You were a good Christian. You memorized all the Bible verses in Sunday school. You prayed at the flagpole on the fourth Wednesday of September. You wore the t-shirts and read your Bible and you were a good, devoted “on fire” kind of Christian. How could you have seen this coming?
At first you keep going, one week after another. Maybe this church. Maybe that one. I can get through this, you think as you stand up, sit down, Greet your neighbor.
You lift your hands when everyone else lifts theirs, read the Scripture, underline the pretty words, hoping that if you just engage with the text in the same way you used to, it will come back to life for you.
In the church foyer, someone asks you how you’re doing, and you say, “Fine! Good!” because you don’t know how to tell the truth. Because you never really learned how to tell the truth in a church foyer in all of those years of in and out and Hallelujah and Amen!
Denial, denial, denial of self. You perform the same old rituals again and again to show God you’re serious, because somehow you learned that God loves a busy Christian. This is stage one.
You start tentatively saying the word shit, and before long, you’ve worked your way up to fuck. These forbidden words seem the only language sturdy enough for your anger and pain, so you use them again and again and again.
You begin to call them “Church People,” and you take a certain amount of comfort in pointing out their faults. Petty. Judgmental. Closed-minded. Sometimes you even stoop to critiquing their clothes, their personalities, their mannerisms. You’re so angry that once you start pointing out faults you can’t stop.
Somewhere, in your rational mind, you realize that this is not really about them – these particular people. You don’t really know them, and they don’t know you, and that makes you all the more enraged. You lump them together and focus your rage at the whole amorphous group of them. Church People. This is stage two.
It was because of that church, you think. It was that person who did this to me. You begin to assign blame. If only you hadn’t dated him, gone to that conference, gotten mixed up with those people or that leader or this particular brand of theology.
You try to regain control in whatever ways you can. You go out at night and drink too much, and it’s almost like you’re daring God to intervene. If you care, show up! Come get me! Give me a sign. You shove yourself in a bathroom stall and puke…and he does.
Maybe this isn’t your exact story, but the stages are probably the same. We rage and anger and bargain in different ways – but the pattern remains. We are losing something. We are terrified, trying to talk our way out of it. This is stage three.
Maybe it looks like grief. Crying. Worry. Regret.
Maybe it looks like a dark hole, deep and lonely. Maybe you crawl in there for a while and then when you’re ready to be done, you find you can’t get out.
Maybe it lasts a few days or a few weeks. Maybe you lose a year. Maybe two.
Maybe you don’t know how to acknowledge what was going on, to verbalize it. No one told you it was okay to ask questions. Somewhere along the road, you learned that to say, “I feel like I’m losing faith,” was a sin in and of itself – a failure of eternal significance. So you keep your mouth shut tight.
Maybe the simple experience of depression turns to Clinical Depression, and you find yourself lost there for a while. This is what happened to me. Stage four.
Acceptance (Pt. I)
The therapist turns on the light machine and you begin to work through the past. “How did that make you feel?” she asks, and you try to remember.
You say that you can’t figure out how to pray anymore, and she looks at you gently. “That’s okay,” she says. “That’s okay.”
It’s impossible to tell sometimes the difference between change and loss. The two feel so much the same. You are outgrowing a version of yourself; you are moving on, and there is grief in all of its hard stages. In all of its agony.
But really, this is all part of it. You are cycling out of one thing and toward something new. You are changing. This is the hard, beautiful work of becoming. This is the nature of faith.
Acceptance (Pt. II)
You begin to sort it out, and it’s painful and it’s purposeful. Don’t mistake “acceptance” for happily every after. This is not the end of the story. This is the beginning of a new journey. This is the stage you’ll be working through for the rest of your life.
You read new books. You learn how to say things out loud. You take some medicine. You begin to work out your salvation in simple, honest ways: Eat. Sleep. Go outside. Rest.
And all acceptance really means is to receive, to take. You look again at your broken changing faith and figure out that God looks different than you once thought. But he is here. He was always here.
You open your hands, and you feel them overflow with Love.