A Way Back to Soul – Part 1

A few weeks ago I was talking with some pastors about faith, and the loss of it.  We had all bumped up against those who had once believed in a loving God as described by the Christian tradition, but who had awakened to the realization that they had drifted away from that belief.

I’m not talking about angry people who had decided to reject God out of pain and disappointment with life, or depressed people who had lost any sense of connection.  I’m talking about very thoughtful, reflective people who admit to themselves, “I just don’t think I buy this God-thing anymore.”  These are individuals who often continue to attend services, usually because they enjoy the experience, and because this is where they see friends.

As a psychotherapist and pastoral counselor I run into this often.  Ministers, I’m convinced, find themselves in these conversations much less often than I do.  It seems that most parishioners simply can’t imagine admitting such a thing to the Professional-God-Follower (very few of my clients check the “you can contact my pastor” box on the intake form).

Well, in the aforementioned conversation with colleagues, I began to describe how I process this dilemma with my clients.  I also realized I had never written any of this down.

For the next several weeks I will describe the thoughts and I ideas I offer my clients when “loss of faith” comes up.  I would appreciate your feedback.  I’m sure there are weaknesses in my thinking, and I have found that all of you out there in cyberspace who take the time to muddle through things with me end up providing invaluable assistance.

I want to begin by asking you to respond to a couple of questions:

  1. Have you, or would you, ever approach your pastor to discuss your own “loss of faith” issues?
  2. Why or why not?

Please take a moment to respond (anonymously, if you prefer).  Several pastors keep up with this blog, and your thoughts could be of great help to them.

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About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
This entry was posted in Spiritual Formation, Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to A Way Back to Soul – Part 1

  1. Rebecca Edwards says:

    Interesting discussion. And “professional God-follower” is another classic Wes-ism.

    As for your questions, In my experience when I’ve felt distant from faith, or had it shaken a bit, I found myself not wanting to think on difficult questions for long. Plus, when this happened, I was a sophomore at THEE University, a new member of a church where I was not close with any of the staff….not really in a place to seek out someone to help me straighten it all out. And honestly, maybe I didn’t want to straighten it out…..maybe I wanted to forget I believed in God for a while….maybe I “needed” to….

    Now, my life situation is much different. I have three pairs of eyes watching me as an example as they grow and mature. Now, I have “MY” church. Now, I’m close with alot of folks that come to mind–including my pastor that I would go talk to if the need arose. Now, I FEEL mature in my spiritual walk, and know that difficult questions are all over the place—and that it’s important to turn my thoughts there even if it’s nicer to think on something more concrete. Now, I can accept the mystery, too—my 20-year-old know-it-all mind had to have all the answers.

    This is all not to say that I will never doubt again. I will. But, I think God set up church so that we wouldn’t all doubt at the same time. To lift each other up. That’s reassuring.

    I hope this rant answers your questions, or helps someone in some way. I rarely comment on blogs, but I felt compelled with the history of my story.

    Peace.

  2. Alison says:

    I do not fault my pastor for the fact that we do not have a particularly good rapport, but there it is – the truth about the fact that I would not go to him for a discussion of the issue in question, nor would I seek him out about very many other matters, either. This strikes me as a sad and unfortunate situation, but it has been this way for most of his nearly 15-year tenure at my church. The man is knowledgeable and he loves Jesus and he is appreciated by the congregation at large, but he and I don’t really seem to like one another very much as people – and we have not been able to transcend this variable. I can imagine him saying my perception of the situation is lopsided, and perhaps I am projecting greatly, but I do know that he has never expressed an interest in knowing me personally. I take responsibility for my part of the relationship, but I find it difficult to feel close to him or to trust him because of the tendency he has to turn an exchange into an opportunity for a silly, if witty pun, for example. Besides, based on his sermons, the intensive Bible study I’ve done, the small group I am a part of, and the ministries I have participated in, I imagine I mostly know what he would say. By now I find I can say these things to myself. Thus, I try and remember to offer up my faith issues directly to God, who sometimes takes his time (according to me) in responding, sometimes makes me laugh at myself for the circles I go in, and sometimes just doesn’t seem to care for long periods of time (according to me).

