Walking our Faith: What to do when you lose faith
Even if you attend church every Sunday, even if you faithfully attend Bible study every Wednesday, even if you faithfully meet God in prayer alone in your bedroom every morning, there will come a time when it feels as though your faith has left you.
It might be for a very predictable and understandable reason: a sudden and inexplicable tragedy, the death of a family member, the loss of a job, these are tragedies that might come out of the blue.
Even if they don’t, even when they were expected, their aftermath can leave us feeling as though we are completely alone, and in those moments, it’s even understandable that rather than find consolation in our faith, we find our faith offers no comfort at all.
Perhaps less understandable is when our faith seems to leave us as gently and as unnoticed as a receding tide. We might not notice its absence until we are standing in the midst of a spiritual barrenness that leaves us feeling slightly cranky and wondering what happened because we didn’t plan on losing our faith. Nothing out of the ordinary happened to cause us to lose our faith, and it’s as though we woke up one morning and it just wasn’t there anymore.
Losing one’s faith seems to be a strange topic of discussion three weeks from our celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. But during this season of Advent, we are preparing ourselves for his arrival. In the second week of Advent, we are considering faith, and if we consider what it means to be of good faith, we must also consider the difficult topic of what it means to lose our faith. I believe it’s something we don’t talk about enough because, quite frankly, who wants to admit that this precious gift has slipped away, and what if it doesn’t return?
But let’s not shy away from difficult questions. During the long dark evenings of winter, during the Advent season of quiet reflection, let’s ask the hard questions, and even if we don’t have immediate answers, let’s be brave enough to simply sit with our questions and contemplate them. Because God is not afraid of our doubts or fears or frustrated whys.
Perhaps in candlelit darkness in a chapel shadowed with winter twilight, we might feel desolation and long for consolation. We might wonder why our faith has left us and when it will return. It is only human to live the contradictions of the mystery of faith, but we can be certain of this: While we wonder at the frailty of our faith, we can rest assured in the certainty of God’s love for us.
In “Gracias! A Latin American Journal,” Henri Nouwen writes, “I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God’s saving power. … When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence — the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends — I will always remain tempted to despair. The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, he asks for my full attention. The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises.”
God‘s love for us is a certainty we can count on even when we feel we cannot count on ourselves. God’s loving embrace surrounds us at all times and is always available to us.
Perhaps our lapse in faith is in response to one too many unanswered prayers or just one that has gone unanswered beyond our ability to wait.
Perhaps the silence is not God’s absence but God’s patient request that we trust in him, in the absence of our faith, wait for his better plan and cling to the assurance that we are loved. And while we are waiting for the return of our faith, or the answer to a prayer, let’s take Nouwen’s advice and find God’s presence in the world around us when we can’t find it within us.
If you are experiencing a time of spiritual darkness during these long winter evenings, look toward the light at the manger. It’s not a star; it is the light of the world — unwavering, unconditional everlasting love offered to you and me.
If your faith is lost, please spend five minutes each day reading a passage from the Psalms or a Gospel and then speak with God. Tell him what you are feeling. And know that you are heard and loved.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blue Christmas: Living with Darkness and Light
When: Dec. 11, 6-7:30 p.m.
Where: Senior Center, 83 Nancy’s Place, Frisco
Info: Do you find yourself experiencing more darkness than light during the holiday season, or do you know someone who is? Come and reflect on what it means to hold darkness and light together, what it takes to face into suffering’ and how to find hope and community. Participants can try out meditation, poetry, artistic expression and more.
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