Continuing a discussion on how to engage or deal with someone in a faith crisis. Drawing upon my experience of rejecting Christianity for 5 years in my thirties. In this post I am going to explore how uncomfortable it will become for the person wanting to help a person out in their faith crisis. Evangelicals are ill prepared to interact with atheists, and those who have walked away. This post stresses the fact that evangelicals need to learn how to become uncomfortable if they are going to be able to discuss with those outside the faith.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins
Isaiah 40:1-2 NIV
Again I am about half way discussing how to respond and deal with someone you know deep in a faith crisis. This is based upon my experience of pushing back from Christianity from 2009 until 2013. Honestly I never expected to be a Christian again…I just didn’t. So I have been spending Fridays writing about the ways a person can reach out to someone in a faith crisis. Last week I spoke about the importance of being open with your doubts. I pointed out what Andrew White and Scott Van Sweringen did which was quite courageous of both of them. Today I am going to address another issue that I believe needs to be addressed. That issue is for the person reaching out to the individual in a faith crisis will be uncomfortable and they will need to get used to being uncomfortable for the duration. Let me write about this below.
There are no easy answers to a faith crisis and for many people it will be a challenge. Evangelical Christians live, rise, inhale and thrive on formulas and rules. There are rules on how to raise your kid, there are formulas to create a solid marriage, and there are plans for how to stay sexually pure. Evangelicals live and often die by rules. Well when it comes to a faith crisis…all that goes out the window. The rules you know, everything that you were taught will be useless for someone in a faith crisis. Those formulas you know…even unconsciously…they will backfire. How will you be challenged? Here are some exmaples:
- You will be asked questions about issues you don’t know the answer.
- You will be asked questions about issues in theology that intimidate you, and you will be frightened to discuss.
- You thought you were firm in your faith until you saw a close friend, loved on, or family member walk away. Now everything has been turned upside down and you are frightened.
- You are doing what the church teaches you to do and yet it is not working.
- You thought after a certain period of time you would be in a different place.
- You are being challenged in ways you didn’t think possible.
- There were a couple of fights that were unsettling to you, you have never had this kind of conflict before and you don’t know what to do.
- The person you love is very argumentative and loves to mock, bait, and tear down your faith or others. What do you do?
- The person in the faith crisis knows the Bible well and can answer your questions and you are stunned. You never saw the Bible be used to question or tear down faith or the Bible. What do you do? .
There are times in life where I believe the best response is to have no response. Many evangelicals I believe act like Job’s friends and rub salt into the wound. There are times where there are no answers and you don’t know what to do. Its uncomfortable…lets be honest a faith crisis is uncomfortable. Its uncomfortable for everyone involved. I think what makes it worse is that many evangelicals live in an isolated environment. They function in bubbles with similar like minded people and have little interaction with those outside their bubble. I’m not trying to tear them down…I’m trying to be practical. There are a lot of things people don’t want to hear about because they are to disturbing. Those things are issues like child sex abuse, doubt, long term suffering as in someone dealing with cancer for a prolonged amount of time, domestic abuse, and spiritual abuse. I think a faith crisis goes right in that category because people don’t want to hear about someone who was overcome with doubt and walked away. They are often treated as if they have the plague. This I would suggest is what makes faith crisis difficult. What would be ideal is if Christians could create an environment where people would be able to doubt within the church. If they could have their faith crisis internal….can that be possible?
How I Saw Others be Uncomfortable Around Me
There were many people around me who were uncomfortable during my faith crisis. The biggest person who was uncomfortable was me. The rug was pulled out from me and I lost my sense of bearings. I was afraid, frightened and my world was upside down. Others around me acted in an uncomfortable way at times, let me illustrate. I recall when James Crestwood was in Kenya and we had some sharp email exchanges. It was when things were imploding. I recall him sending me an email in which he implored “BROTHER!!!” and I could tell I pushed his buttons because I never saw him respond in that way. James explained to me though that while he didn’t have the answers he wanted to hang out with me and stay close. I was surprised and while I tried chasing him away and ending the relationship at one point he was clear that he was not walking away from me. That must have been uncomfortable for him. I remember when I was working with Scott Van Sweringen in Kansas City and he sent me an email early on in frustration. I could tell he was frustrated, and that I pushed his buttons as well at one point. Despite that he organized himself and pursued the relationship and found other ways to relate to me. In that sense the relationship had many differing rest points which is what made it work in the end. I recall in January 2013 having landed at Reagan National Airport and waiting in the luggage area for my suitcase and getting an email from him that basically asked, “where are these conversations going?” He expressed his concern and wondered if it was wise to have these conversations as he didn’t want to drive me further away, especially if I was getting angry. In the end he held on, there were a couple of times he was uncomfortable yet Scott persevered. When it came to Andrew White I was surprised in many ways as he started out calm and yet I think he felt responsible for my salvation. I remember this text message from him late on a Friday night in which he begged for me to come to his church Redeemer Arlington. I never saw such despair in a text message before. I think he felt responsible for me spiritually and honestly was trying to help. I’m not doubting his motives as I write this. That said the difference between Andrew, Scott and James is that Scott and James didn’t take my push back personally. They thought of everything I believe in the big picture. Andrew could not, and when I hammered him he started to get angry which is part of the reason why I think May 8, 2013 happened in my life.
If evangelical Christians are going to be effective they need to change in this area. Too much of Christianity is based and centered around comfort. I honestly wonder if that is why its so ugly at times. Too often Christians avoid dirty, murky, and difficult situations in life when the situation is too challenging or overwhelming. A faith crisis is hard. For me it was difficult especially as I shifted back and forth between intellectual freedom and stimulation; then I would be overwhelmed with doubts that were so emotionally painful that they hurt. A faith crisis can be intense. While I write about a faith crisis being uncomfortable I also write this with the understanding of how a person should engage in the process. But there are going to be times that this process is going to be uncomfortable …that said the most honorable thing a person can do is engage in love and keep walking with the person. The beautiful thing is that if you press on and press through your discomfort and in time things come around…think of what you can claim. Think of what you will have been a part of! You will have walked with someone and seen them eventually come back to the Christian faith. Think of how rich and personally rewarding that can be, especially if you had a hand to play. I think that is part of the personal satisfaction that Dee Parsons, James Crestwood and Scott Van Sweringen have in my situation. And does that mean that a person will come back to the Christian faith? No…if a person chooses to walk away permanently they should likewise be treated with love and deep affection. No strings attached, no personal motivation….just loved for who they are. Next Friday I a going to touch on the topic of when you think its going no where, or you think its not working. I want to talk about why a person should not quit from the person, and not walk away from someone in their faith crisis.