Easter, When You’re Losing Your Faith

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Religious holidays are difficult when you’re deconstructing your faith.

When your beliefs begin to shift or when doubt creeps in, those dates on the calendar that used to bring such joy, that once set the steady rhythm of your spiritual journey each year, suddenly don’t provide the familiar comfort they used to.

Instead of being more deeply connected to God and to your community of faith than ever during these highest of holy days, you tend to feel more like an orphan; a former insider pushed to the periphery of the party, no longer sure whether to jump back in again or walk away for good. Having something that once was such an integral part of you, now leave you oddly estranged can bring a terrifying existential free fall.

I’ve heard from and spoken to so many people these past few weeks who aren’t sure what to make of this time anymore. Many are struggling with what they actually believe about the life of Jesus, about his divinity, about how salvation works, and about his supposed resurrection which sits at the very center of Easter—and that all adds up to one really strange holiday.

There’s such a commonality of experience for the people I’ve heard from; the religious muscle memory that tells their hearts that they should be in a building somewhere singing songs and praying prayers and feeling feelings, mixed with the profound guilt when they no longer have the slightest desire to do any of it. 

If you’re there right now friend, know that you’re in good company. Many people both inside and outside churches are navigating the treacherous minefield of living while carrying both faith and doubt in tandem. 

The bad news, is that there are no easy answers if you find yourself at the precipice of Easter unsure of what to do or what you believe; no silver bullet response that will instantly clear all that is cloudy in you or suddenly usher in answers to complex questions that have evaded you for a while.

The good news, is that the only and perfect answer is to walk into Easter just as you are without pretense or guilt or editing, and know that this is enough. This transparent a spiritual journey might lead you back to a building that used to be so familiar, to try once more. It might bring you to your computer screen to participate in a new community of faith half a world away from the safety found in that anonymity. It may bring you to a quiet place of solitary prayer or meditation.

It might lead you far way from anything remotely resembling religion or church or spirituality—and that’s okay too.

This is not about pageantry it’s about authenticity; not about pulling the wool over God’s eyes, but about giving God the full weight of your honesty and trusting God is strong enough to bear it all. It’s about what you are able to profess or believe at a given moment; whatever that might be—and making peace with it.

Whatever is true, is no less true in those moments we are unable to believe it anyway. In other words, God is still God even if we can’t see that from where we’re standing; the same way we trust that the sun is shining somewhere, even when all appears dark to us.

One of the things that can be so easy to forget when we are struggling with our faith, is that God is not struggling with us. God sees the cavernous depths of our hearts and has a mercy for us that transcends what we are capable of understanding. Because of this we can be encouraged even when we waver, knowing we are fully loved even still.

Others may lose patience or write you off when you vacillate, but you needn’t worry. Though people around you might seek to shame you back into secure faith or to judge you harshly in your doubts, they are not the final word on that matter, and not at all the point either.

The real good news is that God is always going to be more loving, forgiving, understanding, and Grace-giving than God’s followers.

Rest in that truth, and however you are during this Lenten season; whether you are feeling drawn back toward or fully repelled by the religion you grew up with, know this is all you can give. 

Pray whatever prayer you are capable of praying.
Profess the faith you are able to.
Give thanks for what is good, and celebrate the people and the things around you that give you joy.
Let your honest declaration be the most spiritual act you perform.

And as with any day on your journey of faith, may you be your truest self this Easter—and believe that this is enough.

 

Holidays and Empty Chairs

An-Empty-Chair
The holidays are a time for recognizing our profound fullness, of purposefully dwelling on the abundant overflow we find ourselves in and being grateful for it.

Our houses and our bellies bulge to capacity, and we gleefully overindulge in food and friends and laughter. We fill ourselves to bursting with all the things and the people and the stuff that make life glorious and make the difficulties bearable.

This is a season where we inventory our lives and readily acknowledge all that is good and sweet and right.

It is about celebrating presence.

But not for you.

Not right now.

Though you may indeed have so many reasons to feel fortunate and to give thanks, what this season is now marked by more than anything else—is absence. Surrounded by noise and activity and life, your eyes and your heart can’t help but drift to that quiet space that now remains unoccupied: the cruel vacancy of the empty chair.

You’re not alone, friend. In fact, though they’re supposed to nurture gratitude and deposit peace within us, the holidays have a way of magnifying loss; of in the middle of all the celebration and thanksgiving, reminding us of our incompleteness, our lack, our mourning.

The empty chair is different for everyone, though it is equally intrusive.

For some it is a place of a vigil; the persistent hope of a prodigal returning, of a severed tie to soon be repaired, of a long overdue reunion to come. It is a place of painful but patient waiting for what is unlikely, yet still possible.

For some the chair is a memorial; the stark reminder of what was and no longer is, of that which never will be again. It is a household headstone where we eulogize and grieve and remember,; a face we squint to see, a hand we stretch to hold, a voice we strain to hear.

For some it is a fresh wound; the painful fallout of a brutal battle that we chose or had thrust upon us, one whose aftermath has yielded silence. It is a place of sometimes necessary but still excruciating separation.

This may be the first time the chair has been empty for you, or you may have grown quite accustomed to the subtraction. Either way it hurts like hell, and I wanted you to know that someone sees you and understands.

This would usually be the time when a writer might offer some silver lining goodness to tie everything up in pretty little bow; some closing reminders about how the empty chair is still a blessing because it reminds us that we had something worth grieving over to begin with. It’s the place where he or she would offer some concluding encouragement regarding the lessons the empty chair teaches us, about living in the moment and being thankful for what we have and about growing through suffering.

I’m not going to do that. You’ll learn those lessons and acquire that wisdom and find that healing in your way and in your time—or you won’t. Life is unpredictable and messy that way.

Right now, I just want you to know that I see your waiting, your grief, and your pain, and that I wait and grieve and suffer too. In that way we all sit together in this, gathered around this same incomplete table. 

Maybe that is all we can offer one another: our compassionate presence in this face of this terrible absence.

In this season each of us learns to have fellowship with sadness, to celebrate accompanied by sorrow. This is the paradox of loving and being wounded simultaneously.

May we each make peace with the holidays and the empty chairs.