What To Do When You Have A Crisis Of Faith

In 2011 I had a crisis of faith.  

Up until that time I would have self-identified as a (moderately) conservative evangelical Christian pastor.  

But I had a sudden and shocking blow to my beliefs that came out of the blue early on an Easter Sunday morning as I was driving to church, and practicing my sermon in the car.  

I remember pausing my recitation of what I was going to preach later and feeling the frigid wash of doubt wash over me like a bracingly cold ocean wave.  When I regained my breath, I actually whispered out loud: "I don't know if any of this is true."

Before that moment I had been certain about everything.  I was certain about what I  believed, certain about who I was, and what I was put on earth to do.  Afterward, I found myself unmoored, lost, and scared to death.  

There's this poem by A.R. Ammons that sums up how I felt in the weeks and months after that tectonic shift:  

I  have nowhere
to go and 
nowhere to go
when I get 
back from there.  

There may be some of you reading this right now, and you are resonating with what I'm saying.  Maybe your faith has been shaken.  Maybe you are questioning some long-held beliefs.  Maybe you feel like you have nowhere to go with those questions, and no one to share them with.  

Here's something that I learned in my journey to the depths of my doubts: There's a bottom to it at last, and when you reach it and push off of it to return to the surface, you won't be in the same place you were.   

And that's okay.  In fact, that's a beautiful thing.  

It means you have grown, and you can embrace the growth if you have the courage to do so.  You can transcend where you were, include what is necessary of your old life, and let go of everything else.  

It's a hard thing to do this.  God knows it took me a great deal of time, and some wonderful mentors and companions to guide and encourage me in order to garner the courage I needed.  

But there are plenty of people who reach the surface in a new place, and then do everything they can to swim frantically back to where they were.  Some choose to paddle to the relative safety of total unbelief, rejecting everything about who and where they were.  

Here's the dirty little secret about that kind of response... You never forget what it felt like at the moment you emerged and took a deep breath at last, and were filled with the terrifying, exhilarating feeling of possibility.  

The temptation to return to safety--any kind of safety--at that moment is powerful, though.  But if you resist it, a new world is opened up before you. 

I'm going to tell you one of the truest things I have ever learned.  If your faith isn't leading you to doubt, to struggle, and eventually to grow ---it's not serving you well.  In fact, it's doing you a disservice.  In fact, it's not really faith.  It's only belief, which requires very little effort or stamina to be sustained.  

Speaking of stamina, the Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Romans.  He speaks of suffering here, which encompasses the struggles we experience when we come face to face with doubt: 
3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, NIV)
I've come to understand that when those of us who claim to follow Jesus wrestle with our doubts we are actually more faithfully expressing our Christian faith than if we refused to acknowledge them or try to explain them away.    

Additionally, keeping an open mind, and being limber enough to grow out of your struggles with doubt are not signs of weak faith---they are signs of a faith that is resilient and stronger than you realize.  

May you find the resolve to rejoice in your struggles with doubt, and see them as a sign that you are growing and maturing as a follower of Christ.  May you find joy in the realization that Spirit is moving and leading you forward.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.    


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