Faith struggle


I have not been writing over the last few months because I took a journey into healing at a new level.

It has been a journey I never expected.

Days are hard. Heartache is real.

Pain is very present.

I have lacked hope. I have clung to faith.

I am starting to see some light.

One of the impacts or coping mechanisms of abuse is to numb your emotions.
When the pain is so deep, the emotions seem overwhelming. We can shut them off to cope. We stop feeling to survive.

Part of recovery is turning our emotions back on.

That means choosing to feel….to feel the good, the bad, the painful, the joy, the emptiness and violation, and the hope that it all can change.

I have been learning to feel again. Learning to come alive.

I forgot how deep the pain could go. I now remember what it is to feel emotions of all kinds and intensities.

The work has been hard. The work is starting to pay off.

I am thankful for the grace and mercy the Lord has shown me through this time, and I am falling on that grace and mercy with faith that he will see me through.

You are right. I’m a mess.

I know that. I live that.

You see, I am a mess, but I choose to believe.

I believe in a big God.

I believe in a Savior

I believe in new life

I believe he can and will turn it into something more

I believe I can be changed

I believe that he can use a broken, messed up, anxious, hurting, life in huge ways

I believe that he can redeem

I believe in second chances

I believe I am not forsaken

I believe I am not lost, but am found

I believe that there is a plan for my future and my hope

I believe, and I choose, oh how I choose

I may be broken, messed up, and anxious, but

I KNOW I am saved, chosen, and anointed.

I choose Him. He already chose me.

My God is an amazing God, and I will fight for his glory.

Even if I have to limp, crawl, cry, and make a mess along the way.

The idea of whether we have permission to speak comes up a lot among those who have been hurt and disillusioned by and with the church.

Author/Speaker Anne Jackson is releasing a new book today titled Permission to Speak Freely.

If you or someone you know has been hurt by the church and has questioned God, this could be the book that will begin a road to recovery. Permission to Speak Freely is also an excellent resource for those in the church who haven’t been through the things Anne and many others have to help them to become aware of the dangers of living a life of condemnation toward others. The stories in Permission to Speak Freely can serve as a wake-up call to the church. Jackson’s book and ministry will help many in the church who have been wounded and left to pick up the pieces. – CBA Retailers & Resources Magazine

Today Jonathan Acuff at Stuff Christians Like posted an excerpt from the book, an excerpt showing some of the roots of Anne’s disillusionment with the church. He ends with this question, “Have you ever had an experience where how people in the church acted and what the Bible says didn’t line up?”

I share this not to draw you to more stories about what is wrong with the church. That is not my heart, nor do I believe it is something Jonathan or Anne would support. I share this because the discussion about having permission to speak, having a voice, speaking out, and confessing our need for each other and for a Savior is so important.

Pick up the book.

Lurk on the sites and learn more.

Find the courage to speak freely.

You have permission!

Later this week I will be participating in an event where I may cross paths with my old pastor. I know he is connected with others who will be attending the event. The fact our paths may cross is really weighing on my heart.

Near the end of April I had communicated with the pastor and elders that I could not remain in silence any longer about the situation because I knew that God was calling me to step up, to share my story, and to proclaim to others about the amazing healing the Lord had done in my life. They have been unwilling to work through and resolve issues. The response I received was that I was unstable and irrational, did not understand the Gospel, again was showing I was unrepentant, and that if I spoke I would actually damage God’s kingdom.

I have continued to try to respond in love and patience to these leaders, and have offered over and over again to resolve the issues with no progress. It took until the beginning of July for those leaders and my current pastor to agree to meet. My pastor has not wanted me to meet with these leaders because he does not believe they are willing to reconcile, and he believes it would be unhealthy for me to share with them. So far, even after meeting with him, they have not shown any openness or willingness to reconcile. I also know some others that were key in my story are no longer at the church. They also have been hurt and are dealing with a difficult road of healing.

