10 things to remember when you're healing from faith shifts

if you’re one of those people who are healing from church & faith shifts, you know how raw and weird the process can be.  rebuilding after deconstructing addresses some of this, but i wanted to add a few more posts to the series over the next few months because there are so many layers to this process. one thing that is really apparent to me is that we have to take extra good care of ourselves when we are in the midst of these kinds of painful shifts.

here are a few suggestions to consider (after me learning the hard way what is and isn’t a good idea):

1. be careful what we read.  it’s a little like “don’t go online looking for medical advice” because it’s a sure way to create a ton of anxiety and make ourselves crazy.  choose wisely, which blogs and books you read.  i do not allow myself to go on certain websites, period, because if i do, i start to go a little nuts.

2. grief is weird.  it comes in waves and can be really unpredictable. allowing ourselves to  roll with it instead of resist feelings helps a lot. it’s important to respect that different interactions will trigger unexpected painful feelings. it’s not a sign that we are stupid; i can sometimes do just fine and then hear a story about something at a church and a weird wave of grief sweeps in again.  it’s freaky but now i’m learning to roll with it better.

3. it’s okay to “just say no” to certain events.  in fact, it’s often a necessity! it’s hard when friends are still part of the systems we left, but that doesn’t mean we have to keep torturing ourselves.  i have been invited to parties & weddings & events where i knew i would be surrounded with too many unsafe people for my liking and i just didn’t go. it was such a wise decision.  sure, i had to push through a few things because they were really special but on the whole, i really evaluate whether or not it’s a good idea for my soul. usually, it’s not.

4. we don’t have to justify our anger or sadness to anyone.  these are our feelings, not anyone else’s.  everyone processes pain differently. many people are afraid of emotions like anger & sadness and will do anything possible to shut it down in themselves & others, too.  one of the things that gives us the most trouble in the healing process is feeling guilty about how we are feeling. learning to let go of trying to explain it or justify it or defend it helps.

5. “our souls are not in mortal danger” – my friend & partner in walking wounded: hope for those hurt by church, phyllis mathis says this often and it is so good to remember.  if we can take the eternal damnation of our souls off the table and somehow trust that God is with us in this process, deepening and strengthening us some how, some way, it makes all the difference.

6.  find ways to laugh.   it really is the best medicine.  and often our only hope to keep healing.

7.  some relationships won’t make it through the transition.  they just wont.  i was hoping to hold on to a few of them, but what i realized over time is when the fundamental shift happens in the lens on how we view God & church & the world, we lose a lot of what we used to have in common.  it’s okay. i am sad about some of the losses but also trying to celebrate what was and accept that certain friendships had their season, and that season is over. i thank God i knew some of these people, and it’s awkward when we see each other, but accepting this reality has helped me a lot (although i totally still hate those awkward moments).

8. make time for safe, life-giving relationships.  even if you don’t really have the time, find it.  it’s so important to create space to be with people who “get it”, safe spaces to freely share what’s really going on in our heads and not have to worry about defending anything.

9. the serenity prayer.  seriously, it is such a beautiful prayer and so helpful.  to accept the things we can’t change & gain courage to change the things we can & honor hardship as a pathway to peace are  really important truths.  my favorite line is: “accept this sinful world as it is, not as i would have it”.  when it comes to church stuff, that brings me great hope.

10.  people might leave, circumstances might change, but God will never leave us or stop loving us.   i really believe this with every fabric of my being. maybe in some weird way that’s the only thing we need to have left in our faith to survive.

what else would you add?

my bonus one:  #11.  swearing can help.  sometimes, they’re really the right words, specially if you have tried to be “good” for way too long!