    I do believe there are people out there, whether they are Professional God-Followers or not, who offer me encouragement in different ways, and who I have and would call on in certain doubting states of mind. One of them is my husband, thank God. Another, it occurs to me as I write this, is you. Because you are so thoughtful and curious, of course, but also because of that practical element you promote.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with A Way Back to the Soul – Part 2.

  3. Annonymous says:

    No, I wouldn’t go to my pastor. Not because of who he/she is or because of any lack of respect or approachability. But honestly, in that dark place, I’m not sure I would want the answers my pastor would have or provide. He/she clearly believes in something and I don’t want to be talked back into it? What kind of commentary, help, or feedback could he/she provide? And I’ll say…. the older I get, the less I believe and I’ve never talked to any professional religious leader about it. I just keep it to myself. Partly because I can’t quite put my finger on it or articulate it. Not sure I see the point of talking to my pastor about it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    No, I don’t know of any clergy that I would in past or present circumstances talk with about a loss of faith. I’ve been too close to the Church to let someting like that slip out On second thought, maybe I short change our NW Convocation clergy bunch . Individually or as a group, I think they could hande a confession like that. I might discuss it if I ever do another quarter of Clinical Pastoral Education.

  5. Annonymous says:

    Not sure I count in your question because my faith crisis did come as a result of pain and hopelessness in my life, but I did seek out 3 different pastors for guidance. They each received me with thoughtfulness and grace, but the first two responded with pat answers that meant nothing to me. The third pastor was more willing to say that he didn’t have the answers I was seeking, and somehow I found him to be the most helpful. Ordinarily I would never have approached a pastor to discuss such a thing because I was raised to believe doubt equaled failure on my part, but I was at a place in my life where I had nothing left to lose. Fortunately I found someone who understood that a crisis of faith can be the first step to a more meaningful one.

  6. Erin Messer says:

    Interestingly enough I don’t think that I could admit to my pastor that I have had a loss of faith. I wonder if i would even be able to admit it to myself. Having grown up in a pastor’s home the pressure to “have the faith” or “keep the faith” seems to fall from people watching our family for the example. But the misconception is that many times in our family we would be so focused on appearance that the depth of our true relationship with God waned and we just mask it with a smile and nod. I recall once having struggled with an issue in life and as i was talking with my best friend i made the comment “I guess i just need to dig and spend more time in the word and focus more on may relationship with Christ.” My friend immedieately stopped me and stated “maybe you just just chill out and trust in God. Stop trying to get to God and just be present and trust in him.” I took a deep breath and realized that i was my own personal hinderance in my faith in God. Perhaps there wasn’t a loss in faith in God but it was definately a reality check on what i thought i had to do to maintain my faith.
    In reguard to why i wouldn’t go to my pastor I would find that most of the time I would be totally embarrassed as a minister’s daughter to admit that i had lost my faith. It’s a frightening feeling to get to a place where you feel like you don’t believe. I don’t know that I can honestly say that i have been in that place though I have talked with several that have been there and for them it’s a very scary to think they don’t have have a faith or feel grounded spiritually anymore. I find it easier to not discuss it with the pastor cuase then you don’t feel like a complete failure. Something else that i have learned from being in a minister’s family is that we place our pastors on a higher level of faith or spirituality when in reality they are just as human as we are. As i have grown into an adult i have noticed more how my mother and father wax and wane in thier own spiritual lives and it has become apparent to me that they are human in thier faith as much as i am.

  7. wmeades says:

    This came to me with permission to publish, though anonymity was requested:

    Most of my life, the answer to your first question would have been absolutely not – in fact, most of my life I haven’t thoughtfully questioned enough to have doubts about my beliefs. But, now I would say absolutely yes. The answer to your second question would be – because my current pastor, Jimmie Johnson, speaks of doubts all the time. I have been attending First Pres. for about 12 years now and “loss of faith” is an issue discussed often there. I now realize it is normal to experience ups and downs in your beliefs. My thoughts are that one should continue attending and being involved because, chances are, your heart will eventually follow your actions and most will come back to their faith – even if it may be a new understanding of it.

  8. MPHorne says:

    I am surprised you’re using the language of “a way back” rather than talking in the sense of James Fowler’s (Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian) way forward to new levels of spirituality. The crises of faith people experience may be quite healthy, especially if they lead to discarding irrelevant and untenable metaphors for God, faith, spirituality, relationality, ethical performance and service. I would definitely admit to my pastor my loss of faith, because that loss most likely will lead to something new that is richer, deeper, more reflective and more meaningful. Oh, it’s not ‘church as usual,’ that’s for sure. But it is Christian. TIme to grow up and become adults about faith in Christ.