I am not sure how to respond if I see my pastor. The last face-to-face interaction I had with him was last December when he had an uncontrolled outburst and made a public scene. I do not want to cause any disruption at the event, and I have concerns that the pastor will try to speak to me. His elders told me not to speak to him, and after the run in last December I clearly defined that he was not to speak to me again without witnesses (on my side) due to his outburst. If he tries to speak to me the only thing I know to do is to calmly remind him that we are not allowed to speak, and then to involve others if he tries to communicate further.

My heart is heavy with concerns for all involved. I am walking in faith, still knowing that God is capable of healing and restoring everything if we would surrender, so he is definitely capable of taking care of much smaller pieces of this, such as this even.  I am going to the event with a very open and hope-filled heart, trusting that the Lord will use it mightily to change things, and believing that He can be glorified in all situations.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Prayer is one of the things people struggle with the most.

We don’t know how to come to the Lord and share openly. We ask with wrong motives. We seek the wrong things. We ask the wrong questions. We fail to offer a prayer in faith. We ask, but we also doubt.

Prayer is one of the most powerful things we can do.

It changes circumstances, impacts situations, alters hearts, inspires change, brings resolution, and breaks down barriers.

Prayer is our communication with the Lord.

It is the means by which we can share with the Lord. The Holy Spirit was left with us when he returned to be with the Father, and the Spirit helps us to pray.

Prayer is not about being perfect.

The words, the mannerisms, and the methods are not what is important. It is our heart. The Lord wants to know that we desire to share with him, and as we ask with hearts that do not doubt and have the right motives the prayers will be answered in ways that we can recognize as answers. Whether a plea, a groan, a praise, or a grateful spirit is what we have to offer, we have the freedom to come to the Lord in prayer and to share.

“You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:2-3

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:13-16

“But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

Prayer bring hope and faith

As we share with the Lord, even if that prayer is nothing more than the word HELP, there is an impact in the spirit. Through prayer we begin to find hope, we open the door for faith, and our hearts and spirits will be changed.

When was the last time you shared a moment with the Lord in prayer? Could you spare a moment now?

There is no magical formula. Say hello and tell him what is on your mind and heart. He wants to hear what you have to say.

After I experienced spiritual abuse I questioned everything.

I did not know who to trust, what to believe, or what was true. I doubted my own judgment about everything.

For over four years I wanted to know what was true, but I did not know where to find it.

Thankfully, someone did. It took over four years of searching, trying Christian counseling, talking to pastors and ministry leaders, sharing with family and friends. It took over four years of searching, digging, striving, working, pleading, fighting, and finally surrendering before God said, “look here”.

I knew the answers lay with God, I just didn’t know how to find it and live it.

A door opened for biblical counseling/discipleship. This was completely different from the Christian counseling I had received because it was all about God and scripture and not about us. I was shown what the Bible said about each subject. I was taught that the Bible was not an instruction manual given to guide me, but was the revelation and presentation of God. I was shown once and for all that truth exists, and exactly where to find it. When God said, “look here”, he wasn’t referring to the discipleship, but to himself and his revelation in scripture.

“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true.  And we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)

If we do not believe that Christ is truth, and that he is the source of all truth then we are not believing in who he is.

I no longer believe in a man, believe in a religion, or believe in teachings. I live by truth.

Today I listened to an amazing sermon that clearly presents how we can be deceived and misled. It is based upon Colossians 2:6-8. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

If you have struggled to know what truth is or have felt as if you are mixed up, confused, and living under confusion I have three suggestions:   

  1. Study scripture to learn about the character and nature of God. Throw out everything you have known and especially what you have been taught by man, and let the Lord and the Holy Spirit bring truth to you.
  2. Read 1 John. I believe this book clearly shows how we know what is true, presents fruit that is exhibited by those who walk in truth, and teaches us HOW to live out a life that is changed from the Gospel transforming our lives.
  3. Listen to the sermon I mentioned above. It is by Matt Chandler at the Village Church in Texas. I do not know much about the church, but I know Matt’s reputation is very sound, and he is one of the strongest biblical teachers in our nation. He is very blunt (which I like), which means he will address things that other pastors might not, including how we are misled by false teaching. He gives us some tests to use and ways to communicate with others when they present us teachings and philosophies that sound good up-front, but which really drive us away from truth. You can find the sermon here. The first 12-20 minutes are the section that speak directly to these issues, but the entire sermon is good and powerful.

