An ongoing discussion I keep stumbling into is how people are dealing with changes in their faith. Whether through a church transition, personal challenge, or a change in the direction of life, faith is continually growing and transitioning. These transitions are challenging because things that seemed secure are now more fluid. There are periods of calm, where it feels more settled, and moments where the foundations are shaking and we’re not sure which way to go. This can be a very lonely process when you don’t know if anyone else understands what you are feeling. It’s hard to struggle with how to explain your faith, to deal with the loss of friends, to feel alone and adrift, and to figure out new ways to connect.
One of the hardest transitions is to give the “elevator speech” version of your faith. The elevator speech is a phrase used when looking for a job, or promoting your new business, or even to summarize your testimony. It’s the 2-3 minute sales pitch. And it was something I could do with my faith quite easily. But now, it’s more complicated. There are nuances and understandings that just don’t lend themself to a tweet or a soundbite. In fact, attempting to explain my faith that way lends itself to misunderstanding and opens the door to assumptions. And so, that easy answer, that many church goers have perfected, is no longer an option. Often the closest I can come is to Love God with everything and Love your neighbor as yourself. But that is rooted in deep theology that isn’t represented fully in those words. You have to have context and understanding to flesh out something so simple and yet deeply meaningful.
And while I know I still subscribe to historical Christian faith, some of the people I love and care about no longer think of me that way. It’s strange to me how people can abandon others simply because their expression and experience of faith is different. But unfortunately, that is what happens sometimes. No longer able to accept a faith that doesn’t emphasize the same culture of purity and legalism, means that I seem to have become unclean. That may seem like a harsh assessment, but it probably feels the most true and honest. I have become unclean. Christ follower that I am, but not acceptable or safe. Strange, I think He would find that ironic.
Another part of this process is the loneliness. It’s just really hard to go through this when you feel like you’re alone. The truth is, I know I’m not. I have actually found many friends to walk this journey with. But we all feel alone. The evangelical subculture that dominated our formative narratives means that not only do we proceed on this journey but we do it with a whole bunch of legalistic messages about how wrong we are. It’s always harder to fight through a battle when you’re being attacked from multiple fronts. And this reality leaves us feeling alone, vulnerable, and wounded. Much like the man who had been wounded and left on the side of the road, I find that good people – my atheist friend Joe, the displaced pastors I’ve found, and the country-less missionaries – are the ones that come to my aid. People that believe differently than me are there are to help. People that themselves are searching, and hurting and wounded, offer aid out of their own wounds and experience. But those that have it all figured out only offer a hollow repentance back into the life that failed in the first place.As loneliness grows, there are only two ways out. One is to turn inward. This leads to searching and reading and moments of hopefulness mixed with despair. When left to oneself you can get overrun with anger, bitterness, and brokenness. We seek answers as they come. But I have found this to be extremely slow and only gives one perspective. However, when we let the other in, we find out we are not alone and that we are not the only ones going through this. There are others. Many others in fact, but you have to find them.
I have no idea how you would have done this many years ago. It was probably harder and required more vulnerability in a world not accustomed to questions. But I am sure people found each other to journey with. But now, if we are willing to look, there are lots of ways to connect.
Facebook offers lots of groups of seekers and questioners. For me, I found groups that are helpful through people I know that are also on the journey. That has been really helpful. Just watch out for trolls and ignore the haters. They are present. But so are people who want to have meaningful conversations about things that matter deeply.
Another tool that I’m just starting to use is MeetUp. This is a place where you can find groups of people with similar interests and connect with them at a coffee shop, event, book club, or discussion group. You can go to MeetUps with someone you know or ones with complete strangers. It is a little scary, but can open the door to some great discussions and friendships.
Another option is to look for groups that discuss faith in new settings. For instance, Pub Theology can be a great way to meet people that are going through a similar journey and trying to figure out how to move forward. And, you don’t have to drink if you don’t want to. But it’s an environment that allows people to connect openly and explore ideas together. I’ve also heard that Crossfit is a great place to make connections. As friendships develop, all areas of life come up and faith discussions can happen. I have a good friend who feels that these are some of the most solid relationships she has, including those in her faith community. So find a group that connects around something you love – knitting, running, woodworking, writing. Be present and be who you are. Be vulnerable and willing to talk about your journey. You never know who you might run into.
Changing faith can be a lonely business, but it is a common journey that many people are on. While evangelical narratives may diminish this reality, the truth is that people experience changes in their faith walk all the time. Part of the human endeavor is exploring what it means to believe in God, how to have a relationship with God, and how that influences the daily interactions in our lives. We are not alone in this. You don’t have to figure it out by yourself. And neither do I.