. I was working along, minding my own business, when the connection stopped working. Nothing was wrong with our “box” and no amount of restarting all the devices could make it work again. And no matter how many times we called the internet provider, they still had techs only available to come out two days later. They kept telling us there was nothing they could do.
And so, I sat, powerless to change my situation at home. But the thing about powerlessness over situations is that we are in fact empowered then to do something else.
I was empowered to shut down the laptop and take the night off. Empowered to go on an impromptu date night with my husband that turned out to be extremely fun. Empowered to find a new place to sit and work the following day, which turned out to be nice because I was able to work face-to-face more with my coworkers here at church. I got out of my work-at-home doldrums and got to dress up and say hi to other humans (and not just my happy, but non-human doggies).
We have all heard/read the serenity prayer at some point:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
My role this week was acceptance. I couldn’t convince others to do things on my schedule. I couldn’t change my internet connection situation. I had lots of courage to try, but the internet company had no appointments. And so, I had to accept my fate of being an internet nomad in search of a WiFi singal so I could work.
But where the serenity prayer stops, we should not. Acceptance doesn’t mean stopping. Once we accept, we can then do something with that knowledge. In my case, I could try something new, get out of my routine, and keep a positive attitude. I could find new ways to approach the unchangeable that were life-giving. I didn’t have to sit in pained, silent acceptance and do nothing in my disconnected apartment.
Life is a series of things we cannot change. No matter the amount of courage we have to change things we can, some are impossible to change (at least on the schedule we would like to). These could be nuisances like a lack of internet or a locked car door, or they could be major life circumstances like cancer, sudden death, the struggles of aging, or illness in innocent children.
We just cannot change things sometimes. No matter how much we try, these things simply are. And we are left with knowing that we cannot change them, and then finding ways to live in them, through them, and make the best of our lives as we accept them.
As we face life’s challenges, we are going to overcome many things by having courage to change them. But when we cannot change things, I pray that we instead find ways to integrate them into our lives in positive ways. For the “small stuff,” it can simply take a positive attitude and some ingenuity; for the bigger things, it may take days, months, or even years to find ways to live into God’s meaning in our lives as we face these hardships.
But we can experience the grace of God in our healing and acceptance of the unchangeable, and maybe change up our prayer a bit:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
The wisdom to know the difference,
And the grace to find new ways to live in spite of the things I cannot change.
[Cross-posted from River Road Church, Baptist Pastor’s Blog: http://www.rrcb.org/2015/08/living-through-powerlessness-acceptance-grace-and-hope/]
We’ve probably all had someone tell us they are a spiritual person, but not very religious. Oftentimes, for me, this is after the mention of my chosen profession. “Oh, you’re a minister – yeah, I used to go to church many years ago, but it just didn’t agree with me. It’s just so…[fill-in-the-blank: hypocritical, boring, etc.]. But I am still very spiritual. I believe in God. I’m just not very religious…” [awkward pause] “Oh, but I’m sure your church is really great!”
Why yes, it is. RRCB has one of the most beautiful and meaningful worship service structures I have ever attended or been a part of. It has the depth of meaning, the story-in-song, the aesthetics of a cathedral, all with a Baptist, soul- and Bible-affirming twist. And when we’re not worshiping, we’re doing the work of the Body of Christ. We are feeding the hungry, creating community, visiting the sick, affirming one another.
And yet – do you ever feel like you or someone you know involved in so many activities suddenly realizes that doing this, while it is philanthropic and good, no longer touches your soul in ways that God becomes more present?
Perhaps it is because you’re too busy to see Jesus (e.g., Martha). Perhaps you just never “got” the whole life-as-prayer or devotional time; it feels awkward. Perhaps there is still some doubt as to the veracity of God, but you definitely see good people and want to be a part of their good work in the name of this God you haven’t really gotten to know yet.
We are all somewhere on this faith journey.
I think it can be easy for us to fall into the trap of good works. Not in the self-righteous sense, but in the sense that we are doing a lot of good work with good hearts but never finding the “God moments,” missing the connection to the Divine in our work.
In his sermon this past Sunday, Mike Clingenpeel told us how very connected we are with technology and yet how very disconnected we can become from our Source, the Vine to our branches.
