What does a faith crisis feel like? What does a spiritual death feel like? What emotions did I have? A look at the anger, confusion, deep pain, and trust issues I had from 2008 until 2013. Next week I am writing about all the questions that drove me, and the doubts which overtook me.
“Are you cheated
Are you hurting now?
How I wish that I could tell
Where your heart’s at
Can you see
Mine has found… home”
You Are Loved – Rebecca St. James
“Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.”
Susan L Taylor
How does one describe the emotions of a faith crisis? How does one articulate the pain, confusion, and the terror? When spiritually one descends into darkness and the faith they have implodes what does that feel like emotionally? There are ways to describe it and yet I could pour out my heart and soul and barely scratch the surface in trying to describe it. There were a lot of emotions that tore me apart as the faith crisis started, developed, deepened and as things fell apart. One of the difficult feelings I have had to contend with is that some people just are not going to understand. Some of the most insenstitive individuals will tell me that if I had true faith I never would have fallen away, or I never would experienced doubts. Such teaching or thinking is poison. And in the current evangelical climate many people such as Peter, Thomas, Elijah and Moses would have been driven out for airing their doubts. And yet I have slowly come to the conclusion that my faith crisis was a gift, a gem that helped me go deeper. Yes I went kicking and screaming. Yes I fought and resisted, but in the end it gave me a more secure, deeper foundation on which to lean my faith upon. Many evangelical Christians will break a sweat in thinking about the problem of evil. After all that I went through, I can head to a Bible study today and listen to Christopher Hitchens on the way and be at peace with the Lord and know what I believe, and why. I don’t have everything all perfectly figured out, there are some things I realized I will never get an answer to. So I think this faith crisis was necessary and needed. The Lord gave me this time to work things out, and I am fortunate that things worked out. So with that said let’s look at the feelings or emotions that I had during the differing stages of my faith crisis.
One of the early feelings that I had was that of confusion. I was confused and here’s why. I had been taught much in evangelicalism, and I accepted it as truth. There are a lot of cultural teachings that are just plain false. For example you can be moral, live a moral life and still deal with the issue of pain and suffering. You could pour your heart into raising your child and shower them with love, and your child could still get mixed up in he wrong crowd and become addicted to drugs. It happens. I became confused becuase the bubble I was in was popping and the beliefs and teaching I had were not working. They left me confused and asking more questions. I remember sitting in a Men’s Bible study at National Community Church and just asking questions early on and people getting back to me not knowing what to say. Or telling me that I was confused, and my questions were making it worse. I felt confused to the point that I didn’t know what was true and what was opinion. It felt overwhelming.
As the faith crisis developed I started to feel like something within me was dying. It felt like I was experiencing a death, or something close to it. The more I resisted and the harder I fought the more that increased the feeling. I remember nights when I laid in my bed and it felt like something was leaving my body. Like something was dying and physically leaving me. This is the best way I can describe it. When I laid in bed at times there were a few times I wept in pain over this feeling of loss. I don’t know how to describe it journal I was experiencing a feeling of personal loss. Were my tears and pain a sign of mourning? Was this indicative of a Dark Night of the Soul? I don’t know…it was a dark, dark season that I descended into. And as I type this I want to be clear that this all felt spiritual. I’m not speaking of a physical or manic depression. I believe the two are different. It felt like my spiritual side of me was experiencing a death. That’s the best way I can describe it.
- Anger at other Christians. Why weren’t they dealing with this doubt? Why was I being crushed by it? Why and how could they go on and practice their faith in the midst of deep theological problems or questions? I tried raising these issues to some people and they looked at me like I lost it or they appeared to be afraid at the questions I asked. So it became a cycle of anger. I didn’t want to be where I was at, and yet I had no way out. I directed some of my anger at those who just seemed to go on and have no problems.
- Anger at the church. I became angry at evangelicalism in the sense that they didn’t know how to deal with, or engage my questions. Surely I thought a pastor or ministry leader is trained to deal with the problem of evil? Nope…not true. Why can’t they articulate or explain these issues like the problem of evil? So I became deeply angry at “the church” and its inability to take on these issues.
- Anger at myself. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I had done all I was taught to do, and look at me? I was becoming undone? How could that happen? What did I do wrong? What did I believe wrong? Why, why, why? There is a corner in my condo in the DC area that has a blood stain. That’s where I banged my head against the wall for years. But I often was angry at myself because none of this was supposed to happen.
- While I lost my faith I also turned my rage at God. There were times I had pure unadulterated rage. I remember one time in my condo at the top of my lungs I screamed obscenities at God. You name it….every four letter word in the book, and I wanted to mock, bait, and damn him all at the same time. Today I wonder what my neighbors next door and below thought of me when they heard a guy in his 30’s screaming at the top of his lungs. Why didn’t I get a noise ordinance violation? As I type this its good that you can’t see my embarrassment.