  9. Chris MIllette says:

    First off, welcome back! Glad to see your new post. I find this topic intriguing because I don’t think I have ever had a very strong faith to begin with. In my maturing years I find this more of an issue. I have not had the relationship with a pastor to feel comfortable enough to go to them. I am also one of those annoyingly private people who foolishly think I can sort it all out myself. I have taken on a new search so to speak over the last year or so and I think it would do me some good to hear a professional “god follower”. I am begining to accept the fact that I am not so smart after all.

  10. KHO says:

    No, I’ve never approached my pastor to discuss “loss of faith” issues. But, I’ve never felt, as you stated: “I just don’t think I buy this God-thing anymore.” I haven’t seen or experienced the traditional role of pastor as a “loss of faith” counselor or confidant. In other words, growing up (Baptist in Texas), I didn’t experience it as an accepted part of open discussion in church or home – an acknowledged part of a faith walk. But perhaps it should be. I like the other commentor’s statement that “it’s not ‘church as usual,’ that’s for sure. But it is Christian.” Ultimately for me, if I were to ever approach my pastor depends largely on the individual pastor. Now, yes, I would be willing to approach my current pastor (Methodist outside Texas). But my preference would still be someone with expertise and knowledge in both counseling/Psychology and Faith/Religion/Christianity.

  11. Bart Silverstrim says:

    I had not really spoken to my ex-pastor about a loss of faith. I spoke to the pastor that handled my wedding, I’ve spoken to people of faith, and I’ve spoken to people who at some point were planning on going into the church as a profession, and I came to the conclusion that they didn’t have the answer I was seeking. No one could give an answer based on reason.

    I had rather simple questions that would be answered with outrageous answers, answers that simply didn’t make sense. The people I spoke to didn’t have a firm understanding of where I was coming from in the first place or had no understanding of just what THEY were talking about (the mindset seemed to be like that of Ray Comfort in his “The Banana: an Atheist’s Nightmare!” video, who apparently didn’t have any idea that the banana we’re familiar with was cultivated by people and bears no resemblance to the “wild” banana). Or I’d ask things by positing a basic example such as, if you do the basic math for the story of Noah’s Ark, if taken literally and the world was flooded, that volume of water could *not* disappear into the planet, it wouldn’t go into space, so where it is it? The answer was inevitably either God made it *poof* go away or the story wasn’t meant to be taken literally (I found that whenever a story seemed too far fetched when backed up with numbers or logic, it became some kind of non-literal story meant to illustrate a point, not the literal story it originally was supposed to be).

    I’d get responses that rang of cognitive dissonance…”Big Bang? Everything came from nothing!? That’s ridiculous!” (which isn’t the actual theory behind the Big Bang, but hey…) “But you believe in a God that came from…?” “Well, God just always existed!” So the mistaken belief that the big bang means everything came from nothing is ridiculous, but a God that created man in His image and has no beginning or end is fine…

    I would ask how it is that so many of His followers cherry pick and reinterpret the Bible to fit their wants and wishes, to give themselves comfort as they see fit, and things that make them uncomfortable somehow get cast aside when it’s convenient. Most never seem to have an answer for it, as if they don’t see it in themselves (but they often seem to find it in others, especially in other sects and other churches).

    I would ask what kind of a father, as He is most often related in church to the congregation as being, would set up a circumstance where you are free to act as you will, free to do what you want, free to have choice. But if you exercise that choice, you are condemned forever to a burning pit of flame. If you don’t follow these vague interpretations as re-interpreted by your pastor for you to the letter, Dad is going to punish you with eternal pain and suffering. Seems pretty definitive at that point. You die, all the answers are given to you. But in life, where you have to make these decisions, Dad won’t even come and talk to you except through vague events that you’re supposed to interpret as meaning something, or some vague feeling you get when you’re in a good mood. My parents never did anything like that. Put me in a room with a few toys or a puzzle, no instructions, but plenty of warning that if I do something wrong I’m going to be punished forever? What kind of parent does that? But God apparently doesn’t have time to come down and correct you or appear to you (unless you already believe in him) until after the judgment time, at which point if you didn’t do what he wanted already you’re essentially screwed? Are you telling me that God can’t be bothered to come down and “correct” you himself, but once you’re dead He has plenty of time to dole out punishments personally? It makes no reasonable sense to me.