So, what are we busy Christians to do about this disconnect? How do we stop being religious but not spiritual?
I think the answer lies in our recognition that our spirit needs the same hard work as the missions we endeavor to pursue as a congregation. One theologian, Baron von Hügel said that we have three dimensions: the intellectual, the institutional, and the mystical. We must nourish all three to be well-rounded People of the Book.
That mystical, or spiritual, part of us is often lost in our very logic-laden, post-Enlightenment, exuberantly busy world. We want neat, tidy ways of doing life. But mysticism seems to “waste time” and requires a lot of sitting alone and cultivating personal disciplines that will interfere with our daily lives, force us to face our deepest fears and longings, and drive us to see everything we do in a new Light.
Learning Spiritual Practices is a lot like learning to manage your time to study in school. It requires some persistence, some mess ups, and some ongoing changes of pace as we grow and learn. I would encourage you in the coming weeks to join me in a journey to beingreligious AND spiritual. Here are a few steps to help us get started (adapted from Thirsty for God by Bradley P. Holt):
- Learn to sit attentively in silence. Sit up straight, spine perpendicular to the floor and with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Relax. Find a comfortable place for your arms and hands. Let your muscles relax, moving from feet to head. Become aware of your breathing. Take deep breaths, in through the mouth, and our through the nose. Now you are in a state of relaxed alertness. As your mind wanders, it can be helpful to mentally move those thoughts away. If you have a candle, you may wish to symbolically view those distracting thoughts burning in the flame and disappearing. Silence is not easy and you should not blame yourself if it takes a while to settle into this kind of activity. Start small. Do 5 minutes of silence then 10, 15, 20 as you become more comfortable. You will likely find a kind of disruptive peace in these periods of still. You will find God’s still, small voice. [Note: if you cannot find quiet in your homes – I hear you moms and dads of young ones! – Remember that our chapel is open every day during business hours for meditation and prayer. It’s made for it – drop by on your way into work or whenever you have a break!]
- Take a walk. Focus on your body’s rhythm – heartbeat, breathing, muscle tensions. Breathe in the freedom of being outside of a box (room). Imagine yourself on a walk with God. Look up at the sky or tall trees – see the vastness of creation.
- Pray. Many of us are quick to offer a prayer of thanks for a meal or a request for something specific, but perhaps extend your “praying as talking to God” (mostly asking for things) to include praying in other ways that inform communication with God: Gratitude, Praise, Wonder, Confession, Complaint, and all the other ways we relate to other people. Prayer is not just one way of speaking, it is all communication we have with the Divine. It is our whole relation to God. Broaden your relationship with God but broadening your practice of prayer.
- Write about your life. You could start by placing your date of birth and today’s date on far ends of a sheet of paper. Revisit places, time periods, events in your life (whether spiritual or ordinary, as both affect us). Which of these major events or places or people in your life have most affected how you view Creation, God, Church, and good works? Which of these moved your soul? As Denise Bennett told us on Wednesday night at Telling Our Faith Stories, the process of telling our faith stories begins with outlining those parts of our lives that have meaning. When did you receive or give a particularly meaningful gift? What place in your life holds sacred value? How does your family celebrate, mourn? Do you have unconventional family members or friends? Who has shaped you? After you have written these down, begin to share with trusted friends your journey. Ask them the same questions. Christian friends walking this same spiritual journey with you will provide space to be accountable for disciplines and to share, laugh, and have community together as you experience God in deeper, more profound ways in this walk of faith.
[cross-posted from the Pastor’s Blog at http://www.rrcb.org/2015/05/religious-but-not-spiritual/ ]
Stress Faith, Hope, and Love
The winter season. The new semester. The new financial year. We are firmly into 2015, and already it may seem to some of us that the year is out to get us. We have so much to do and so little time to do it. Combating stress and worry is rarely simple. Most of us struggle to “leave it to God” or remember that God’s “eye is on the sparrow, who neither reaps nor sows.” Are there ways to approach stress through our faith positively without simplifying a deep struggle? Yes, I think so. How can we begin the process of alleviating our worries?
- First, seek help. The darkness of winter days and the end of a brightly-lit season can leave anyone feeling down. Add to that the stress of a new year and new responsibilities – well, you get the picture. There are pastors at your church, friends in your community, and professional health care members who are dedicated to supporting you. Don’t let that opportunity pass you by if things are tough.