One of the things I have learned through my journey over the last few years is that there are easy days and days that are more difficult ones. The last few days have been some of those more difficult days.

I am still learning that there are conversations which engage and bless my heart and soul, and others that may cause me struggle.

Unfortunately I am still not very good at recognizing ahead of time those that might lead to struggle and then avoiding them.

Recently I engaged in a conversation that has caused me struggle. One of the hardest pieces for me over the past year has been learning to deal with the love I still feel for my last pastor and the people of that church, and having absolutely no outlet to express it since they will not speak with me. In this conversation someone voiced an opinion they hold which left me conflicted. It is their right to hold their opinions, even if I do not agree with them. I do not believe this person had any intention of saying anything that would cause me to struggle, but the truth is it did.

Struggles come in all sorts of forms, and we don’t always know when they are headed our way. We can not always avoid them.

We can however prepare ahead of time to deal with them when they arrive.

In this situation, the root of my struggle is twofold 1) I am left asking what the biblical truth is about a specific subject 2) My heart aches that someone has spoke negatively about someone I care about, even if our relationship is currently broken and unresolved.

For the first issue, the best way to respond is through time in the Bible and in prayer. The Lord knows the truth and he can reveal it to me. He alone defines what truth is. Men may disagree, but the Lord knows how to take multiple scriptures that speak to different sides of an issue and to bring them together to make sense. I could have prepared ahead by spending more time in Scripture before this conversation, and by recognizing this area of uncertainty, however since I did not do that I need to turn to Scripture quickly and not let the questions and uncertainty fester and cause me confusion or distraction.

The second issue is more difficult for me to deal with in my relation to others. On my own, I have spent time mourning the loss of these relationships and allowing the Lord to minister to my heart. Each time this comes up I have to go back to him and allow the Lord to comfort me on a deeper level. I continue to try to reconcile the broken relationships and have to deal with the constant disappointment associated with that. I also have to protect my heart and soul from anger, resentment, and bitterness.

When I speak to others about my story I have faced some very hard conversations and pressure. Over and over again I have been told to have nothing to do with the people from my old church. I have been told to let go of the past and to move forward. I have had to listen to great criticism of others, and have faced a lot of criticism about how I have responded. There are some people I have encountered who hold a great deal of anger and bitterness in their hearts. They get angry about things that are not a part of their story due to resentment and offense they hold in their heart. I have been told to turn my back on others and to not work through the issues. I have been told it is okay to forget them. I have been told I am justified to feel angry, hurt, and to be unkind and unloving toward others.

I just can not agree! No matter what others have done or will do to me I have to choose to follow what the Lord has shown me love, sacrifice, and truth.

The Lord has changed my heart and healed it so deeply that I can not even understand much of what I have been told by others. I do not feel offense or anger. I do still live with the pain of the brokenness and disunity that exists. My heart desires love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Today my heart hurts. I wish the world would be a place where the only conversations I even could engage in would bless my heart and soul.

Unfortunately, life brings struggle, but I know that God can use every single struggle to bless, grow, change, and draw me to be more like him. That is where I want to go!

Sometimes circumstances leave you behind a rock and a hard place, and no option looks or feels good.

That is how it may feel to be authentic and transparent about your life.