Against all this I was consumed by this intense feeling of betrayal. And it drove my anger. The betrayal feeling I had was of the following: I had done all that I was supposed to do. I did the programs, the Bible studies, quiet times, prayers, etc…and still it didn’t work. I bought into something that backfired in a horrific way. The feeling of betrayal was so severe that I felt numb and simultaneously full of rage. What do you do when the faith you are taught backfires and you are left holding the bag? What do you do when all you were taught just doesn’t work. This was all linked to my anger and my anger was directed at both “God”, and like I said above the church, and those who defended the status quo and said or hinted that the issue was me. That I didn’t follow the script or pray enough? Or read the Bible enough? The unique thing that happened is during this time when it was all slipping away the more I tried some of that the more it intensified the faith crisis. In the end and as I reflect on this today I realize that there was absolutely nothing I could do to prevent this or control it. It was going to happen. And because of this I believe that everyone will experience some kind of faith crisis in their lifetime. It will happen in their own way, with their own issues.
The feelings I had during this time led to an issue of trust and a credibility gap with many Christians. Who do I trust? Who can I seek advice from? What made this so unique (and hence the feelings of betrayal) is that I was now the outsider. Prior to all this I was the faithful church attender, Bible study person, Crusade attender years prior, etc… I was deeply involved and it was all taken away from me. Now I was on the outside looking in. I was the stranger, the odd man out. I was the one asking myself…”How did I get here?” It was so awkward and unthinkable. The trust I once had was lost and I didn’t trust the people who were in the evangelical system. I became weary, cynical, suspicious and deeply skeptical. I didn’t see them as being helpful to where there were out and helping me figure a way forward. I saw them as a barrier, annoying, and making the faith crisis worse. This I think is why I recoiled in such a violent (spiritually. NOT physical) fashion. I didn’t trust evangelical Christians and I wanted to pull away from them. The credibility just wasn’t there…it became especially revealing because it was during this time that I realized how absent love is from much of evangelical Christianity. And against all this I had this schizophrenic approach to questions. The questions slammed me and came down on me almost like a concrete cinder block on a Styrofoam cup. I felt like I was crushed in a short amount of time. Next week I want to look into the questions that so overwhelmed me, and break them down. (Man there is so much I want to write about the problem of evil….if only there were 40 hours in a day!) But what happened is that I went from one question to the next, then to another, and worked my way around. It was like the chair was kicked out from under me, and I was in this free fall. I had this feeling of being frantic. The questions during my faith crisis controlled me. There was no way out…the questions defined me. It was intimidating. How did a go from a guy who never thought anything about the problem of evil in 2005 to 2007 to being hammered by it in 2009? How did I suddenly become sensitive to every act of evil that I saw on the news, heard on the radio? How did I get to the point that I could AND did physically scream at God and ask why? It was just how it was, and I realize that there are no such things as easy answers as I dissect all these thoughts and feelings.
The last emotion I had is that it was painful. This will be hard to convey because there are no words, or way I can put into words how painful the years from 2009 until 2013 were. Was this a spiritual equivalent of passing a kidney stone? Was this the spiritual equivalent of having a heart attack? I am not talking physically, I am talking spiritually. As I passed through this period my spiritual side heaved in pain to where it needed comfort, and grace. And yet it wasn’t there. This was a journey I had to pass through, and walk it mostly alone. But the company of fellowship of Scott Van Swernigen, James Crestwood, Danny Risch, Dee Parsons, and Andrew White (early on prior to the May 8, 2013 betrayal) was a relief. Though at the time I had a hard time saying that and was split into so many differing emotions. But my faith crisis was so painful that it was dark. I remember a couple of times where I tried to pray and it emotionally hurt to even try. My soul felt like it was dragged along the asphalt and was bloody and bruised.
Let me say in closing I have mixed feelings about Christian music. There is some stuff I like and listen to and find it pleasurable. And yet there is other Christian music that will leave my hugging the porcelain god begging in mercy for it to stop. I won’t say which ones do that to me, but in time you may figure some of it out. That said I would like to close with this Rebecca St. James song called “You are Loved.” The other day it dawned upon me that the background for this song was of someone she knew in Australia who had a major faith crisis, trauma, experience that led to them walking away. I listened to it the other day and I liked it and looked up the lyrics. I nodded my head as I listened to this having been there. Next week I will write in detail about the doubts I had to include the problem of evil, Old Testament genocide, and issues such as evangelical corruption and pedophilia which I believe are major issues and with which evangelicalism is struggling with.