- Second, say “no.” There is no shame in saying “no” for your own health. Many times, those of us who are heavily involved, caring people often think that if something is to be done we must do it ourselves! But this is far from true. If a project or activity overburdens you, ask for help! Crashing and burning will prevent you from doing your best on the next project. Say “no” to the one now that induces more stress and trust those around you to handle things in your absence.
- Third, understand that worry is not a character flaw. It is both a mental/physiological state (some of us struggle with more worry than others due to our neurotransmitters and life circumstances), as well as a spiritual/soul state (we all struggle to trust God and are friends of Nicodemus, who just could not understand how simple God’s grace is).
There will be many parts of life that create for us stresses we can hardly bear. And to be ready for those times, we must prepare beforehand or be ready to stop when necessary. Worry is certainly normal and understandable. It is also beatable, with work, time, and support. What are some spiritual ways to alleviate and/or prevent excessive worry?
- Open space in your days for quiet. This will be difficult for many of us – we are overscheduled, overworked, and overtired. But space in one’s day leaves room for God’s Spirit to groan for you as you work out your stressors. This time of no connectivity (turn off that phone, email, TV, etc.!) will not only allow you to empty space into silence, but it will also create space for God to speak to you in that still, small voice.
- Open space in your week for movement. God created us with whole bodies. We were never meant to sit at a desk and worry. God made us to move, interact, and be alive in so many other ways. Whether it’s a walk through the neighborhood with family or friends or dogs, or some roughhousing with the grandkids, or simply making sure to move around in some small way every day, it will make a difference in your stress level. The scientists tell us that sitting is no good for our body chemicals, but moreover, most of us feel the effects of a motionless life as we try to face our daily stresses with so little strength. Get up, get moving!
- Whatever is true, noble…praiseworthy – think on such things. Our over-committed culture is also predominately negative. We only criticize ourselves; we don’t lift ourselves up. To stop worrying about one’s appearance or successes as a primary focus, one must first change the inner negative voice. This might require some professional help, or it might simply require a daily inner reminder about that voice. If there is space to hear God, listen to that voice, not your inner gremlin. Thoughts of the Spirit are true, noble, and praiseworthy – not negative or hurtful.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he said “Faith, Hope, and Love” are the backbone of Christianity. Faith, not worry. Faith that God will provide (Hope). And Love to conquer all Fear. May you find ways to move your Stress to Faith and thus embrace God’s Hope and Love. And may we all support each other as we work toward better balance in our lives – Mutual loving relationships are the only way we will all be able to make space for God among us and alleviate each other’s struggles even as God works in our inner selves.
(originally posted at Pastor’s Blog for River Road Church, Baptist: http://www.rrcb.org/2015/02/practical-faith-dealing-with-stress/)
To begin, this blog post has been a project of many months. For years in a previous relationship, I was abused. It took me years to understand what that meant, much less admit I was allowing it to happen to me and that I had no self-esteem because of it. But, here, after being free of abuse for over two years, I have put into words much of what I struggled with over the seven years (four married) in that previous relationship. Following this autobiographical post, I will be posting some topics about how we as Christians must address the issue of marital abuse as a topic of major importance in the church. Giving love and life is our job, and women (mostly women – though note: a good number of men will experience this too) need to know they are worthy, loved children of God who matter – and do not deserve anything doled out by their hurtful spouses. I firmly believe ending the cycle of abuse (which almost always means fully severing abusive relationships) is the only way to redemption – for both the abused and the abusers.
What does “marriage” mean for the woman who has no control?
She cannot fathom the abiding and trusting love other women have for their husbands (though she tries her very best to mimic it socially).
She keeps silent as her girlfriends recount their husbands’ good deeds, deep love, and generous gifts – even in their imperfections, they are praised.
She holds her head low when others are celebrating – because no one in her home will celebrate her successes (or support her in her failings).
She is alone, even as she is forcibly encouraged to stay home with her husband. She paints a fine picture of the perfect household – she’s got a little house, some pets, and a lot of lies to tell others about how good life is.
