I used to get eyeroll headaches from the faith writing trope that goes like this: I used to go to religious gatherings and follow a religion, but I realized that I don’t like groups of people much and that it’s more convenient for me to think about God on my own, plus I like to hike…#spiritualnotreligious. My least favorite form of this writing is the burned out preacher/leader version that pretends that they got better at life by losing their faith.
Why do I not buy these narratives?
- Introverts get burned out. They didn’t invent the burnout, and avoiding religious groups isn’t really the cure. The cure is alone time.
- Of course everyone experiences God in nature! You’re supposed to, because God made the world.
- Faith was meant to get lost.
Today I’m going to talk about that third reason: Faith was meant to get lost, or rather, we’re supposed to lose sight of it as we grow. Part of growing is discarding the lesser goods that we used to make do when we were getting to where we could see better, know better, and do better.
If the kingdom of God is like a woman searching for one lost coin out of ten, our faith is like that, too. We sometimes have to search and clean and rearrange until we find what we have lost. That doesn’t mean that the treasure is taken from us, but that we know that the coin is there to be found and that it’s worth finding.
Sometimes we can’t find our faith because it grows past our expectations of it. We go back year after year looking for an acorn that has grown into a tree over our heads. Finding that tree is a reckoning, a recognition that God gives abundantly according to His nature, not in regard to how small-minded we can be.
You may think I’m making light of faith crises, which faith losers also didn’t invent by the way –they aren’t new or unique, nor do they make you special or smarter than everyone else– but hear me out. The American evangelical narrative of a conversion experience is wrong. We’re meant to have ongoing conversions. Part of that process is losing faith and (important!) finding it.
Why is it good and normal for us to become disillusioned with our faith? Because faith always seeks what is real. It’s the substance, the real stuff, of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. If you are believing in a beautiful fantasy, it’s good for you to stop. That way you can believe in the real stuff instead.
Let me tell you about hope. Hope is waiting. That’s not something we like to hear, but it’s something we need to hear, especially when we’re going through hard times. The biblical poetry goes, “Why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God,” and again, “I believe that I shall see the good of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait, my soul, on the Lord,” and again “My soul waits on the Lord.”
Hope is not only waiting. It’s waiting with an expectation that God is there.
Sometimes, maybe most of the time, we ignore God. Prayer is waiting on God until we hear Him listening, until we are listening for Him.
This listening makes all the difference in a faith crisis. If you believe that you will find something real, you train a lot more energy and attention on finding it, like a woman looking for a precious lost coin or a shepherd searching everywhere for a lost sheep.
If the challenge to faith is that someone in your family has a disability, you might be setting tests for faith that don’t have anything to do with the reality with God that you crave. Maybe you started looking for the acorn of total physical healing, but you are missing the tree of life growing over your head. Maybe you were looking for the coin but never moved over the furniture so the wheelchair could fit at the table. Maybe the coin is right there in front of you, behind the dusty icon you no longer see, behind the books too heavy to lift these days when you think there’s no use in trying to teach this one. Maybe you left it under a pile of hopes discarded like off-season clothes in a corner. Go and look for it. This discomfort is only the pressure of a new beginning.
This post is part of a new project I am starting on reclaiming the conversion experience from popular culture. Conversion has come to be understood as a marketing term instead of a spiritual one. People are being sold a bill of goods in many spheres of life, all to assuage their isolation and loneliness. But conversion is a normal part of a life of faith. Let’s reclaim it so that we can rejoice that if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed. Join the conversation in the comments.