You know your past, you know the story, you know the good, the bad, the lame, the extreme, and you know the parts that might live better hidden under a rock. Do you have any of those pieces? Pieces of your story that you are not proud of? Pieces of your story that you may be coming to terms with, but others don’t want you to tell? Do you have pieces of your story that could hurt others, and therefore you are not sure what to do with them?

When my life intertwines with others, then my story becomes our story. My story no longer exists alone.

It is hard to learn to own our story. We may be willing to accept the parts of our story that we feel responsible for, but not those parts that are imposed or inflicted upon us. When our stories involve others it is difficult to know how to own our story, and what to share with others. That is especially true if the story could hurt others.

Some of us have stories where we are hurt, disillusioned, and victimized. Church and spiritual abuse typically occurs at the hands of leaders, and many people feel it is wrong to speak against leaders or to say anything that might damage their reputation. However, not being allowed to share our stories can leave us in silence, shame, and bondage. Those things are not healthy, and they keep us from being authentic and transparent. They keep us from growing and having healthy, mature, and authentic faith lives.

Sharing our stories does not need to be a black and white issue. There are some guidelines that can help in knowing when, where, and what to share.

1) Own your story: Are you willing to accept your story for what it is? This includes being realistic about what happened, and not denying it. Accepting it means being able to state facts about what happened with little to no shaping of your own perspectives and agendas. It also means taking responsibility for your part of the story and accepting things you did wrong. In my story I had to accept my sin, my failures, my false theologies and beliefs, and my poor communication and relationships.

2) Check your heart: If you are going to share your story, take time to ask why. If you are only telling your story because you need to work through issues, then choose an audience who will help you do that. This will typically be people you see face-to-face, and I believe it is best done in community and relationships and not just in a counselor’s office. A time may come to share your story (or elements of it) to a larger audience like a bible study, a church group, in a written newsletter/article, on a blog, or in a book. Knowing the condition of your heart and why you are sharing are critical when you start to speak beyond those who are closest and most intimate with you. If you are not sharing for the right purposes, then please stop and take your heart to the Lord to have it changed.

3) Guard your words: When our stories intertwine with others, anything we say can reflect poorly on others involved. Checking our heart is the first step of guarding our words, but even if our intentions and purposes of sharing are correct, we still need to be very careful that our words are shaped in a way to redeem, build up, strengthen, give life, and encourage. Our words can hurt and destroy. Take time and make very determined effort to speak words that will bring life, hope, and healing. You do not need to tell everything to express your story, and if you are testifying about what God has done your focus will be his work, and not the deeds of other humans and how they might have failed you/God/others.

4) Seek to bring God glory: What better purpose is there in sharing our story than to bring glory to God? This actually might be the only reason to share our story beyond our closest circle, but our stories are also a work in progress and always changing. If all we do is seeking to glorify God and to bring him glory then our words, our purposes, our heart will all be focused on that. We will not have room in our heart or mouths to speak things that lash out, destroy, or bring malicious damage to others.

5) Give grace: Give others and yourself a great deal of grace. Even in the best of situations there is room for things to be misspoken, misunderstood, or shared with a perspective others do not share. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Be willing to correct and change things in your story if needed to clarify so others have the correct understanding. Be open when others are critical about you sharing, and allow them to speak their disapproval. It might be that their disapproval will change if voiced, or there could be room for compromise. Also, give grace to yourself. Sharing your story may open the door for shame, guilt, criticism, anger, frustration, or denial to surface. Take the time to feel what comes up, and to walk into the painful and difficult parts of the journey. Be realistic that you are a broken person who needs a savior, and even with all the Lord has done in your life up until now, there is still more that needs to be done.

If it is time for you to share our story and the situation is correct, then share it with a heart to glorify God. Speak with boldness, grace, and love.

Tell of how the Lord has brought you through, opened your heart/eyes, and how he is writing you a new story. You do not need to live in silence, shame, guilt, or secrecy. Be honest, be transparent, be authentic and real. Your story is your own, all of it! Sharing your story and confessing things might be the door that opens your life up to the freedom that only Christ can bring.

