As a counselor I have been given the honor of hearing the most private inner thoughts that humans can have and after years of meeting with different people, some distinct commonalities among us have emerged for me to witness.
One of the most closely guarded areas for people is how they truly feel about their relationship with God and faith in general. Many people are showing up each week to church services, volunteering in ministries and other outward expressions of religious belief but are inwardly struggling with significant doubts about a wide variety of points as they relate to their spirituality.
One of my most favorite types of counseling sessions is where someone can break through the guilt and/or embarrassment of admitting that they don’t feel close to God as maybe they once did. Why are these some of my favorite sessions? Because I am a huge fan of authenticity in life and faking religiousness is soul crushing to people. Now let me pause here and say that I know some people believe that the soul is bad and the spirit is good. I am over simplifying that a tich but you get the basic belief. I do not agree that the soul is evil and spirit is where God resides (but that may be a good blog post for another day).
When I say it is soul crushing to fake our way through living in a community of faith, I don’t mean that is a good thing. It’s not. It’s a heavy burden to carry when we don’t know what we believe regarding God and have no one to talk to about it. Often times our religious friends, family and church leaders don’t really know what to say when someone is not authentically sure of what they believe anymore. Well, they may know what to say but often times what is said isn’t helpful and comes wrapped in a box of shame.
How does someone come to a place of doubts about their faith? I believe it’s actually really common but most “good Christians” don’t talk about their inner thoughts and just wrestle inwardly. There are a few folks who are lucky enough to have a trusted friend or family member who can handle real conversations about this topic and those people are very fortunate to have a good sounding board to bounce ideas off of; from what I have seen a lot of people do not have that though.
Our faith should be a living organism that ebbs and flows with the normal rhythms of life. There are days we will feel very connected to God as we believe Him to be and then other days when we doubt everything we felt the day before. That seems normal to me and common from what I have seen among people who range from hardly ever in church to people in full time ministry. The trouble is that often in groups of religious people, that natural organic dance of faith is looked upon as a negative thing. I just don’t see it that way. It seems normal and healthy that our connection with God would have its ups and downs; just as any couple relationship experiences. If our faith hasn’t changed in many many years, maybe it isn’t really a living thing but rather just a dead statue on display that isn’t truly connected to us at all. Hmm. Something to ponder maybe.
I know this is a controversial subject and I hope I have expressed myself in the way I am intending too. I guess I can sum it up with this: to me it’s normal that our faith be a part of us that is so closely connected to who we are, that when we go through different stages in life, so goes our faith along with us for the journey. I hope that’s the case for people. Dead religious practices won’t really satisfy our deepest longings for connection to something greater than ourselves but maybe if we give ourselves the permission to let our faith grow and change, we might end up being better off than faking our way through this area of our lives.
A few years ago I noticed that my tires appeared low in air so I made a point of stopping at a gas station to pump some life into them. Admittedly, I was struggling just a tich with the hose and making it reach around to the far side of the car. I mean, really who doesn’t have to wrestle to get the job done? In the middle of my tug-of-war with the hose, a friendly olderish man approached (at an appropriate distance) and asked if I could use a hand. Well, why yes I could. So he proceeded to get the rest of the tires filled up to proper inflation and we had a very friendly lively chat about the weather, tires and car ownership. It was one of those human interaction gems that we sometimes encounter in life. We laughed and chatted for just a few minutes and I was so pleased to have had a complete stranger be a gentleman. For a second my faith in humanity was slightly elevated.
I gave him a sincere thanks and began to turn to leave when he says “you know, I would just love to have an extra minute to share with you about this wonderful ‘business opportunity’ that I have been so blessed by!” Oh man. Bummer. It felt like he had actually been just priming me by helping out with the tires to get an open door to share his “business opportunity.” Ugh! I really thought he was just being nice but noooo, he had to have an agenda. So I turned back around (not as friendly this time) and listened for what was a painstaking long time about some such product that would help me make money even while I wasn’t working but had other people under me who were working. Yawn. Ok, are we done with the spiel? I left that interaction more unhappy with humanity than before I stopped to fix the tires. Why?! Why could he have not just been a nice guy helping a lady out? Why did the sales pitch have to be included?
I don’t know about you but I find many Christians to be exactly the same way. Always on the prowl, waiting for the right moment to spring it on someone; the Good News of Jesus. Jesus isn’t a product to be sold. Christianity should not resemble a multi-level marketing plan where the goal is for two people to find two people who find two more to “win souls for Christ.” Instead, Christianity should be about seeing a supernatural God in the real world.
