Am I Losing My Faith or Just Losing My Mind?

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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.

 

43 thoughts on “Am I Losing My Faith or Just Losing My Mind?

    • Thank you for this . . . I needed to see this today. I had been part of a church community for many years, and really enjoyed the fellowship. I was also a part of a bible study group and came to appreciate the ladies I shared this time with . . . until . . . I don’t remember what study we were doing but the subject of divorce came up (my husband was married before he met me) and they stated that the bible says that those that marry someone who has been married before is guilty of adultery (however not if the previous spouse was unfaithful). I was truly taken aback. I asked if they thought either myself or my husband had committed adultery? They hemmed and hawed and said that God would forgive us. WHAT??

      My daughter suffered from anorexia for many years and thankfully has recovered. I was told that her eating disorder has a huge spiritual component and that her behavior was a sin. I said, no, it’s a mental illness, not a choice.

      At that point, I had to walk away. I feel I am growing, but in a different way. I feel God is helping me be true to myself and not acting for the approval of others.

      I appreciate reading this today. Thank you so very much.

      • As a bible believing Christian who is also divorced I understand that God does allow divorce. The church does not fully understand this. And, yes, Anorexia is a disease like diabetes. Your daughter can not help herself and will need to battle this the rest of her life, just like a diabetic has to battle his diet/exercise. Her behavior is not a sin. I just wanted to affirm you that you are right on track. God Bless you in your faith journey

      • Nancy, I feel for you. I too walked away from church and those who, though they may not realize, are struggling themselves with what they believe is the truth. I was happier before I believed. Now I wonder if any of it is even real. Today I am at a crossroad. I struggle with the Bible now and all the religious hype. Though I am still trying to hold on to my faith, I wonder if my sanity is worth the hanging on. I admire your new walk with God, though I am beginning to wonder if He really exists.

  1. My great spiritual crisis came in college when a religion teacher was giving teachings that challenged everything I believed. I remember the hours in his office screaming that he was taking my faith away from me. It took years to realize that while it felt that the church had walked away from me, I had actually walked away from the church to a new, deeper understanding of God. From childlike faith in a God up in heaven who looks down and pulls strings like a puppet master, I moved to an ever growing understanding of being created in the image and likeness of God and the presence of God within. Yes, I do still occasionally envy those with such a simple and unmovable faith, until I see the damage being done to the earth and our fellow human beings in the name of God and become more and more determined to keep walking.

  2. This is my first time leaving a comment. This Christmas has had little religious significance as I try to sort out the stories and myths from reality. I have been depressed, sad, and scared. I can’t begin to tell you how much your posts mean to me (especially this particular theme) May you be granted a thousand fold, the comfort and hope you bring to others.

  3. That’s because faith, as practiced by most religions in this world, are static but true faith is individual and forever evolving.

  4. This puts me in mind of Paul Ricoeur’s Second Naivete – the First Naivete is an unquestioning acceptance of Scripture and belief; the Second Naivete involves a critical examination of text and belief, and an attempt to reconcile them with lived experience and make them truly personal….I started my faith walk as an ardent ‘Them (Everyone Else) vs Us’ (my church at the time) fundamentalist, but over time I found the lifestyle and demands too rigid, and quite frankly, somewhat abusive. I drifted between various non-denominational fellowships, got tired of never really belonging, ended up going to the large Roman Catholic parish in my town because I wanted to go to church with people who had the same area code….went through RCIA and got a Master’s in Theology from Loyola Marymount.
    Lately my ‘inner Protestant’ has started protesting against several facets of Catholicism I always found uncomfortable: some of the Marian devotions (and yes, I know Catholics do not worship Mary or the Saints), the Rosary (sorry, I just cannot see the point) and the fact that gatherings of the Roman Catholic Church leadership do not look like the rest of humanity, as they are composed of mostly white, older men. It’s not that I want women to don chasuble and alb (although I do think women should at least be able to be deacons), its just that the voice of half of humankind is largely silenced.
    Also, my parish has something close to 8000 families, and its the size of many a megachurch…I stopped going to Mass altogether for several months, and have just started attending a small Lutheran (Missouri Synod) church that has English and Chinese services – the scale is simply more human, the people friendly and welcoming, and the liturgy is very close to a Catholic Mass…

    The Universe has too much wonder, awe and beauty for me not to believe that there is a Supreme Being who thought about how to put it all together – but I increasingly have little taste for dogma and futile religion.