My words have not been right lately. I have been short-tempered, prideful, and questioning. My words are a reflection of my heart. My heart has been experiencing shame.

My heart needs to change.

Not temporary or surface level change, but deep heart-felt change.

Recently I received some email communication from someone I have not communicated with since May 2009. Their communication contained something that caught me by surprise and I did not interpret part of it correctly so did not respond as well as I wish I had responded. Their second message said they had hoped that I had been “set free” this past year, but it was clear I was still working through some things. There was a part of me that felt justified that I had reason to still be working through issues as things are not yet resolved with my last church, but deep down what really bothered me was that this person had seen something I had not seen, even after all these months of hard work. When I stopped to look, I realized they were addressing something in my heart and attitude that needed to change.

Today I finally had the time to work on that with God.

Correction, today I finally had the courage to let God work on me.

Often we know when something is not quite right in our heart. We may avoid it, deny it, reject it, or twist it, but we are still aware it there. I have known recently that things were not completely right in my relationship with God, but I did not know what to do about it. Yesterday the weight of it became heavy and I knew I needed to change. I knew it was time to look at what lay underneath. However, I also knew that I couldn’t change anything. All I could do was to let go, to open myself up to God, and to trust that he would lead me.

So, this morning before I even started the day and moved from bed I laid my heart bare. I surrendered and let go of all plans, all desires, all expectations. I asked with a sincere heart for the Lord to change me and to reveal what I needed to know.

Today has been an amazing day.

The Lord waits for us to come to him.

He is always ready. He will always respond and will not fail us.

That doesn’t mean we will get the desires of our heart or he will answer how we want him to, but he will respond.

Like David, I became aware of my sin, and I cried out for him to change me. (Psalm 51)

Like Paul, my heart grew and my desires are changing so that I am drawn to be like Christ, even in his sufferings (Phil. 3)

This song holds a lot of truth, and it reminds us that the heart, our heart, is the key to our relationship with the Lord.

We can’t change it, but he can change us on the inside. It is our heart that needs to change.

I long for freedom to live in the truth
I want to be more like you
But every time I try to bring about change
I try to change the visible me
There's only one way I'm really gonna change…

Just like King David I cry out to you
Create in me a clean heart
I've grieved you again, I need your release
From patterns that keep me is sin
There's only one way I can finally break free

Change me on the inside
Change me on the inside
Change me on the inside

God isn’t finished with me yet. There are still areas of my heart I need to let go of, but today as we celebrate America’s independence I am also celebrating the freedom I have from sin, from bondage, from chains of falsehood and deception. I am celebrate that the Lord has changed me from the inside and he will change me even more. I long for freedom to live in the the truth, and I know the only way to break free and really change is by having the Lord change me, from the inside!

One of the comments I hear from church leaders about those who are struggling with their faith and with disillusionment is that they are not mature. Recently I came across the work of Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich about the stages of faith development. Their research and concepts are built on over 2000 years of history and theology.

Hagberg and Guelich define six stages of development, and a seventh component: The Wall.

Stage 1 – “the discovery and recognition of God” (33)
Stage 2 – “a time of learning and belonging” labeled “the life of discipleship” (53)
Stage 3 – “the productive life”
Stage 4 – “the journey inward” – “a deep and very personal inward journey” that “almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it” (93). Wholeness looks a lot like weakness at this stage.
THE WALL
Stage 5 – “the journey outward” where our “focus is outward, but from a new, grounded center of ourselves” (133). At this stage, “we surrender to God’s will to fully direct our lives, but with our eyes wide open, aware but unafraid of the consequences” (133). We possess a new-found confidence that God loves us fully, just as we are.
Stage 6 – “the life of love” where God’s love is demonstrated through us “to others in the world more clearly and consistently than we ever thought possible” (152). By losing ourselves, we find ourselves.

