What To Do When You Think You’ve Lost Your Faith

sadman

“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.

Be encouraged.

 

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78 thoughts on “What To Do When You Think You’ve Lost Your Faith

  1. I have been here, and it is devastating. But I can say now, it is a relief and a most joyous feeling to finally trust your own mind, to cultivate your own inner voice. I think those who have these struggles are the more compassionate, the true seekers of the world, for they will not be satisfied with simply being told “the way”. They have to live it and breathe it for themselves. They are not dictated by fear of being wrong. Even if faith comes back to them in a different language, so to speak, at least it is genuine. And I think God would greatly appreciate anyone forging through life celebrating the gifts we were given, using our own strengths and our own creative potential over trying to live up to another man’s potentially misguided, incomplete, or personal ideals. Thank you once again Mr. Pavlovitz.

  2. First, grieve a bit, like one would the loss of a parent. In fact it is VERY much like the loss of a parent, an imaginary parent. But, very soon, CELEBRATE ! you have matured, you have grown up. You realize that you no longer really need a Father any more, a savior, a rescuer, an explainer, a parent. As a mature adult, we are independent, cooperative, loving, and self reliant and self determining. You have become a Humanist, a good person without the need for a god. http://americanhumanist.org/Humanism

    • Funny, when I lost my atheism, I never even thought to ask God any questions about who, what, wen, why, or how, etc. And I had plenty of traumatic experiences to have explained, but when God showed up I never even thought of them.

  3. Been there. What saved my faith was apologetics. Specifically, the evidence for Jesus’ bodily resurrection is just too strong for me to throw it out. Based strictly on the evidence that most everybody agrees on, it happened. I couldn’t get around that, and since everything in the Christian faith hinges on that event, that meant I couldn’t let go. So I chucked everything in my system except two points: 1) God exists, and 2) Jesus rose. Since then it’s been a 30+ year journey rebuilding. But it’s worth it.

  4. You have no idea how close to home your words have hit me. Thank you, I needed to hear this message TODAY and I am grateful.

  5. I ran into a really funny cartoon and an excellent article over at the blog of my cyber friend Bruce Gerencser. I know. I know. I know. “If you were really a Christian, you would not have any atheist friends like Bruce.” Truth is. If I were really a Christian, every atheist, agnostic, man, woman, child, animal, and plant on the Earth would be my neighbor and friend. Unfortunately, in this unfortunate world, there is far more truth to this cartoon than most Christians would care to admit:

    http://brucegerencser.net/2015/08/how-do-you-get-from-here-to-the-rest-of-the-world/

  6. I know that my beliefs have changed a lot over 30 years. I also believe that faith is more tied to values than to beliefs. My values never needed to be wrought, but my beliefs have been wrought, and that further reinforces my values and faith. It’s scary when beliefs go up in smoke, or are challenged by different beliefs, or trying to hold two truths simultaneously and not have my head explode. And even better, it feels really good to know that I am not alone.

  7. Thank you so much for this reminder that sometimes we need to just be…. be still and…be….. My Dad passed away in 1983. I was attending a prosperity church big at that time… you probably heard of it… Pastor Robert Tilton at Word of Faith. He basically told me I didn’t have enough faith to heal my dad of his cancer so of course we lost him. They even refused to speak at his service. My faith was ripped away by his foul teachings and wrong beliefs. But most of all I was lost because I felt I had lost my ability to discern truth while listening to the things he said. That rocked my faith and my faith in my ability to know if I was being led wrong. I went into a downward spiral of depression for years… I felt his death was my fault because of my lack of faith. I am stronger now, not easily trusting, but I’m whole and I know it was not my “fault”… but….. the pain and fear still linger… that somehow my faith won’t be strong enough when I need it to be…. but I treasure the day and take it one step at a time.

    Anyway, he will meet justice someday for the lives he destroyed and is still destroying. Thank you for reminding me that I had to learn to be still…. something I still need now and again.