    • We are kindred spirits. I grew up attending a Fundamentalist Baptist church, and until the age of about 16 or 17, held to the same sort of beliefs. I endured a long spiritual crisis in college and grad school, attending several churches from Methodist, Greek Orthodox, to Catholic. I finally settled on a local Lutheran Church for the reasons you mention above: friendly people & formal liturgy.

  5. I appreciate that you love enough to share the details of your journey with us. When I went through this period of spiritual reset, I found being separated from a church community has been the hardest part. I remain hopeful that I will find people not like-minded, but like-hearted. So far I have found a few, some in churches, and some not. You are one of those liked-hearted people. One thing I have discovered is a new openness towards others! “Where there is love there is God”!!

  6. “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.”
    How terribly skewed faith becomes from the get-go, sometimes. Why is it that one must analyze every little thing and question every decision because of belief in God? The excess is in direct proportion to our individual needs/lacks. There is no right and proper Christianity because each one of us who have adopted it or been adopted by it as youngsters, invent our own version. One uses it to face the dark road of depression and another uses it to feel less abandoned. Another speaks of faith as a receptacle for praise regarding the overwhelming wonder of life, a blade of grass, rush of felt love.
    The universe has too much wonder indeed but why that leads so many of us into imagining a supreme being might simply be that wonder itself, that being that is in and through us.
    I think that you allude to the notion that it is okay to not-believe too and that is where I have felt most naturally well with the world inside and out. When I finally left all the analyzing and questioning and said, You know, I simply do not believe, it was then that I was washed with relief and peace, with acceptance and what I know for me is a healthier focus. Being might have a ‘supreme being’, a perfection that is far and beyond but I am content with occupying life as it unfolds with me. I no longer have a Hell nipping at me and I do not wish to find a Heaven that is not available to all of us here.
    I would listen carefully to your young college friend, and then encourage that young person to love life and questions, to read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and to revel and be content in plumbing the depths as they appear. Don’t feel that you must judge and analyze every breath and thought but be aware and care for yourself and the world. It’s okay. The world is an offering plate where we offer ourselves in living fully.
    Annie Dilliard once wrote of a game she used to play as youngster, drawing arrows pointing one way along a sidewalk, on and on. I think she would write things like, Treasure Ahead, stuff like that… At the end of that path of many pointers, she left one penny, the greatest gift, the whole shebang, the greatest treasure indeed.

  7. Reblogged this on angelahurtmusic and commented:
    Thank you John Pavlovtiz, for once again reading my mind. I’ve told people that my blind faith in God died along with my Mom. I wish I didn’t feel this way… It has been uncomfortable to say the least. But it is how I feel. I keep hoping that this too shall pass, but two years later, I have my doubts.

  8. Thank you John Pavlovtiz, for once again reading my mind & then putting it into words. I’ve told people that my blind faith in God died along with my Mom. If prayer worked, she would be here. I wish I didn’t feel this way… It has been uncomfortable to say the least. But it is how I feel. I keep hoping that this too shall pass, but two years later, I have my doubts. Thank you for your brave honesty. Thank you for letting me know that I’m not alone; because that feeling just adds to the pain. Please know that YOU are NOT alone either. I don’t know what I believe anymore, but I DO BELIEVE IN YOU. Words cannot express my gratitude for that.

  9. How did you know I needed to hear this today? Do you have some kind of spiritual telepathy? But, no, I suppose this experience is a universal one for ‘seekers’, we restless ones who can’t stop thinking and questioning. I left the Roman Catholic Church last year after over half a century. I’m the proud mom of a gay trans son leaving a Church where the leaders treat him like a pariah. I’m a woman who doesn’t appreciate a bunch of questionably celibate, mostly old, mostly white men trying to control my uterus (and promoting overpopulation while at the same time preaching about the evils of destroying the earth). I’m someone who was molested as a child (though not by a priest) and increasingly horrified to read about the scandals of child rape and abuse as they keep on being brought to light. I’m an American, watching with disgust an RCC in bed with the Right Wing political machine while preaching about loving the poor and fighting climate change. I was slowly going nuts trying to reconcile the cognitive dissonance. So I left and now I’m all at sea, without a spiritual home, and questioning everything I was taught by a Church that repeatedly lied to us, betrayed us, and I’m struggling not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It’s led to many tearful and tortuous nights. I find, like you, that the only thing that really brings peace is to just stop fighting when it gets too bad, and to lay me down in the hands of a Mystery I can’t understand and try to learn to be content with resting in that Mystery like a child in my Creator’s arms, and to trust that that Creator will lead me home.

