“I just don’t know if I believe anymore—and I don’t know what to do about it.”
I hear words like these every single day from people from every corner of the planet, from every strand of the Christian tradition, from every conceivable segment of society. They are once-religious people who for any number of reasons are now finding the very ground of faith eroding beneath their feet—and they are panicking.
And this fear is understandable. After all, this is terrifying stuff to endure. It’s one thing to question the institutional Church or to poke holes in the religious systems we’ve put in place or even to critique the Bible and how we interpret it. Those are all sustainable losses. We can endure such things, experience these crises and still hold a steady confidence in the belief that God is and that God is good. Even if on some days, those are all that remains of our fragile faith narrative, they can be enough.
But what do you do, when with all the sleepless wrestling and the furrowed-browed prayers and the ceaseless questions and the best-intended efforts, even that seems out of reach? What happens when the very reality of God (or of a God who is good) seems too much for you to claim ownership of? How do you keep going while in the middle of a full-blown spiritual collapse?
It often isn’t a matter of just being more determined or more “religious”. Most of the time people have reached these desperate moments despite continually reading the Bible and praying and volunteering and attending church services and trying to believe. They haven’t refrained from those disciplines, in fact they often are as devout and engaged as ever, only these pursuits no longer yield the clarity and confidence and comfort they once did.
Many people come to me in that barren spiritual dryness and they almost always carry the crushing guilt of failure. They are grieving deeply, feeling helpless to get back what they’ve lost, and angry at themselves for not being faithful enough to conjure up belief that used to come as a simple given. (And they’re often pretty ticked off at God too.)
If you’re in that place right now, I won’t pretend there’s any easy way out or a simple path back to faith. I can’t even promise that you’ll ever find your way back, at least not to what you used to call Belief. It may be a very different experience in the future.
So what can you do right now?
It might be prayer or Bible study or church attendance—but it might not.
Maybe today it’s just about what’s right in front of you; about what you can see and hear and touch and smell and taste. Maybe the best thing you can do right now is to experience all of the things that you can know, and simply receive them with gratitude; a delicious meal, the evening breeze, some music that moves you, the laughter of your best friend, the depth of a relationship, the smell of your baby’s head.
Maybe just accepting these great, pure, measurable gifts and presently cherishing them is all the faith you are able to have right now, and that’s OK. Maybe that’s as close to proof of the Divine as you can consent to. To simply live and to find gratitude in the living is itself a spiritual pursuit; it is a holy thing. And as you do this, you may find that this contentment is the straighter pathway back to what you’ve lost. It may clear the road to God that has been cluttered by sadness, disappointment, doubt, and yes even religion.
But don’t lay that expectation on yourself right now, because that would only turn this gratitude into a means to an end, a result to achieve, another religious exercise to evaluate. For now, just receive the goodness and pleasures of this day and allow them to speak to and surprise you. You may find there, the beginning of a new season of faith.
But don’t feel guilty and don’t worry about what anyone else says. You’re the one walking this road and you understand it in ways they never will. And above all, don’t worry about God. God is big enough to handle your doubts, and knows exactly what you’re going through and why belief is such a struggle right now.
You may have indeed lost your faith or you may have just lost your way a bit. Either way, this might be a good time to breathe, to look around and to find joy in what is beside and around you as you travel.
If that is all the faith you can muster right now, let it be so.