    I’ve come to realize that people will believe what they want to believe and that’s all there is to it. Faith is faith because there is no reason for it. If there was empirical evidence to support a religious view it would cease to be religion, it would be science. People want faith because sometimes it’s easier to see the world in simpler terms, in having magic, and it makes it a lot easier to cope with bad things by putting responsibility into the hands of a higher power than to face the possibility that sometimes that’s just the way the odds go, and sometimes things do just happen that are bad. People would rather see their fortunes rise and fall for a reason, and shoving it off on a God or demon is easier to handle problems, and religion is wonderfully pliable for bending to our own purposes when it suits us (how else can a group of people look at the same book that is supposed to be the holy word of an ultimate deity, dictating how we should live our lives and take responsibility for our eternal souls, and have so many interpretations of something as basic as whether or not God is against homosexuality?)

    Would I talk to my pastor or another pastor? If they wanted to, I suppose. I’ve simply run across too many of God’s followers to believe He exists. I’ve run across too many answers that amounted to, “You should believe just because.” I understand that I don’t have the answers, but to believe in something that has no reason to it other than it’s a comfort? I can’t do it.

  12. hatch bailey says:

    sure, i’d talk to my pastor about that if i had those feelings. if i can’t talk to my pastor, who can i talk to?! i think a lot of people think they’re bothering the pastor, because they usually meet by appointment and the pastor may run late – then start by talking about how busy he/she is, so these people feel rushed and that other people have bigger probs. i prefer to talk over lunch.

  13. (Anonymous) says:

    Beng an Old Worn Out Pastor, I have neither a regular church nor a pastor of my own nor a community that I have had in years gone by.
    In any case, I know that one needs to be ever-so selective in choosing someone to talk to about genuinely important life-issue, whci “loss of faith” can be. Guides do not abound.
    However, perhaps we speak of loss of “faith” when what we really mean to describe is a lost confidence in a particular religious institution’s dogma, doctrine, and practices. Reliance on, or endorsing, those can strain one’s ability to “believe” in the face of advancing scholarship and science. If that is ‘faith’, it is easy to lose.
    It seems to me that “faith” has to do singularly with ones own relationship to Creation, however one names that, perhaps ‘God’. So, reliance, meaning becoming vulnerable, on a pastor who somehow reflects to me what seems to be a rich,rewarding relationship with God can happen. Love shows.
    While I havent personally run across very many of such ministers, there have been a few. There are now in my life perhaps a half-dozen with whom I feel utterly loved and so, safe.
    Safe enough to “Spill the beans” about whatever mattersof “faith” unsettle me.
    (For starters, try “fundamentalism”, the church’s arch-conservatism, its attention to itself and its own power,
    the virgin birth, the place of women in the church, the Atonement, literalism, Death, and Life Thereafter? etc etc.)

    Im blessed, I think.

  14. Doubters Anonymous says:

    Yes, I have approached my pastor quite recently to discuss the matter of my loss of faith. I did it because I felt that it would help me make some progress to talk with him about my thoughts, and because my wife encouraged me to. I also confessed in order to dispel some of the terrible fear that I’ve experienced having suddenly arrived at this lonely place of doubt after almost 40 years of faith. Saying out loud the words “I don’t think I believe anymore,” and not having my doubts be treated as trite, or being outright rejected, by my pastor has helped me to move forward. Not necessarily to belief again, but no longer so trapped in the loneliness of my doubt.

    I wish there were more places in church communities where folks could talk about their doubts – their current doubts, not just the period that they went through some years back that made their faith stronger. Lately I’ve been thinking that Doubt is a very real and integral step in the Dance of Faith, but too often churches don’t honor it as such. I wish for a place where, in the context of a community of faith, people could come to confess and honor their doubts without being prescribed a ‘fix’ by the fortunate ones who are most certain of their faith (and are most likely fictional creatures, if we are honest). A Doubters Anonymous, if you will. Maybe the church isn’t the right place for something like that, but I sure would like it to be.