  10. Thank you so much for this article; it literally answered my prayer. I’ve been questioning all of my beliefs, understandings and even my questions concerning God, Cosmos, and destiny. I state to myself and anyone who questions my beliefs, “Beliefs are simply opinions ground into us by our parents, church, and culture; we’re better off without them!” Right now, I truly believe that; it’s my new belief!

    However, I know that it is just a phase like so many others I’ve passed through to a new enlightenment; hopefully. But, I bless you and thank you for your kind, honest, and wonderful article which has given me comfort and fresh hope.

  11. The Buddhist tradition knows this well, and embraces it. They know that the act of meditating – of being present and aware of yourself and the universe, reveals not profound stillness and calm, as the hucksters would have you believe, but a churning cauldron. “Monkey Mind” it is called, and aptly. Any faith journey – any examined faith journey, as Aquinas would have said, is one of constant humbling, acceptance, and deepening compassion. And of constant and life-giving change. Faith is not a rule book to replace all thought and reflectíon; it’s a path, a direction we follow but adapt to as the world teaches us. If we are not troubled or curious, we have lost sight of the path and have ceased to grow in faith.

  12. THank you for the article, reminds me of a time when I was pastoring a church and after a year it pretty much fell apart, largely due to my immaturity and lack of humility. AT that point I questioned everything I knew about hearing God’s voice and walking in His spirit. But as I poured out my heart, Jesus simply reaffirmed HImself, in me and walked with me through the searching. After about a year and a half, my faith was stronger than ever, but much more humble, broken and wiser. Now I know even better the Christ I worship at Christmas and throughout the year, I know even better the promises of God through His word, and most importantly I know that I don’t know it all, but God does and that is ok with me.
    Have a very Blessed Christmas as we celebrate the greatest gift of Love, God’s son born to us so we can be made new and clean before HIm and walk in His peace.

  13. This is a great post but it’s hard to believe that the so-called “crisis” will ever end. After so many years it seems unreasonable to believe that the questions and doubts will ever be answered. There is this uncomfortable void between desiring there to be something to believe in and just wanting the desire to dissipate.

  14. Comforting words for a heretic like myself. Over my long career as a human, I have learned that my faith IS shakeable and many of my questions are unanswerable. Dealing with these issues can indeed cause me to be the delusional outcast of my particular church. The fear of finding out the true answers uncovered by my questioning nature can be paralyzing. When I see so many others “toeing the denominational line” I began to doubt the path I so strongly feel I have been set on, but the tugging is so strong it cannot be ignored.

  15. Oh how grateful I am for you. I’ve been shifting as I grow for the past 10 years, and I’ve lost friends and family because of it. In fact, as a Christian I have found that the quickest way to lose friends is to ask questions. I feel that I’m in a boat floating among all the beliefs I once clung to. I stop to pick up one piece, compare it to scripture and then either bring it onboard, or toss it back like a small fish that will not bring spiritual sustenance. This is a very scary and lonely time!

  16. Pingback: Am I Losing My Faith or Just Losing My Mind? | Marc Gilbert-Widmann

  17. On the front of the Bible should be this statement, Jesus died for all sin. Read the Bible, get to know God through the words written by the men who struggled to know Him. The Bible has half a teaspoon of knowledge in it, because that is all we can really deal with at this time. The wonderful mystery is how much more we will learn when we are returned to our creator. Give yourself a break, only God has all the answers. His command is to love, so love.

  18. This is great, thank you.

    Just spent an hour in therapy with my doubts and in essence, received the same encouragement as you’ve shown here. Got in my car, and a sermon by a biblical literalist, angry, fundamentalist pastor was on the radio- reminding me how utterly disgusting I am and how hell is waiting for me if I don’t stop with the doubt and start obeying.

