A Primer for those Struggling with Faith

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Image courtesy of Coralie Mercier, licensed under Creative Commons

One of my main goals as a teacher, counselor, pastor, and writer is to help people who are really feeling lost on the faith journey. At the bottom of this post you will find links to posts that I believe might be helpful to you if you have found yourself in that position of struggling to get, or hang on to, faith. And if that’s you, there are several other things I want you to know.

Struggling with Faith IS the Faith Journey

As a marriage counselor I tell premarital couples that they will not always feel about each other the way they feel now. Times of dryness and difficulty, and perhaps even great struggle, are part of the marriage journey. When couples don’t know this they get to those times and fear the relationship may be over. What we need for our faith life, in order to hang in there, is first and foremost the knowledge that the struggle itself is part of the journey and not a sign that we have wandered down some other path. In other words, you are okay.

You Can’t Go Back the Way You Came

There’s something about the journey of life, that we can rarely go back the way we came. If you used to be a person of deep faith, but lately have found yourself struggling to hang on, you can find faith again. But not where you left it lying before. You are growing and changing. You are learning more about yourself and the world, and you will need a new vision — a new understanding — of faith that allows for a God that is larger than the one you used to believe in. As you move through your struggle, and faith is again within reach for you, don’t try to make it just like what you believed before. Some of your old beliefs are going to have to go. Others will remain but in a different form. Others will present themselves to you as new truths and you will have to wrestle with them for a while. Jesus captured this struggle best:

Matthew 9:16-17 (MSG)
16 …”No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match.
17 And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.”

If you used to have deep faith but lately are really struggling with faith, it’s because your bottles are cracked. Your life experience (the contents of the bottle) got too big for the container it was in (your current worldview, including your understanding of God). As you struggle through your questions and difficulties, you will need to put these ideas into brand new bottles — a new way of understanding God and God’s activity in your life and in the world. The simple struggles with faith are always over the content of the bottles (whether or not we fully believe this or that doctrine about God.). The real struggles with faith are the ones that break our bottles and leave them in shards all around. The bottle couldn’t contain the amount of liquid in it anymore. So it’s futile to try to put that broken bottle back together again. But you can get a new and bigger bottle that will accommodate your new understanding and experiences perfectly.

As You Struggle to Choose Your Beliefs, Your Beliefs Are Choosing You

Evangelical Christians grow up believing that belief is simply a choice. But ironically, I can only believe that as long as I am not actually believing but merely assuming that what my parents, friends, teachers, or other authority figures believe is equally valid for me.  True belief is the result of your life experience, combined with whatever wisdom you have been able to glean from it, along with your best understanding of who God must be in light of it. You might say it this way:

Belief = Experience + Wisdom + Current Understanding of God

The less experience (and thus possible conclusions you could glean from it) you  have had, the less you can actually believe. You can only do what you are told, or (mis)take another person’s belief for your own. This is why the evangelical understandings of “believe and receive” is flawed. No one can come to true belief simply by being told to believe. And if you are struggling with faith, you know how true this is: after all, despite your sincere desire for faith, you have not even been able to order yourself to believe.

So, like I promised, below you will find a collection of posts that I hope can be helpful as you are on this difficult, but rewarding, journey — struggling with faith.

P is for Progress
Q is for Quest
O is for Orthodoxy
Magical or Mystical
I is for Inspiration
H is for Hell
The River
F is for Freedom
C is for Clarity
B is for Balance
Reading Scripture
Choose Life
Be the Change, prts. 1-5
How to Know  God (in 921 words)
Desperately Seeking My Soul
The Hopeless Believer
The Shadow
Openness
Love, or Correct Beliefs?
Things I Don’t Know
God and Me
On Changing
The Prayer of Faith
Dismissing Religion
The Shame That Drives Us
Goodbye to Moralism
The Almost-Gospel
I Think I’m Gonna Puke If…
Dumb-Shitness
Weakness
Can God Use People Who Don’t Serve Him?
The Church Stinks
The Only Thing You Need You Already Have
When Religion Kills
Making The Spiritual World Real
Count Me In With The Crooks and Whores
Growing Up
Become What You Believe

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Thanks … again. The joy comes in the journey, right? Received a reality slap today … a great opportunity to ask for forgiveness from someone I wronged. On and on it goes …

    • Not sure if there’s always joy in the journey itself, but certainly once we come to realize that the journey IS the place of growth and faith, there’s a certain joy and peace that comes from resting in that.

  • Lst11

    Thank you so much for this. I am also reading a small book called “Attributes of an Honest Seeker” by Mark Smith. It really echoes what you said here in that to be an honest seeker of the truth you have to be willing to redefine your faith as you gain new knowledge. Thank you for this. I am struggling with my faith as I navigate through postpartum anxiety and constant fears about death despite what I was “raised” to believe. I feel that although it is challenging and difficult, I am growing.