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

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Staying Open, Choosing Life

Today I was thinking about all the different perspectives people bring to the world. Some people are happy and optimistic. Some are always negative. Some believe if they work hard they will eventually succeed. Others believe in fate — that life is already laid out for them and there’s nothing they can do to change it. I could go on and on, but I realized that ultimately there are really only two ways of being in the world. You are either open, or you are closed.

Open people, first and foremost, have shunned fear. Open  people have decided not to allow fear to be a factor in the way they live. When an open person is angry at someone, she has already decided to stop blaming other people for her emotions and for her life, and instead starts working on letting go of anger. When an open person experiences loss, she does not just immediately suck it up and move on. She allows it to be what it is. She is open to what it can teach her. (Of course she does not just descend into chronic self-pity either — this is actually a way of closing up to experience and getting stuck.) When an open person experiences joy, he does not allow himself to sink into depression because it cannot last forever, but remains in the moment and appreciates what is there. And perhaps most important, open people do not look to other people to norm their behavior for them. They do not say, “I think most people would be angry in my situation,” or “You’d have done the same thing if you were me” (notice how both of those statements focus on others instead of one’s own responsibility). Open people have decided who and how they want to be, and set out to become that person, whatever the challenges. As they continue on this journey, they learn there is really nothing to fear, no one to blame, and no reason to despair.

Closed people, of course, are the opposite. Closed people allow the majority to determine what is acceptable and what is not. If they are offended, they will say that since most people would be offended in their situation, it therefore does not need to be examined. They accept that their negativity and brokenness are “the norm” and fully expect to just continue being negative and broken.

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Truly transformational counseling, prt. 2

Today I want to give you the last five of ten questions and issues you may end up considering in counseling that is deeply transformational.

6. Where is God in the darkest, nastiest places in your life? We know God is with us, so wherever you are, God is there too. But what is God speaking to you in those places? Certainly those are the places that are rich with opportunity for growth, and for opening up to love and joy. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light!”

7. Where are you standing in your own way? Despite your sincere desire to grow and change, how are you actually preventing yourself from doing so? I promise you this is happening.

8. Hardest of all of these is looking deeply into what got you to where you are today. Usually there is immense grief and a lot of self-loathing associated with those things in people’s lives, and a lot of grieving may need to be done, under the guidance of someone who can keep reminding you that this is deeply spiritual work. Don’t freak it out by demanding that it be couched in a lot of scripture, and don’t be paranoid about it if it doesn’t seem “Christian” enough. Just keep asking yourself if it is leading you toward truth. Jesus, the Christian God, claimed to not only know truth, but to be the truth! Anything that is leading you towards truth is getting you closer to God. Relax and let it happen.

9. How is your relationship with God mirrored in your relationship with your spouse and children? This is useful because it helps to move God from abstract to concrete. We cannot love people differently than we love God, or vice versa.

10. Be assured that the promised land DOES exist, and it HAS been already given to you! But there are chains you will need to have removed if you are ever going to get there. That’s your work. God’s work is providing the land for you, and taking you there if you are willing to fight the battles, learn to listen carefully, and endure the dark days in the desert where you may often feel like going back to the way it was would be easier.

Question: Any stories about counseling that ended up transforming you in some ways that ended up hurting you or people you love? (We can’t assume all therapists are coming from a place that is helpful.)

O is for Orthodoxy

I am currently blogging, along with my daughter, all the way through the alphabet. Check out how the idea started, and get the rules here.

Don’t be afraid!  The word Orthodoxy probably scares a lot of people.  Orthodoxy is simply the state of holding right beliefs.

Sound in opinion or doctrine, especially in religious doctrine; hence, holding the Christian faith; believing the doctrines taught in the Scriptures; — opposed to heretical and heterodox; as, an orthodox Christian. [1913 Webster]

The older I get, and the further I go on my spiritual journey, the more this notion bothers me.  It is so obvious that it barely deserves mention, but I must mention this because billions of people are now living as if this is not true: there is no one, proven, universally acknowledged/understood/accepted way to live, believe, or understand holy scripture.

My leader and spiritual guide, Jesus, came to a people who thought they had all their theology down and showed them that their certainty was actually making it harder for them to see him for who he was and to hear him clearly.  The Christian religion sprung up, presumed to codify and clarify everything Jesus taught, declare that the Jews didn’t get it, and crown itself as the new group to which God had truly revealed himself.  Same ditch.  Other side of the road.  Proof?  The lives, behaviors, and practices of most people today who call themselves Christians.

This very certainty — this very sense that we get it, that we are the possessors of the correct understanding of God — surely must be as dangerous to us today as it was to the Jews 2000 years ago, or to anyone who presumes to have it all figured out.  This is the reason I do not engage people in theological debate on this blog.  It is not because I do not have my opinions on things and not because I do not know how to “defend” them.  It is because I reject the very assumptions upon which most of these debates are based — the ideas that a) the faith journey is primarily about rightness and wrongness of belief; b) someone else’s perspective on a Biblical issue can in some way “prove” that my perspective is incorrect (which is possible, of course, only if I accept and understand that person’s interpretation and assumptions upon which it is based); c) someone else gets to decide whether or not I “get it” and whether I’m really with God, based on their assumptions.  I don’t care to argue the details.  I’d love to argue the assumptions, but very few people are interested in doing anything with assumptions other than assuming them, taking them for granted, and then building elaborate systems of belief on them, precarious as they may be.  We can argue about details all day, but when we start dealing with the assumptions on which they are based, that’s where things start getting scary.

The state of theological debate in the Christian community reminds me of two lovers who stand yelling at one another, “I love you, dammit!”  “No, dammit, it is I who loves YOU.”  “No, I love you, dammit!”  “Ridiculous!  It is you who are loved by me, dammit!,” with each of them making lists of why their love should be self-evident to the other person and how they are therefore entitled to resent the other for not acknowledging/noticing their love more profoundly.  It is truly a ridiculous exercise and sure to lead to nothing but increasing hostility as each so loudly declares their “love” for the other.  Of course at some point one of the lovers says, “We should be arguing in love,” to which the other wholeheartedly agrees.  The furious debate commences now, only without use of the word “dammit,” as if it is merely the word and not the entire conversation that is without love.

What have you accepted as orthodox?  Who made that decision for you?

Where is God?

View Kyra’s O post

Is Jesus the only way to God?

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Image courtesy of biblevector, licensed under Creative Commons

Is Jesus the only way to God? Yes. Absolutely. But what does it mean to say this?

There are two ways of thinking about this question and they both hinge on one’s interpretation of John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me.”  Again, wonderful.  But what does it mean?

The traditional view is that it means only Christians will get to be with God in the next world (and in this one!).  Only Christians have come to Christ for forgiveness of sin and so everyone who is not a Christian will be eternally separated from God.  The problem with this is that even the Christians who hold this belief don’t actually believe it.  If I approach one of them and say, “What about those who have never heard of Jesus during their lives at all?” almost all of them will say, “God will judge them according to what they knew.”  Very few Christians are willing to say that everyone who ever lived before Jesus, along with all who will die without ever having heard of him will be separated eternally from God.  So they say there’s a loophole.  Apparently the death of Jesus will ultimately secure even some who never formally accepted him, because of God’s mercy and love.

Which leads to interpretation #2, which has not a lower but a higher view of Jesus. 

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