I have said for a while now that I’m not having a faith crisis, because my faith in God, and in Christ, remains intact. “I haven’t lost my faith, I just don’t believe I should be putting that faith in the church anymore. I have faith in God.” Or something like that. But if faith is a trust in God and his love, then maybe I am having a faith crisis, because sometimes I can’t seem to find the love amid the turbulence.
I can’t seem to get God’s love to be louder than the cacophony of answers and responses the church gives me. I’ve heard that I’m not smart enough, I’m not well-adjusted enough, I’m not hearing the spirit enough, I’m not serving enough, I’m not reading the scriptures enough, I’m not praying enough. Whenever I feel drawn to something lovely or of good report and praiseworthy, it’s immediately contradicted by some church voice that tells me to be careful, don’t be deceived, and don’t be like Korihor. For every doubt there is an apology, and for every pain there is someone willing to tell me to suck it up and just get over myself.
I get it, I don’t want to be stuck in a trap of self-pity and taking things too personally either. And I don’t feel offended. I will admit that sometimes my ego is triggered when I know I’ve worked really hard to come to some new more loving understanding of God and then the church seems to catch up, it’s popular now because some famous church guru said so, and what once made me an outsider is now a reasonable part of their culture. Except the doctrines don’t change, so it’s like everyone just pretends for a little while until the trend passes through. Regardless, I should be happy for them, but my ego gets mad. It comes and goes. I don’t stay mad. Ultimately, love wins. So, I don’t generally feel offended, no matter how many times I get bugged by how much the church can feel like voting for homecoming queen.
I try to just stay focused on what I’m being drawn to. And while this means I’m sometimes being drawn away from the doctrines of the church, I try to not look back and focus on the “away” part. I try to stay faithful. But I often can’t hear God above all of the other voices. I can’t sit still and just listen because I hear, “don’t be apathetic and complacent.” I can’t rest in grace because I hear, “be anxiously engaged in a good cause.” I can’t let myself be okay with things not landing for me because I hear, “if you were well-adjusted you wouldn’t think that way,” or “if you understood the doctrine you wouldn’t feel that way.” I can’t really talk to anyone about it without fear, or be as publicly vulnerable as I authentically am, because I hear, “be careful what you post online,” and “if you don’t want to have consequences you need to keep it to yourself.” I can’t fully settle into God’s love because I hear, “love is conditional,” and “we must qualify to be in the presence of God.” There are so many voices and I feel like I’m going literally crazy.
I can’t hear him through all of the #HearHim.
The voices have turned into accusations in my mind. There isn’t a message of love and acceptance that isn’t immediately followed by a call to fall in line with the covenant path that somehow is never the path I’m on, even though my covenant to mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who need comfort, stand as a witness of Christ, and consecrate everything I have and am to the building up of the Kingdom of God is as strong as ever. There is no healing without some shame thrown in for good measure. I need the bleeding to stop long enough for me to be able to crawl out to the alley and touch his hem, but everywhere I turn there is another voice telling me I’m wrong, kicking me away. I can’t get there.
It’s not just “the people”, as some would say. You know that voice, “The church is true, but the people aren’t.” There are a lot of really great loving people in my ward. They know I don’t go around criticizing things at church because I believe church should be a safe place. For everyone. And I do feel their love. But I’m afraid of the times I might make them think they need to shift into rescue mode. Because rescue mode doesn’t seem to be rescuing someone from the damning voices that are blocking them from the love of God. Rescue mode is making sure someone doesn’t lose their testimony and belief in the church, and I don’t want to cause them undue stress or worry. I don’t feel like I belong, regardless of the rhetoric that there is a place for everyone. It’s not their fault. I don’t blame them. Some of the doctrines are responsible for creating the culture as it is.
Church history doesn’t bother me. I can leave the past in the past, except we don’t fully deal with our past, sweeping things under the rug or apologizing them into something they aren’t, until the very ideas from our history that we tried to distance ourselves from come creeping in to the way we show up right here and right now. And then, “you’re not smart enough,” which is not something my own mind made up but something a leader actually said to my congregation, comes creeping in to shame me back into my own unworthiness and drown out the love I so desperately desire to feel. I’ve forgiven the man who said this and hold no grudges there, people make mistakes, but the beliefs that created that moment to begin with are still a large part of the church, so the voice doesn’t go away.
Why can’t God just speak louder? Why can’t he just come save me from this? Is it because he won’t? Can I even trust him? This is where my faith begins to falter. Yet, I know there is something in it all that tells me that he knows I am strong. He knows I am motivated first and foremost by love. But why can’t I hang on to that? Why do the other voices get to be so much louder? How can I make them stop, or ignore them? I’m so tired. I’m so tired of fighting this.
It’s every day. I try to distract myself with good things. I read uplifting books that preach of God’s love and Christ’s healing power. I listen to podcasts that promote peace and radical love for all. I try to divert myself with wholesome recreational activities, going for a walk, or watching uplifting television. I read my scriptures. A lot. I pray. A lot. Trying to drown out the accusing voices has become a full-time job. I don’t know how to make them stop. Sometimes I think that if I can just officially leave the church, that somehow the hooks will be gone, and I’ll be able to start to heal. Maybe. Maybe not. But how can I know when the voices are so loud? “You’re not smart enough to leave the church,” was the full quote.
I’ve written about shifting identities, about letting go of the walls I didn’t build, about giving myself radical grace, and about holding to the truth of God’s love no matter what. I want to believe it so badly.
So, maybe I am having a faith crisis. Because my faith in God is sometimes pulled into question by the voices in my head. And somehow, even though I struggle to hear the messages of love I need, I still trust God. I trust that somehow through all of this there will be a clearing on the other side. I want to be willing to not fight the darkness because I trust that if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even if I feel like I’m doing it alone, there will be something that is good for me in it. I really do believe in a benevolent universe and a loving God. But when things get really dark sometimes that trust becomes completely blind. The “evidence” of faith seems to hide from me, and I’m left with just a desire to believe that God won’t let me fall. I’m experiencing what I can only describe as a crisis, and also I still somehow feel held underneath it all. I just don’t know how to make the voices stop long enough for me to heal. I want God to be louder, but maybe that isn’t how it will work for me.
The only path I see is one where I just learn to have patience with myself. I need to just keep doing those things that I know speak love to my heart. I need to know that I’m going to have bad days, weeks, maybe even months, and that I’m going to live through it. I don’t need to be louder than the demons in my head, I just need to outlive them. So, I guess I don’t need God to be louder either. I just need to remember that he’ll outlive them too. I need to be still, and know that he is God. And I need to be patient with myself when I don’t believe that. In fact, I need to get out of my head where belief lives, and drop into my heart where my grounded knowing lives. Because that is where I am when I say I know that God loves me.