The First Step to Finding the Way When You’ve Lost Your Faith
In the midst of change, we're also losing our connection to our sacred life, our faith communities and sacred symbols and texts. This change presents its own set of issues that rarely gets talked about, that is, the individual human experience.
More and more churchgoers are struggling to get to church, or simply haven’t gone to one in a long time, most especially now in a pandemic when attendance patterns are completely off. More than that, it seems almost every time I turn around, there's a new take on the growing number of people who claim no religious affiliation.
All this change is often simply just that—change. It's not easy to explain, but when you thoughtfully seek understanding you start to discover deeper and more powerful ideas about today's changing world, and ultimately, your own situation.
Much conversation happens around the social (esp. justice-oriented), historical, and cultural and theological movements. Those are a key part of it, but it goes deeper. It’s also a psychological one. In other words, your experience of these changes isn’t just debates about doctrines and politics or arguments about whether God exists. It’s also about your human experience—relationship difficulties, anxieties, outright pain and depression, and alternatively, how we find calm, confidence, affirmation, security and a sense of understanding and compassion. You and I must take time for it, otherwise we miss the human experience and keep repeating the same arguments over and over.
In the midst of change, we're also losing our connection to our sacred life, our faith communities and sacred symbols and texts. This loss results both from the disruption of the pandemic, but also from inevitable and ongoing religious change in the US. This change presents its own set of issues for the human experience that rarely gets talked about. In other words, whatever loss of faith connection you may experience can in it's own right cause you to be depressed. Meaning, it can cause a numb mental, physical, even spiritual mood that if not addressed can turn in on itself, and sometimes take on a life of its own.
Big statement: feelings of sadness, grief, and anger, are all part of what we might call mourning, and are perhaps the single most important aspects of faith loss we should be attending to. In the US, we certainly tend to bury our feelings, and US religion, generally speaking, has been complicit in that in more ways than it's willing to admit.
But that's the past, and the future can be different. It starts by acknowledging how you are feeling, and let that be the clue to the first step in finding the way when you've lost your faith.
Just like any type of loss, here's what you do: grieve, wail, and mourn. That's it. Separate yourself from normal activity (at least certain activities, but don't cut yourself off from others in general). Wear black if you have to. Remember what was good about what you've lost, but only in the sense of letting yourself feel the deep sadness that what you've lost has been taken from you. Experience your feelings and acknowledge your pain, rather than going numb from it all. And yes, it's not easy.
You, as well as others, might think you're just being negative. But don't give into that temptation to gloss over life in an attempt to be positive. There's a great phrase I just learned called spiritual bypassing. Try not to bypass your sadness and anger. Find people who can hold you in this pain, people who can survive it. You might be surprised that a lot of people generally can.
Now, the problem with loss of faith is that it is a more diffuse kind of loss. It permeates so much of who you are, as it works more in the exchange of spiritual ideals, not as much in everyday relationships, which is the typical context we talk about in dealing with loss. As a result, processing faith loss is painstakingly slow. So experiencing your sadness and anger might be something that you have to do for a long time, and it might even become a consistent component of your spirituality, as long as you can recognize it for what it is, and find the right moments to express it. For now, if you're hurting, make space for it and express it. That's the first step, and know that if you do it well, there is definitely a greater chance you'll grow spirituality, increase your capacity, and find a new way forward as time goes on.
I'll work to talk about growth like that and more steps in future posts..