  15. Pingback: A Way Back to Soul – Part 2 « Practical Spirituality

  16. Angela says:

    Well I seem to be joining this party quite late. 🙂 But I think it is an absolutely fascinating and discussion-worthy topic and will happily offer my two cents and eagerly read the comments of others!

    It might seem from this post that I am a bit of a curiosity since my own “loss of faith” came about on its own and my deep depression, anger, and sadness actually resulted FROM that realization, the implications it posed about my entire life up to that point as well as my future, and the consequences it would have on some of my closest and most intimate relationships. However, I do not really think that is out of the ordinary at all and likely happens to many individuals quite often, as does the opposite sequence of initial depression resulting in loss of faith.

    In answer to the questions proposed by Wes, I would most definitely approach a pastor, a “Professional-God-Follower,” and really anyone else who had thoughtful contributions to offer on the subject and have in fact done so on many occasions (including my own brother who is a wonderfully thoughtful, intelligent, understanding and trustworthy minister). I take GREAT childish delight in hearing differing perspectives on the topic of religion or spirituality or the lack thereof! It is almost always wonderful to discover what someone else’s journey through this mess of religion and belief has been (though it can get rather frustrating talking to the same person several times, or many people who are of almost identical mindset on the subject as you hear the same arguments and reasoning over and over again and run into a lot of the same roadblocks that people are not willing to venture beyond).

    So there you have the “would I’ and the “why,” though I will readily admit it has not always been this way and has ONLY come about through my rejection of “religion” and renewed sense of childlike curiosity and joy of discovery. In my younger fundamentalist Southern Baptist days, I can tell you I was nowhere near excited to hear about differing views and actually vehemently disliked it. I did not enjoy speaking to the devoutly religious about doubts or faith loss because there seemed to be a lot of evasive, mystic, kitschy answers that were in reality not answers at all but merely a way to avoid the question and implore you to wait, or rely on blind and irrational “faith,” which provided no satisfaction at all though I tried for many many years. OR in contrast, the devoutly religious would basically reprimand you for your lack of faith and “trust” in God, which was also not particularly helpful when that is the exact problem you’re facing. I also did not like sharing my doubts with the non-religious because a lot of them at the time seemed to either be very angry and embittered about religion or they provided such rationally sound arguments that directly contradicted what I had been led to believe my entire life and I was not at that point ready to deny the religion my ENTIRE family and all of my friends adhered to. Thus, those kinds of discussions endlessly frustrated me and left me feeling angry, defeated, and having made no progress in my plight (though there WAS progress, it just wasn’t in the direction I was initially hoping for).

    HOWEVER! I am MOST pleased to say that since abandoning “religion” and the belief in any sort of god, I genuinely and wholeheartedly feel that I have FINALLY begun to find something much closer to truth, peace, a sense of belonging, a better understanding of my role and place in the world, and a more realistic view on and experience of happiness. I think I have improved leaps and bounds as a person and finally come to more complete understandings of what real, true, actual love really is, what morality is, genuine kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, and charity (without obligation, self-righteous personal satisfaction, or misguided obedience). Having gone through the heartbreak, the intense feelings of betrayal and being “lied to” by the people I loved most for my entire childhood and life (though I understand now that from their perspective, they were not trying to lie at all), the feeling that everything I had EVER known had been wrong, complete falsehoods, and feeling like I now knew NOTHING about the world or humanity and was at such a complete loss on life in general as an adult, I can tell you the transition was certainly difficult for me. I have heard from many others that the same journey for them was exciting, enlightening, and very liberating. While I have gotten to that wonderful point in my life now, and will explain more in following comments on the appropriate Parts of this series (to save your eyeballs from this becoming an even LONGER post…heh), my journey was definitely an arduous one that I am actually thankful for in hindsight as it was quite possibly necessary in order for me to gain the renewed hope, sense of awe, ability to recognize the beauty and truth of what is actually real, and learn to appreciate the world, people, and reality for what they really, truly, and actually ARE.

    (I also completely sympathize with Bart’s quest for logic, reason, and rationality mentioned in his comment and particularly appreciated your mention of the original wild banana! :D)

    Anyway, I sincerely do hope I do not offend any of you with my thoughts but rather am anxious to discuss and “muddle,” as Wes would say, through these convoluted topics with you all!

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