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  10. This is me. I think I have lost my faith. I’m afraid to tell my wife. We talk but I tell her I still believe in God. I don’t think I do. I want to. I just don’t. We still go to church. I don’t want to stop and confuse my kids. I don’t know what to do.

    • Painful as it can be, I always find in the end that honesty is best. Really hope you can talk to your wife about what you feeling and thinking. She may be shocked but in the end she will appreciate your being straight with her.

    • It was ironic that I, a somewhat fundamentalist Christian, married a non believer, who grew over the years to have a very strong faith. In spite of wanting to believe, I’m just not sure any more. But my husband and I talk a lot and always have. It felt a little scary reveal that level of how I was thinking, but I didn’t just blurt it out, it was part of a larger discussion on church and faith and truth that we had been having for a couple years.
      Hopefully you go to a church where you can still enjoy the fellowship of being with people who love and care for you as you continue pondering things.

  11. thank you.
    I can no longer pretend to literal faith in literal historic events which may or may not have been accurately reported in the Gospels and epistle.
    But the Myth continues to inspire and comfort.
    And unlike many NT passages, the sense of the numinous, Being, Presence _always_ greets me with total love and acceptance, particularly at the moment.
    Not sure, though, how to soldier on with preaching/teaching commitments.

  12. Wow!! I can honestly say that that seemed like it was written specifically for me. Out of all the possible search results that I could have came upon this was what made absolute sense to me. After all it’s all anyone can really do anyway. I think this guy has a real gut intuition and understanding that is refreshing and I appreciate that you shared this. I hope me and God will cross paths soon!

  13. I tell the members of my congregation that there is a laundry list of beliefs that people say you are supposed to accept as facts when you become a religious person. That laundry list has very little to do with trusting God. (Or, to use the biblical word, showing faith.) Faith, or trust, has to do with the relationship I have with my wife, my family, my friends, co-workers, etc. It has very little to do with their birthdays, their weight, where they went to school, or any other of the things that might be on that laundry list of things they’ve done. God is like that.

  14. I’ve been in the place for a couple of years now, and what’s really disconcerting is that I’m not uncomfortable. I have pangs of guilt, but otherwise my life feels easier, simpler, less of a struggle. I went so long straining to hear the voice of God, that just giving up and not even trying has been very freeing. I don’t pray, intentionally — if I catch myself about to do so, out of habit, I stop myself. And my life without faith is fine. I’m not ready to call myself an agnostic or whatever, though being associated with American Civil Christianity (the GOP version) turns my stomach. I just can’t see a path back to God at this point.

    • I wish I could get to the place you are in where you don’t pray anymore because it seems like all my “prayers” at this point are me cursing God for not making me healthy or not bringing my family back together or making me and my daughter homeless because I am too sick to work or bed ridden most of the time. So I have lost all faith in waiting for something amazing to happen. And I’m sick about the fact that bad ppl get great lives and good ppl just suffer for a living! At least that’s how it looks from here! How did you get to the point where you just stop praying? Thank you!

      • Nicole, I am so sorry for your heartbreaking circumstances. I understand your point of view. I have spent my entire adult life alone. I look all around me at men & women who are married w/ families who are no better or worse than me, yet many who are truly vile who have families.
        I suffer from crushing loneliness at 54 that is complicated by severe clinical depression. I have stopped praying for companionship. It seems God is not listening.

  15. I noticed the date that you wrote this piece. How relevant it is today for me 4/8/2017. Thank you.

  16. Three years later, your article still has an impact. I find your compassion comforting. No trying to talk me out of my feelings of loss and fear, no advice for figuring it all out, no judgment, no false hope–just an arm around my shoulder and words of care and encouragement. As an ordained clergy person, losing my faith four years ago was painful and terrifying. I still feel this way and no better answers have come to me. I still love doing certain types of ministry, in the spaces where honesty and more authentic community happens. But I miss the feeling of a presence who loves me and cares about my future. I miss the belief in an afterlife where I could see lost loved ones. Thanks for being there with kindness for this journey.

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