* * * * *

a few other things:

i have a couple of other blogs out there in the blog-o-sphere this week.  for someone who definitely doesn’t like the word “missional”  i used it a lot this week! both of these guest posts were centered around that topic:

  • missional pastoring head rattles on my dear friend and fellow-pastor-of-a-wild-community phil shepherd’s whiskeypreacher.com.

i wanted to let you know that phyllis mathis is hosting a 4 week online class starting july 9th for those of you who would like to do some intentional work on becoming more whole, more free. she is so wise & this is going to be a really helpful month for those who are part! early bird pricing before monday june 25th.

and speaking of wise & amazing friends, check out deborah loyd’s new blog that just launched yesterday.  she’s a brilliant pastor & teacher and there’s so much to learn from her!  she rocks, and her voice is so needed out here.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • It has been about 8 years since I started this faith transition. Bordering on agnostism at times it has been a bit difficult. This past year has been even harder. I’ve have become almost completely isolated from my church world & the friends therein. I live in Miami & don’t know anyone personally,except my husband, who is likeminded. It’s become a very lonely journey. I don’t think I have ever felt this alone. I am sure like you Kathy, that God loves me & he has his hand in all this. I only wish someone would have warned me that this complete descontruction and rebuilding of my faith was going to be so hard. Regardless,I would have gone through with it anyways. Thanks for the great post Kathy. You where dead on.

    • thanks for sharing, jaz. yeah, it’s so hard when no one talks about how lonely & hard & crazy all of these shifts are. it can really make us feel more lonely, hard & crazy than we need to be. but oh it is hard scary work…i appreciate your honesty.

  • This. is. so. good. Seriously! There isn’t one things missing, including the bonus item! It’s always helpful during the anger stage of grief. The two things on the list that were (and sometimes still are) the most challenging for me were the what I would read and the loss of relationships. I’ve learned how to hid people from my FB wall (without actually defriendig them) and just stopped following certain people on Twitter because I would get too worked up about posts.

    • Can so relate!! Had to go the same thing with my social media outlets.

    • yeah, i am glad you mentioned facebook/twitter/social media. it is such an easy trap.

  • Thank you again Kathy! Great blog post! Good insights!

    It is a weird process! As I came out of unhealthy system I struggled with speaking the truth about my experiences and feelings. I was so brainwashed into putting positive spin on absolutely everything that happened in the “system” that for a long time I felt compelled to add several “positive” disclaimers every time I spoke about a negative truth about my experiences in the “church”. I remember once I posted a comment on your blog a while back about a very painful church system experience and I felt compelled to add “but I believe there are healthy churches out there”. After I commented, I remember thinking why do I feel such a strong compulsion to add the “positive” disclaimers to what I say…where is that coming from…It was as if God shined a little light on that and gave me permission to speak freely! Our motives matter, and if our motive is to tell the truth in love with the purpose of changing something that is unhealthy and hurtful and oppressive then I think we need to speak up!

    It is important to speak the truth in love and that is one of the reasons that I like to read your blog every day. IMHO, you validate peoples experiences in love and facilitate an inclusive community where people can be real and transparent and gentle with themselves while we move through this life changing process. It is important to embrace this weird process of change and find balance between grieving, healing and growth. There is no going back as the same person once you have seen the light…so to speak. It is important to have fellowship with other people that “get it” to keep us gently moving forward because there are pits of despair that a person can get stuck in along the way. We need God and we need each other to come alongside and give a hand up once in a while. Online communities like this are examples of how the internet can be used for great good!

    Again, thank you for what you do!

    • thanks laurie, i really like what you said about that need to put a positive spin on things. it’s a weird compulsion that a lot of us have to soften things and build bridges. it’s not that thinking of the positive isn’t a good thing but the truth is that when we are always trying to “make sure” we aren’t too negative or too this or too that, it’s exhausting. and unnecessary. just because i don’t say something positive in a certain moment doesn’t mean i don’t feel something positive. i agree with you, too, the value of online safe communities and how much comfort we can find in knowing we’re not alone. i am so glad you are here!