Now before I get emails quoting Scripture about the Great Commission, I know what it says because I’ve read it too. Go and make disciples See? I got it. But I believe the how we go is the important piece. I personally don’t think that most evangelism “techniques” work better than good old friendship. Spending time with people, doing life together through it’s ups and downs and casually talking about our lives and what gives us hope and peace. People figure out quickly whether we are Christians or not and they know where we are if they want to ask questions or want to come with us to a church service. I think far too many people are trying really hard to do the work that God and the Holy Spirit are doing in speaking to folks. Humans often just get in the way. Let’s be mindful that people really do want authentic friendliness without a sales pitch once we perceive defenses to be down.
Oh and no emails are needed explaining the benefits that some have received through their opportunity with a multi-level marketing entrepreneurship. I know it works for some folks.
Happy Easter everyone and make sure you’re not that goofy Christian out there trying to turn Jesus into Amway.
I am currently going through a workbook study and the author stated he had perceived a time of silence from God and suggested that when that happens, we should go through our “sin checklist” and make sure there wasn’t any unconfessed sin in our lives. After completing our sin checklist with God, we were free to approach Him again and see if the silence had broken. I completely disagree with this approach.
To suggest that we can simply go through a sin inventory and at the end feel really confident in ourselves is scary to me. At the end of such a sin checklist, I would be feeling pretty good about myself for being “sin free” and then worthy of approaching God. Wow, that just reeks of pride. Oops. Better get back to that checklist and add pride! As you can see, this approach is really a vicious cycle that would never end. How would we ever be sin free enough to approach God? We couldn’t be. Plus I disagree with the idea that God goes silent because of sin. If that were the case, He would never talk to us!
I like the Apostle Paul because he didn’t try to fool himself or anyone else about his core nature. In Romans 7:18 he writes that “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Well that sums up post-Garden living pretty nicely, doesn’t it?
Because of the shift that happened in the Garden of Eden, everything about people is now sinful; even without us speaking a word. Jesus knew that and died for that exact reason. He knew we could never pray through a sin checklist and get it all cleared up before coming into His presence. Let’s not ever fool ourselves into feeling “good” enough to approach God. It is by His grace and His grace alone that we even have breath in our lungs.
The great news about His grace is that since we can never earn the right to have it, we can never lose that right either. It is freely a gift He has chosen to give us. Unbelievable, I know…
I was reading Mark 1:29-39 and the story retells of Simon-Peter’s mother-in-law being very ill with a high fever. Jesus was told of her condition and he went to see the sick woman. When He arrived, He held her hand and helped her up out of bed; instantly healing her. Upon gaining her strength, she began to fix dinner for her guests.
What struck me about the story was the mother-in-laws’ condition before she was healed; when she was sick in bed and presumably feeling very badly. It’s not a stretch to wonder if her condition could have been fatal if Jesus had not healed her.
As she lay there sick, Jesus approached her bedside. Was she even aware of His presence next to her or was the fever distorting her thinking? He drew close to her in the middle of her suffering. I doubt her “faith” was strong at that moment. I am assuming the fever was causing pain and confusion within her body and mind. That didn’t matter though. Jesus’ compassion for her was clear and that’s all that mattered.
Our own pain often distorts our view of just how close Jesus really is to us. Whether we are feeling it or not, He is standing right by our own bedsides, hand outstretched, ready to lift us up to enjoy His companionship. I am so thankful that He is near to us even when we don’t see Him very clearly through the haze of our own pain.
As some of you know, I recently went on a silent retreat. It was by far one of the best things I have ever done for myself. Although I was a bit dismayed when I initially told people that I was going because many laughed out loud and wondered how I would manage no talking for several days. I am a talker I will admit but I honestly loved the silence in a way not even I had expected.
My desire to attend a silent retreat came about after reading “Leading on Empty” by Wayne Cordeiro. As the owner and lead therapist of a growing ministry, I have been in a very blessed, but busy season in life. In the book, Wayne Cordeiro states that “we don’t forget that we are Christians. We forget that we are human.” So I read (devoured is more accurate) the book and took to heart and soul the principles the author was sharing. Even to the point of going a silent retreat as he had. Although he high-tailed it out of the monastery around day five and headed to the nearest coffee shop for the day. I assure you that I did not follow that direction! No, I sat quietly before my Lord and listened. Listened to the birds chirping, listened to the sound of the trees swaying in the breeze, listened to that still small voice that I love so much. I truly had an Elijah experience – minus the disdain for living though! I slept, ate, slept and ate some more and then received direction from God.
If you feel that you can relate to the concept of leading on empty, I highly encourage you to pick up the book by Wayne Cordeiro. Read with a determination to hear God through it and book yourself a silent retreat to get direction for the next phase of your life. If you are in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, I recommend Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas. However, if you are out of town, the web is full of faith-based retreats that can meet your need to encounter God through silence.