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Most evangelical models of Christian growth and maturity stop at stage three. The church primarily focuses on stages 1 through 3, and the highest numbers of people are found at stage 2. This raises a question about how the church, church leaders, and programs support and guide people beyond stage 3.  Many church leaders do not know of or understand anything beyond stage 3, and when they witness the struggle of stage 4 they question and judge the person’s faith. This results in many people leaving the church when they experience stage 4. They find the faith they once held and the heart they served with in stage 3 has changed. Faith as they knew it doesn’t work any longer.

At stage 4 our understanding and views of God and faith are radically challenged. This can be so disruptive that we may feel we are losing our faith. Those around us may feel we are hopeless, lost, and they may even question if our faith was real. We may question our own faith and wonder if we ever understood what we believed. Stage 4 is marked by questioning, exploring, doubting, sinking into uncertainty, wrestling with issues, falling apart, rethinking belief systems, and experiencing a crisis of faith. “Our sense of God is shaken and we can find no new direction, only more questions” (197).

The reality of stage 4 is that no one would choose to walk through this kind of experience if given the choice. Stage 3 is a comfortable and fulfilling place. The church recognizes, approves, and support of people that ”arrive” at this level of faith development.  Why would we move from the productive and fulfilling life when what lies ahead is a road of struggle, questioning, and redefining everything we have built our life upon. Stage 4 involve an experience of “The Wall”. The Wall is not something we can go over, under, or around. It is not something we can fake our way through, or simplify. The only way to move past it is to go through it. “Sometimes people drop off the journey totally at this point. Overwhelmed by pain or crises in our lives, we absolutely cut ourselves off from God” (107). Sometimes people want to turn back to stage 3, seeking the comfort and ease of what they have known before and often church leaders who do not know the way through will encourage this also. Going through The Wall may be the most difficult thing we ever experience. We must come to a point of accepting who we really are, with all our imperfections, failures, and sins. It is only through this acceptance and through a complete surrender to God that we will move forward. Some people place The Wall at the beginning of stage 4, and some place it at the end. It may vary depending on the person’s journey, but stage 4 and The Wall are intricately linked.

The stages of faith development are both sequential and cumulative.  We move from stage 1 toward stage 6 one stage at a time, and we must experience each stage. However we do not stay at a single stage. Once we have experienced a stage we may move backwards and forwards revisiting different aspects of a prior stage to learn and grow at a new level. It is difficult to comprehend a stage you have not experienced. We may be able to grasp the stage immediately ahead, but not those that lie further along the journey. This is especially true for stage 4 where the doubts may be seen as disbelief, disillusionment, and a complete departure from faith.

The stages are normal. For those who are unfamiliar with the normalcy of stage 4 in Christian experience, their newfound doubts feel like an abandonment of faith rather than faith’s rediscovery and enriching. A faith-map that helps them see this as a normal and necessary step along the way to the life of love is priceless.” (Richard J. Vincent)

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I was one of those who was unfamiliar with the existence of stage 4. I did not see it as normal because I did not even see it existed. I felt as if my doubts and questions were a shattering of my faith, the loss of all I believed, and a dark chasm that I might never recover from.

This model of faith development has helped me to understand the journey I have been on the last few years. Some call Stage 4 and The Wall by other names such as the Dark Night of the Soul. No matter the name that is used, it is helpful for us to come to understand the process. Far too many churches only teach, understand, and accept faith development up to stage 3. Those who know and understand the other stages have a powerful opportunity to minister to and care for those who are on a journey that few will walk through.

Additional information about this faith development model can be found at:
http://www.theocentric.com/spirituality/christian_living/stages_of_faith_a_map_for_the.html
http://www.janethagberg.com/critical_journey/index.htm
http://kathyescobar.com/2008/06/10/a-nifty-chart-for-the-journe/
http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/about/pdfs/JOURNEY_THROUGH_THE_WALL_Toby.pdf

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