She tries to forget what he says to her – that she is a slut if she wears clothing he deems inappropriate, she is cheating on him if she sees a friend away from home, she is a terrible homemaker if she comes home late and asks for help, that her family is horrible/ridiculous/unbearable, that her faith community is backward and boring, that he knows her inmost secrets and could tell anyone if she dared utter bad things about him, that she is ugly (and also by his silence never speaks of her beauty).
She wants nothing more than this man she married to appreciate her, be proud of her, love her unconditionally. Those vows are ignored.
She makes excuses for his absence at major functions or bad attitude or poor spending habits.
She hides behind a thin veil of happiness and lives on the love and joy others give her and experience around her, even as her own joy light diminishes.
She grasps for reasons to love him – she cares about him, she wants him to be well. To be kind. To stop yelling.
She tries to bargain with him – pleads with him to be reasonable and offers alternatives to constant conflict.
She begs him to stop screaming.
She gives in to his demands to avoid the fighting.
She cries herself to sleep.
When they are out together, she longs for real companionship, but he keeps his distance – he will not hug her, hold her hand, or kiss her. She is ashamed and embarrassed that she is not publically loved like her friends. She pretends to be fine with it. She acts like it’s totally normal to be so different. She hides her hurt.
She tries to keep life going – busying herself with other tasks. If her tasks keep her away too long, the phone rings, a jealous husband on the line screaming at her, blaming her for his problems at home, and accusing her of adultery – as she sits, alone, after a long day of hard work, and remains completely faithful to the screaming man she cannot seem to please.
She cries herself to sleep.
He insists on spending money on himself, making poor investments. She is chastised if she even considers spending money on herself: “You don’t need any more clothes.” “Your relaxation doesn’t matter” (even as his tools, equipment, and other items do matter). So she quits asking and chooses to never buy anything for herself, hardly. Her first priority must be keeping money available to prevent the financial arguments.
She no longer matters – only keeping the peace does.
She continues to withdraw into herself, pretending to the rest of the world that nothing is happening – lying to herself and to everyone else. She cannot face the truth.
She cannot admit to anyone else what is really happening, how helpless she feels.
He makes her feel useless – in the home, in bed, as a minister, a student, a friend.
He sighs and complains at her actions, from her decision to attend school to her lack of desire for the hateful man she’s married to.
She holds her dogs tightly – the only unconditional love in the home.
She cries herself to sleep.
She keeps hoping this is normal marriage stuff, but her gut tells her differently.
He blames others when he doesn’t succeed: “It’s their fault it’s not done – they are just horrible people ruining my work.” “You are the one who had me start this stupid project.” But he was too prideful to ask for help, and instead spent his time angry at his own failures, using that anger to verbally punish his wife – the one thing he felt like he could control.
She stayed afraid of him. Afraid of a man who promised to love and cherish her.
Every day was walking on eggshells – she never knew what would set him off. And some days, she was just plain scared of him.
He would get so angry, yell so loudly – he would be in her face, demanding and accusing and putting her down.
He’d bully her, belittle her, blame her, and shame her. He’d leave her alone to hurt. He’d never apologize (except for when it was for his own gain).
He’d be so abusive with his words and actions, it felt like the only thing left to do was assault her physically. He always held his hands back from doing physical harm – but only just barely, sometimes.
And without “valid” abuse (i.e., physical harm), she decided it wasn’t “real abuse” and would stay silently, enduring it all, without telling anyone what was happening – after all, “he didn’t hit me.”
And therein lay his control.
By NOT hitting her, he controlled her. He continually abused her yet she had no “valid” reason to leave. She had no escape, or so she thought.
As a devout Christian, “divorce was not an option.” And on she stayed, even when his words tore her down – she stayed, afraid to so much as change the radio station in the car or come home a few minutes late – not because he would physically beat her, but because she wouldn’t ever hear the end of it. Maybe a few minutes of screaming. Maybe a few hours. Maybe days or weeks or months or years.
She was never safe to be honest about her feelings. When she tried, she was shot down. When she threatened, she was scared into submission. When she insisted on counseling, he scoffed.
And she hid. She hid all her pain. She carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. She could not genuinely smile or enjoy herself. She just pretended it was all not happening…
Until she could pretend no more.
