Repackaging Your Faith

October 08, 2021

A BUBBLE

You were born within a bubble, fiercely protected by doctrine, scripture, truth. Safety reigned. Trusted authorities handed you a tidy list of inspired methods to make your path straight. You internalized all advice, never questioning, as you carefully crafted your identity on a solid foundation within the sacred walls of your church and home. As you grew older, you fought hard to protect that identity by staying the course. The echoes from your teachers and parents were a constant reminder that you were secure here, that all the answers you would ever need could be found within your bubble. Things were simple, black/white, right/wrong. I know who I am. You had no qualms, questions or fears. Keep going to church. Wear modest clothing. Stay away from alcohol. Make good friends, say your prayers, be the light. You took pride in your faithfulness. All the formulas and checklists served you well. This was how to make God love you, you knew. This was what life was all about.

THE EDGES

As you approached and surpassed early adulthood, your views shifted. You started having questions. They didn’t scare you because you were told this would probably happen. Understanding the deeper doctrine was your new quest, since you were beginning to realize that life wasn’t as simple as you once thought. Your parents and leaders still provided a safety net, but you danced on the edge a bit, feeling entitled to your self-exploration and expanding spirituality. You were fully aware that the bubble was always within reach, so you basked in your independence; you felt brave and powerful. Look at me, world. Your newfound freedom tasted glorious. Leaders and teachers told you your doubts were nothing to fear, but they still supplied you with those basic Sunday School answers and warned you of what was lurking just outside your “good intentions.” The world out there is dark and scary and will swallow you whole. Hold tight, stay true.

SOLID GROUND

You survived those doubts like a champ and came into who you always thought you would be in your faith. Back to solid ground, the bubble expanded. Your parents wiped the sweat off their brows and smiled like they were never secretly holding their breath. As you sailed through your 20’s, everything distracted you from thinking too hard or too much: marriage, jobs, kids, hobbies. Nothing could deter you from your restored certainty even if it wanted to; you were way too busy to entertain new ideas or uncertainty of any kind. What was there to question? You settled into life, relying on your faith to fill you up when your weekly responsibilities managed to deplete you. This is a good place to be, you would think. Comfort and complacency were your companions. Self-righteousness was a pretty solid pal of yours, too.

FREE-FALL

And then…you hit your mid-thirties.

Suddenly you were somewhere unrecognizable. It was startlingly cold, dark, lonely. The ground that had been solid crumbled beneath you, leaving you to free-fall into what felt like a vast nothingness. That protective bubble you once felt so safe in evaporated, each and every last remnant disintegrating into thin air.

Without warning you found yourself sitting with complicated questions and massive doubts that kept you up at night. You felt attacked by frustrations and resentments that had never bothered you before. You didn’t know what to do with all of these unfamiliar ideas, so you started to read, listen, seek out others on a similar path. There were other “nuanced” believers out there, but like you, they seemed to stay in the shadows, seeking solidarity in places hard to find. You learned quickly that challenging the status quo is not welcome; people will pour their fear and judgment all over you the second you become vulnerable. Is she going to leave the church? It looks like Satan got a hold. It wasn’t hard to see that there wouldn’t be a place for you here. You knew you weren’t trying to swing the pendulum to the opposite end, abandoning everything you worked so hard to build, but you also understood that things would never be the same, as each and every day you tried to reconcile your past with your future. Where was your table? Who would pull out a chair for you?

At this point, the only thing you knew for certain was that you didn’t know how to trust yourself. All these doubts and fears wouldn’t scare you so much if you knew they didn’t scare others. Asking questions in a changing world seemed natural and normal to you, yet you tried so hard to stuff them down because you didn’t want to be seen as radical or worse, difficult. All you could think was why had your eyes suddenly been opened with no warning? Why had nobody prepared you for this? How will you move out of this place and back into the warm, safe surety? But deep down you knew: once you think these things, you can’t UNthink them. A new, more powerful kind of doubt was here to stay.

A NEW SPIRITUAL RHYTHM

So with the help of time and prayer, you made a conscious decision to not be afraid.

And now here you are.

When feelings bubble to the surface, you do your best to welcome them. You ask them: what can you teach me? What will you reveal? You won’t pretend to be okay with stagnancy. Each day a new thought enters, another wrestle transpires. It takes intention to stay curious and not run away; you are learning to embrace this new spiritual rhythm. You learn that doubt and faith can coexist.

And slowly, you are learning to trust. You don’t pretend to be some noble warrior going at it alone. You are grateful that God has blessed you with a couple close friends who embrace ambiguity and exploration, sisters who feel empowered to ask questions right along with you, an amazing podcast with hosts who aren’t afraid to use words like “patriarchy” and “feminism”, books about doubt being normal and healthy, a departed friend whose presence and guidance you feel consistently. Despite what “the more faithful” tell you, you know you’re not on a journey to leave; you’re on a journey to stay. You hear God whisper I trust you, so trust yourself.

You have accepted that wading through the trenches is the price you must pay to stay true to your soul.

You could ignore and pretend none of it is real…

You could also leave it all in the dust…

But no. You make the choice to sit with it all. You must do the work by knocking down what is left of the once-solid walls and start anew. For so long you have relied on people with authority to tell you what to believe and how to earn God’s unconditional love. No wonder this journey is lonely.

Even though It’s a faith deconstruction, you are fully aware it’s not the end. Because you realize that doubt’s not a dead-end; it’s a doorway. Doubt opens you up to something higher and holier. Your evolved self knows that the opposite of faith is not fear; it is certainty. The inevitable consequence of clinging too tightly is that eventually, your hands will get tired and slip. Ah, hindsight.

But, you also know that if approached with TLC, a new journey may be exactly what your soul has been longing for. It’s all part of your life path. People may utter their quiet concern, but you know that with help from the universe, you can learn to trust the process and repackage your faith. After all, it’s your journey, not theirs.

FAITH EVOLVED

In the quiet of your heart you mourn the loss of certainty but feel grateful for your solid beginnings and the caring individuals that brought you here. Here is not a bad place; you know this now. You decided early on that resentment is not for you; a sore that festers will only leave you in pain, bitter. So you choose to stay grateful and open. You welcome the freedom that awaits.

Going forward, you are neither comfortable nor afraid. But you are curious, always curious. You know that whatever gets dismantled will be rebuilt into something more beautiful and true: earned faith…personal faith. You have invited your complicated questions and massive doubts to accompany you in your process of staying. Your foundation may feel a little wobblier than before, but with the help of a shifted perspective, you no longer crave stability. Life’s not that simple, and you’re finally okay in knowing that.

Your faith is much more evolved, yet somehow simpler. It whispers: Breathe. Pray. Trust. Repeat.

And for the first time maybe ever, you trust yourself.

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