  • So spot on. So timely. Just this afternoon, we will attend a wedding of people in the life-giving category … Can’t possibly miss it. But also in attendance will be folks in category 7, who will greet us warmly and even express their love while they have sat silently through the slander and abuse we experienced. It will be a challenging afternoon/evening.

    Your words are life-giving as always, Kathy. Keep ’em coming 🙂

    • Mar…can relate. Recently we had several grad parties to attend. While painful to attend (we both cried after the last one), we decided to go because it was important to those teens that my husband had ministered to…& loved. Over the past several months, both of us are no longer accepting abuse…we have stood up for ourselves & said no. The healing process is a very difficult & strange thing. I’m thankful to have had your ear & your voice throughout our pain.

  • Kathy – I love your perspective on the grief that comes with separation from a faith community. I have learned that these stages of grief are not progressive. When we are in the depths of depression it does not mean that we have passed through the anger or the saccharine “I’m fine! How are you?” denial of what was churning in our souls. The stages arrive whenever they feel like it and sometimes all within the time it takes for the light to change. I am learning that grief is not an orderly march from one stanza to the next. It is more like a dance where we are handed from one random whirling partner to the next with no idea when the music is going to stop.

    Thankfully, the old music does eventually stop, and we start to hear an entire new genre of music — one which delights our ears and nourishes our souls.

    • thanks jim. yeah, that important reminder that none of this is linear is so important! i like your metaphor.

  • Kathy…I have truly found so many of your blogs to be of great comfort to me. Just wanted to say thanks. You’re appreciated.

    • thanks kelley, i am so glad our paths crossed out here. you guys are so not alone.

  • I love this blog post. I always find comfort in your words. But, I have to wonder, how do you *know* that our mortal souls are not in danger? I do think it’d be nice to take eternal damnation off the table, but how?

    • hey allis, thanks so much for sharing. well i’m not certain of much so i would never presume to “know” for sure, but i do believe that we’re not one-breath-or-doubt-or-question away from God leaving us for dead. i personally believe romans 8:38-39 as representative of God’s heart for us and that he can handle the complexities of our journey & wrestling & doubts & hearts.

  • Kathy – Thanks. This is so helpful. I’d add #12 – listen to raw, uncensored rap music… loudly.

  • HI Kathy,

    This is a well timed blog for me as I make an important decision regarding my call….thankyou! I appreciate your presence in my life.

  • I needed to hear these so much. Some was advice I need to start following–like #1…I spend far too much time reading Mark Driscoll’s twitter feed. Others were so affirming (like #11!). Thank you.

  • Kathy,

    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on how to recover from faith shifts. I was recently let go from a christian school where my principal emotionally abused me and I had to seek medical help to help me through the year. Some of my friends still work there and continue to use scripture to state that sometimes God allows abuse to happen so that the individual can move on to a better place. I don’t believe that God wants anyone to be abused and it trivializes what I went through and continue to go through as a person.

    I have never felt so alone in my life and no one seems to understand except my husband who was fired 2 years ago from a church where he was a pastor. I go through waves of anger, sadness, disbelief and frustration. I don’t want to go to church anymore or hang out with anyone who is remotely involved in a church. But I have 4 children and worry about their spiritual development.

    Any other suggestions on how to get through this?

    • oh diane, i am so sorry you are having to go through this. it’s so painful. thank you for sharing here, and i am glad jim shared more about the facebook group that he generously started to help provide a safe place to at least feel less alone and gather some hope. one thing i know is that you are so not alone, so many of us in the same boat in different ways. i am not sure when our next walking wounded online class is going to be (http://liveittothefull.com/courses/walkingwounded/?utm_source=kathyescobar&utm_medium=ad&utm_campaign=walkingwounded1) , but i will definitely post it here and on facebook when it starts again (probably later in the fall). it could be a good way to process some of your feelings as you journey through this grief and each one we have done so far has been helpful in the healing process. peace and hope from colorado.


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