I’ve had more than my fair share of faith crises. Indeed, when I was discerning my call to ministry I worried that my tendency to doubt and question disqualified me from becoming a pastor.
I’m grateful that I didn’t listen to those fears.
Spiritual valleys are just as formative and significant as mountaintop experiences – maybe even more so.
It’s not fun to have a dark night of the soul. It can be disorienting and scary.
Sometimes struggling with your faith even tests relationships with family and friends who may feel defensive about their own convictions. But persevering through that darkness and courageously asking those hard questions is revelatory.
We often emerge on the other side of spiritual crises filled with gifts we could only receive the hard way.
As often as not, our faith is renewed by spiritual crisis – but rarely as a simulacrum of what it was before.
Faith that has made it through a dark night is deeper, more nuanced, and maybe even substantively different. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As Sarah Bessey writes in Out of Sorts, “Anyone who gets to the end of their life with the exact same beliefs and opinions as they had at the beginning is doing it wrong.”
Here are some of the practices and bits of wisdom that have sustained me through my own faith crises.
I admit, reading is my go-to no matter the nature of the crisis, but it is especially central to my spiritual life.
Poetry and spiritual memoirs are my personal favorites. My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman is presently at the top of my list, which is unsurprising since it’s a spiritual memoir by a poet.
I still consider reading Anne Lamott’s, Traveling Mercies, the summer I turned twenty to be one of the most transformative experiences of my life.
Talking (and praying) with wise mentors and friends
When I was fifteen I tearfully confessed to my church camp counselor that I didn’t believe in God.
He listened non-judgmentally and assured me that my questions and doubts were completely normal. I don’t know what I was expecting, but that wasn’t it.
His kindness to me in that encounter instilled in me a profound need to connect with other people of faith.
To this day, I still crave substantive conversations about faith, and regular appointments with my spiritual director are central to my spiritual health.
Faith crises can be paralyzing; we’re not sure what to do because we’re not sure what to believe.
But no matter what dogmas you discard or retain as you go about reordering your spiritual life, it’s key to keep practicing generosity, pursuing justice, and cultivating love for our neighbors.
Volunteer in a soup kitchen.
Give sacrificially to a non-profit organization that does good work.
Be relentlessly kind to the people in your life who are hardest to love.
Adopting a healthy atheism
Don’t worry – I’m not saying give up on God.
But many of us discover we have held childish or false beliefs about who God is, and until we let those go, we aren’t free to grasp deeper truths.
I could only enter into a relationship with a loving God in whom I live and move and have my being until I stopped believing in a God who capriciously doles out cancer and car accidents.
Remembering that faith is not the same thing as certainty
I’m not remotely certain that there is a God. Living my life as though there is despite my lack of certainty – that’s faith.
The opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear; the nearest synonym of faith is not belief, but trust.
Each day I imperfectly yet faithfully entrust myself to what is ultimately a profound mystery.
Living the questions
Rainer Maria Rilke famously wrote,
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
May it be so.