People often come to me when they are in the throes of spiritual crisis; when the doubts and the questions and the conflicting voices have finally overwhelmed them. I know that place well.
There is a suffocating panic that often comes when we are forced to confront the disorienting truth that we may no longer believe the things we’ve always believed or be sure of what we’ve always been sure of.
When our circumstances or our experiences or our own inner condition cause the fault lines of our faith to be disturbed, nothing is spared. Our once fixed, immoveable ideas about God and prayer and love and life and death and religion and Hell all become dislodged and unstable, each sending massive shock waves into the other.
We are soundly shaken.
In those terrifying moments we strain desperately for bedrock, for answers that will bring immediate peace and stop the tremors. We turn to pastors and the Bible and authors and therapists and friends (and yes to God as well), and yet the more voices we invite into the conversation, the louder the inner dissonance grows, the greater the internal chaos becomes, the more turbulent we become.
We ask questions and we question our answers, we question our ability to decode those answers correctly, and then we question our initial questions. We doubt and have guilt for the doubting and feel sadness at our lack of faith and develop bitterness toward a God (we may or may not believe in) who seems silent through it all. We look for signs, and at times think we see them in everything and other times, in nothing.
And when all of this happens, we eventually come to wonder if we’re losing our faith or losing our minds—or both.
As someone who for decades has battled depression and anxiety while simultaneously trying to navigate the deepest of existential quandaries, I understand well the toxic cocktail of mental illness and spiritual pursuit; how the combination of emotional instability and faith crisis can be almost too much to bear.
In fact, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to admit to myself and to others, has been that my deepening faith journey has been accompanied by ever greater bouts of inner turmoil. While the road seeking after God certainly has certainly yielded moments of indescribable peace and rest for my soul, these have invariably been interrupted by a sadness equally beyond words.
Many years ago a middle school girl was sharing her relatively new spirituality with me and she captured it succinctly. “Life was so much easier before I believed”, she said. “I didn’t question every little decision and didn’t analyze every single thing. It’s almost as if I was happier before I cared about God.” It was an honest confession of the tension many of us deny the longer we experience it.
That’s what so difficult about the spiritual journey; the duplicity of it all. When your faith is fully secure, prayer becomes the most intimate of conversations with someone you know well and love, but when in crisis it feels like talking to the ether; the nonsensical ramblings of a delusional madman. A belief in God which once filled you with such contentment, now makes you feel more than a little bit crazy.
I’m learning how to momentarily withdraw from spiritual striving for the sake of my sanity.
During those moments when things seem most chaotic, when I feel the most desperate for answers that simply refuse to come—I stop looking. As much as I am able, I temporarily give myself permission not to care. In those moments I am not abandoning God or faith, I am merely retreating until I feel strong enough to re-enter the fray of asking and wrestling and seeking and waiting.
I am finding that his act is in itself, the greatest of soul care.
Those times of voluntary surrender, strangely enough are often ones I look back on as the times of greatest peace and of deepest spiritual growth; the moments I rest in a truth that is beyond my understanding, outside of what my mind can grasp, and far greater than my inability to figure it all out. Suddenly I am well again.
When you think deeply and long passionately and seek earnestly in this life, you are bound to encounter profound unrest along the way. That’s how investing in anything works: the more you have at stake, the greater the risk.
As you seek to know the great mysteries of this life, there will be a cost, and in those times when you are filled with doubt and guilt and worry, be okay with both the questions that come and the emotional upheaval they bring. You are being stretched beyond what you are currently capable of understanding, and these are the soul’s growing pains. Trust that God is in this process.
If you are in the middle of a spiritual crisis, take heart.
You may not be losing your faith or your mind.
You may simply be shifting as you grow.