    When your belief system unravels to reveal a broader world view, the pieces of the childhood indoctrination of faith start to fall apart. I don’t know how to go back into the box nor do I want to. We seek to grow intellectually & emotionally in all areas as we grow up, yet in matters of faith, it is considered “unwavering” and “steadfast” to stay in a child-like state.

    I second the young girls thoughts about God. The world is much easier to accept without the complication of reason or meaning. I don’t need to see a rainbow to know God won’t flood the earth again (although I’m pretty sure some victims of violent flooding would take issue with that), I can appreciate a rainbow for the phenomenon it is. I am exhausted of religion and exhausted of God. I am spending so much time obsessing over it, I fear I am missing out on truly enjoying this life for what it is.

    Today it feels good to be honest. I’m not sure what I believe anymore, and I’m tired of the constructs of God we make up that we can live with.

  19. An interesting question you pose John:

    Neither of the answers embedded in the question are life giving, fulfilling or signs of abundance.
    I pray the day comes sooner than later when no one would even think to ask that question.
    Here is the reason why. Our words, actions or piety have nothing to do with our relationship with God in terms of acceptance by God of us.

    In other words, we cannot please or displease God. God does not exhibit human emotion, judgment and fear however we manufacture our own lack of peace of mind and belief in our closeness to God.. Whatever we say do or think from the mortal brain hasn’t a thing to do with our true nature; the Consciousness and Mind of God. Our mortal brain is nothing more than stardust and will decay and become atoms for some other purpose, but our true nature is eternal spiritual consciousness..
    We either talk, think and act from fear based and erroneous teachings – handed down for centuries – – designed to keep the human element subservient to the powers of the religious enterprises; or we believe, think and act from the Higher Power and Higher Consciousness which gives life and creates everything we experience in the flesh and in our Soul.

    It’s really important that we understand this blink of an eye existence in the flesh can’t even be measured within the whole of our eternal souls existence. Think about this; in terms of our concept of time, think of billions and trillions, or quadrillions or sextillions of years and know that doesn’t scratch the surface of eternity – that is who and what our souls are – ageless and we worry and fret about 70 or 80 or 90 years???

    That always present power of the Universe is composed only of Love, only of Joy and only of Hope.
    Once anyone understands and totally embraces that Love, Joy and Hope the aforementioned question becomes as foreign as any of the past misconceptions that science and modern day thinking have corrected. Think ‘flat earth’ – that is how far out of truth the thinking is of separation from God. Knowing the earth is a sphere is in alignment with the Love, Joy and Hope of God therefore truth..

    Once we know deep within and lock onto the knowledge that we are not required to do something to be in God’s favor the burden of questioning our relationship with God will forever be gone and never to return. Then we experience Joy and Love as permanent, unshakable and eternal facts of our Being..

  20. Chronic illness just compounds life’s already difficult circumstances. WHY GOD? Is my appropriate question, and He often answers…later.
    I’ve learned that faith is not a feeling, not an emotion, not the same as Sunday morning goosebumps but it is instead the choice to believe. And to keep believing and asking for those answers and choosing to serve dispite FEELING He might have left me alone.

  21. As a therapist for many years prior to my pastoral ordination, I found a high correlation between anxiety and religion that I attributed to a common misunderstanding of God and godliness, righteousness, and holy perfection. The faulty belief is that God is in control, therefore perfect and we should therefore strive to do likewise . Reality is that control is motivated not by love but rather fear. As we become fearfully in control over persons and situations, we paradoxically separate ourselves from God. Our fear casts out God’s perfect love. God has no fear nor interest in having control over people or situations . Until we accept this love, righteousness, Holy perfection in God and strive to do likewise, we remain anxiously separated from God. Our faith in the non-controlling God saves us from that sinful separation. The trick is in our cognitive change as required for true repentance from our fearful, sinful control OVER and to our loving influence WITH God. It’s hard to overcome our dissonance that says control is mightier than influence. Thankfully, it’s only hard but not impossible.

  22. If only we let go and trust in the exquisite love of G-D…………………beyond ideas of what , how things should be (Rumi)…………then as, St. Augustine says, our soul will be at rest. We will learn to know ourself, and experience those things St. Paul describes in his writings that are, joyfully, beyond our understanding………..and learn to embrace G-D’s embrace as Mary, Jesus’ mother did.

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