Little by little, she was encouraged. By books. By thoughtful professors. By Christian leaders. By friends who likely had little understanding of what she was going through (she had quite a guise).
But she began to see not simply how awful he was – but how beloved she is. She began to understand that a child of God is a creature of great worth who deserves the very best from those around her – and who should settle for no less in her closest relationships.
She began to see herself as beautiful.
As these changes occurred in her, her marriage did not change –even with forced counseling and ongoing begging her spouse for relief.
But change is not easy. It might take weeks. Or months. Or even a year and a half.
And when the dust settles, the light becomes visible. Through personal counseling, she girded herself with strength.
In a few weeks of deep, contemplative thought, she found herself, bags packed, headed to her parents’ house. She had never felt so free.
She finally stood up for herself.
She finally was treating herself the way God meant her to be treated.
Notes from Epiphanies, 5-9-12
We worked in small groups to talk about faith, doubt, and how we integrate these in our Christian communities.
Question 1: When you think about faith, what does it look like? Is it a steady flow of understanding/feeling? Or is it an ever-changing and evolving process?
Describe faith. Is it Belief? Knowledge?
Dictionary Definition of Belief: “Mental acceptance of a proposition, statement, or fact, as true, on the ground of authority or evidence; assent of the mind to a statement, or to the truth of a fact beyond observation, on the testimony of another, or to a fact or truth on the evidence of consciousness; the mental condition involved in this assent.”
Is it more than that?
Lauren Winner, in her book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis says this: “Faith…meant more than intellectual assent to a set of doctrines. It was a commitment of the whole self, a hope and trust that, if genuine, ought to be the foundation of an entire way of life and vision of the world.”
“On any given morning, I might not be able to list for you the facts I know about God. But I can tell you what I wish to commit myself to, what I want for the foundation of my life, how I want to see.”
Question 2: What do we do when we are personally confronted with unbelief?
Lord, I believe; help me with my unbelief!
Read this article and think about how faith and doubt are interwoven in our lives:
Perhaps faith is more like a promise (a quote, also from Still): “What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever.”
In small groups, we discussed a time in our own life when doubts overcame faith (much like the story above, we all had moments of severe doubt). We concluded that our doubts are as much a part of our faith journeys as our moments of strength and unwavering dedication.
Question 3: If, as we have seen and read and heard, doubt is simply a part of the faith journey, how can we help those in our midst who are “in the middle of things”?
Lauren Winner Calls this our “Mid-Faith Crisis” as Christians – she means there is a point at which we are no longer giddy about our new faith and eager to learn more. But neither are we at a point of peace and wisdom.
“The enthusiasms of my conversion have worn off. For whole stretches since the dream, since the baptism, my belief has faltered, my sense of God’s closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone. And yet in those same moments of strained belief, of not knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am, better than any other story I know. On the days when I think I have a fighting chance at redemption, at change, I understand it to be these words and these rituals and these people who will change me. Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith. And yet I continue to live in a world the way a religious person lives in the world; I keep living in a world that I know to be enchanted, and not left alone. I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze.”
Questions to ponder:
- What brought you to mid-faith? Was it a crisis? Was it multiple crises? Was it just a “whole life of straight-forward churchgoing” or a life of wandering?
- What has church done to help you through the middle?
- How can you help others in the middle?
Perhaps the simple answer is that by realizing we all have doubts in the midst of faith and we also have faith in the midst of doubt, we move closer to understanding and supporting our fellow humanity in their wrestle with the Divine and what it means to be faithful, even when it seems impossible. We then know we have to take the time to understand that faith has steps, and one cannot move from step to step without moments of deep turmoil and struggle. [Nerd check: A good (yet a bit tedious) book on this is James Fowler’s Stages of Faith, which incorporates both psychology and theology to discuss the “stages” we go through in our faith].
Many thinkers before us have helped us better understand the intricacies of faith and doubt and how they both nurture and deliver us. God can and does meet and love all of us whether we are new, eager Christians, in the middle of a Mid-Faith Crisis, or we have moved to a deeper, more profound faith – and that is a promise worth celebrating!
I hope we all can avoid the pitfalls of describing the doubtful as weak or faithless and instead celebrate their struggle to understand and walk alongside them as we seek to understand the nature of God and how we should live as Jesus did – together.