Ask a Counselor: faith shift edition

by Kay Bruner on October 5, 2017

It can begin any number of ways:

Burnout leads to a need for better boundaries

  • And you ask yourself: “If Jesus offers rest for my soul, why does everyone else want me to work harder?”

Social justice issues move to the forefront

  • And you ask yourself: “People here are literally dying, while American Christians sit in stained glass palaces and complain about persecution when their Starbucks cups are the wrong color.  I wonder what other justice issues I’m overlooking?”

Cross-cultural differences challenge your previous paradigms

  • And you ask yourself: “I was taught that in order to grow kids God’s way, in order to quench their rebellious spirits, I had to spank them from infancy onward. Spanking is illegal here, and the kids seem to be alright.  I wonder what that’s all about?”

Personal growth leads to spiritual conviction

  • And you ask yourself: “I’ve realized that I’m approaching God from fear, needing to perform perfectly so that he won’t punish me. But the Bible says God loves me so much that he sent Jesus.  I wonder how life would be different if I lived from Love instead of fear?”

Intellectual curiosity sparks new discoveries

  • And you ask yourself: “A friend on Facebook recommended The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton, and I discovered a whole world of Biblical scholarship that I never knew existed. I wonder what else is out there that I don’t know about?”

Addiction or abuse throws your entire world into chaos

  • And you ask yourself: “My husband acts wonderful in public, but at home he’s distant, disconnected, impatient, and verbally abusive to me and the kids. I recently discovered that he’s been looking at porn since he was a teenager, and now he’s going to massage parlors.  He says it’s my fault because I’ve gained weight.  My mentor told me to pray and submit, that he might be won without a word.  She told me to give him sex and lose weight to show my love for him.  She said I’m not allowed to leave him because he hasn’t had sex with anyone else.  Some days I just want to die. I’ve started cutting again, just to ease the pain.  Does God really require me to submit to my husband’s unrepentant sin?  And do I really want to be part of a church that doesn’t care how badly I’m hurting?”

Experiences like this, which bring up these kinds are questions, challenge our interior schema.

Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget observed that children begin with simple schema, for example:  Every animal with four legs is “doggie.”

Then, as more information presents itself, children either:

assimilate information that fits the existing schema (“Yes, that’s a doggie.”)

OR

they accommodate information that does not fit the existing schema, creating new schema for the new information (“No, that’s a squirrel.”)

We’re used to this as children, but as adults we tend to become less open to new information.

New experiences and ideas about faith can be especially challenging to cope with, as changing our minds feels like it would change our whole world.  Many of us assimilate, assimilate, assimilate, until some particularly difficult situation leads us to realize that our schema can no longer contain our experiences.

When that happens, we may find ourselves in a faith shift. 

As Jesus said, we need new wineskins for the new wine.

Faith-shifting is not an uncommon experience in our world today.

  • The Barna Group’s research shows a downward trend in American church involvement, particularly among Millennials.
  • A quick Amazon search reveals a plethora of books on evangelicals moving away from that particular tradition.
  • Any number of Facebook groups exist for the support of faith-shifters.

There’s a lot of information out there about faith-shifting.

However, here’s a thing I haven’t seen anybody write about or heard anybody talk about, but which I know for a fact to be true:  missionaries are faith-shifting too.  

I know, because my clients tell me they are.

Missionaries are faith-shifting, and they can’t tell anybody, because it’s not safe.

Along with all the usual issues that faith-shifters face, missionaries face this additional huge question:

Will I lose my job, my supporters, if people find out that I’m not able to check all their required boxes anymore?

I don’t know the answers to that question.

I don’t know how churches will handle the reality of faith-shifting missionaries.

But let me tell you something I do know:

Why do systems use the threat of ostracism to keep people in line? 

Because ostracism is so painful that we will do almost anything to avoid it.

Ostracism as a threat works because it’s effective.

In my experience, faith-shifters will only come out of the closet when staying inside the system has become so painful that they have no other choice but to risk the pain of ostracism.

So, what to do?

  • Count the cost: keep track of how staying in the system impacts us.
  • Create healthy boundaries, based on the costs we’re counting in our lives.
  • Build community: find safe, supportive people whether in real life or online.
  • Trust God to be big enough for our questions.  Breathe.
  • Have faith for the journey.  Wherever we go, God is with us, loving us.
  • Know that you are not alone.
  • Care for your physical self with yoga sessions aimed at anxiety-reduction, to combat the effects of potential ostracism.

Resources for faith-shifters

Falling Upward, Richard Rohr

An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor

Faith Shift, Kathy Escobar

Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans

The Sin of Certainty, Peter Enns

Benefit of the Doubt, Greg Boyd

The Bible Tells Me So, Peter Enns

Disarming Scripture, Derek Flood

The Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey

The Last Week, Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan.

Repenting of Religion, Greg Boyd

Love Wins, Rob Bell

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, Brad Jerszak

Finding God in the Waves, Mike McHargue

The Language of God, Francis Collins

How God Changes your Brain, Andrew Newberg

Torn, Justin Lee

Unfair, John Shore

Folks to find online

Kathy Escobar

Cindy Wang Brandt

Angie Fadel

Center for Action and Contemplation

The Liturgists

Peter Enns

Remember:

If angels and demons can’t separate us from the love of God,

then some questions about faith systems are highly unlikely to have that power, either.

Even ostracism, as painful as that can be, cannot separate us from the love of God.

We are loved.

We are safe.

We are chosen.

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About Kay Bruner

Kay Bruner was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in Brazil, Nigeria, and the wilds of Kentucky. She and her husband have raised their four children in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and currently reside in the great state of Texas. Kay is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and divides her work days between counseling and writing. She is the author of As Soon As I Fell and blogs at www.kaybruner.com. She is available for counseling at her office in Dallas or via skype for a reduced rate to clients overseas. For more information go to: www.kaybruner.com/counseling

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