losing beliefs, not faith.

faith is khalil gibran

it’s been a wild and sad week around here. i’ve been around some pretty amazing open broken hearts and i am grateful.  thanks, too, for all your love & prayers for our little community; they mean more than you know. sometimes what happens when it comes to blogging is that i get an idea, know exactly what i want to say about it, never take the time to write it down, and then some kind of crazy thing happens and it gives the whole thing new perspective. a few weeks ago we finished up our walking wounded: hope for those hurt by the church class. it’s always such an amazing experience, to have a safe place to process grief and loss and find a way to move forward and a lot happens in those 4 weeks.

a big topic for so many of us is how hard it is to untangle our experiences with people & the system from our experiences with God.  they are so enmeshed with each other that as we separate from church-as-we-knew-it, we often don’t know how to still hold on to God.

the same thing can happen with belief and faith.

beliefs become so tangled up based on our church experiences and what we’ve been taught for so many years that we are supposed to “believe as a true-blue Christian”  that as we shed, unravel, deconstruct certain beliefs, we wonder if we’re actually losing all of our faith.  wondering if the last belief falls to the ground, any other last shred of faith will dissolve into the air and we’ll be left with absolutely nothing.

oh, how many times i have wondered this!  especially when i look at doctrinal statements or “what we believes” for certain ministries that i can no longer fully align with and keep my integrity.  as a pastor who really is passionate about Jesus and healing and transformation, it can feel really scary and i wonder “is what’s still left enough?”

i keep finding it is.

faith is different from beliefs or dogma. 

in so many ways, faith is what’s left when everything else is stripped away.

it’s that enduring crazy unexplainable thing that sustains when nothing else can.

it’s more powerful & stronger & more enduring than a list of beliefs and boxes to check or initial.

it supersedes language.

i keep remembering that doctrinal statements don’t save people or draw people to God–faith does.

i think of how many times in the gospels Jesus tells people “your faith has saved you” in some shape or form. not “your belief in all the right things has saved you”

to the “sinful” woman who busts into simon the pharisees house, “your faith has saved you” (luke 7:50)

to the hemorrhaging woman who desperately touches his robe for healing and blind bartimaeus who wanted to see, you faith has healed you” (mark 5:34 & 10:52).

to one leper out of ten who went back to thank Jesus for healing, “your faith has made you well” (luke 17:19)

for each of these versions (saved, healed, made you well), the greek word is sozo, which means “to save, to keep safe and sound, to make whole, to heal, to restore to health.”  sozo comes from the root word soaz which means “safe.”

i love this imagery. our faith helps us be made more whole, more safe, restored to greater health.

these people knew nothing, really, except a belief that maybe Jesus could help them.  they had a humility, a desperation, a desire, a hope.  that’s all they needed.

our systems have set up so many hoops for people to have to jump through, so many bullet points to memorize, so many belief statements to commit to, so many barriers to a free & wonder-filled faith.

after a week like this past week, when someone you love and care about takes their life, a long list of beliefs doesn’t really seem to bring any relief, healing, or wholeness. what does, though, is a crazy enduring faith that God is with us no matter what, that emmanuel-ness can never be shaken, that God shows up despite different theologies or doctrinal statements or words that even make sense.  that Jesus loved her deeply, fully, madly, and somehow knew the depth of her suffering.  that love covers a multitude of sins. that in some bizarre and unexplainable ways light always creeps out of the darkness, reminding us of what’s really important and it’s a very short list.

so many times i am in conversations with such dear and amazing people whose beliefs are unraveling and they think they’re losing all of their faith. when really maybe it’s actually just the opposite.

as the list of “i’ve got to believe this to belong and keep God happy” decreases, a faith that is less list-driven and more heart-driven, less good-behavior-focused and more freedom-focused, less fear-based and more love-based slowly & surely increases.  

yeah, Jesus said a mustard-seed was pretty darn powerful.

we can shed all kinds of beliefs and still have a strong faith.

this week, doctrinal statements didn’t help me. all the things i used to hold on to so tightly out of fear didn’t save me.

but my faith in a God who is in the darkest of the dark with us and cares very little about a long list of beliefs, yet cares very deeply about our hearts sure did.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

35 Comments

  • This really resonates with me. I have been struggling a lot over the past two years with trying to understand what it means to deconstruct and to not “lose my faith.” I am learning as well that just because I have my doubts about certain beliefs and can no longer attach myself to certain practices or beliefs, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have faith or have let go of God.

    I also wanted to say that a friend showed me the posts you wrote about the steps of salvation and deconstructing just about a year ago, and those were some of the most helpful things I have ever read. It really gave me strength to move forward into that wall and be willing to ask very hard questions that have really shaken my faith and beliefs. It’s been good, but also I have lost a lot of friends who can not understand why I am asking questions. On the other hand though, I have learned who my real friends are and through my questioning and seeking to grow more, they have also started deconstructing and are in much healthier places a well. so thank you.

    Reply
    • Wow, that’s inspiring that your friends have grown as a result of your journey!

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  • “As the list of I’ve got to believe this to belong & keep God happy decreases, a faith that is less list driven & more heart-driven, less good-behavior focused & more freedom focused, less fear-based & more love-based slowly & surley increases.” That has been my experience, in this season of my life. Freest I have ever felt.

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  • Kathy I so appreciate this, as someone who is trying get my broken heart to stop bleeding I am finding comfort in strange places…oddly enough…Kenneth Hagin is on my iTunes and I listen to him non-stop in spite of some of the issues many have with him…one of the things he said in a message was profound to me, he said (about someone taking their own life as a believer) that we don’t blame people when they get sick in the stomach and reject them, so why do we do it when they get sick in the head? Faith always looks up…and eventually see’s a smiling Jesus…He likes faith.

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    • thanks mark. i’m so out of it so have no idea who he is but i am glad that you are finding hope in it somehow. “faith always looks up”. sometimes, when things get really nasty, i force my head up as a practice and it always helps!

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  • What this brings to mind for me (why? I don’t know!) is a memory of some wonderful neighbors and friends from my childhood who were what I guess you woudl call “hoarders”. I always wondered if they surrounded themselves with all those piles of “stuff” because it somehow made them feel safer and more secure (I really don’t know their true psyche or motivations; I never asked). But, just now as I read this, I thought of my own accumulation of beliefs over the years and pictured their home. I have taken in so many ideas, read so many books, listened to so many debates, followed so many rules, ascribed to so many creeds, etc. I grabbed all those right beliefs and brought them home because piling them up made me feel safer, more secure, and comfortable. What you said about sozo/soaz just cut through that for me, unveiling faith as simple shelter – just the shell of safety and the strength of God being bigger than all of it. I think my fear lately has been that as I clean house and move all these piles to the curb that somehow the whole house (i.e. my faith) will collapse. Being able to picture it that way just now as I read your words exposes so much of what is false in that fear.

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  • Ya’ got it. Great post, Kathy! Isn’t it amazing all the extra stuff religious folks have piled on top of the simple message? Plus, you must keep reading and studying and learning theology and Bible so you’ll get it just right.

    I was in a cafe having some tea. A man I didn’t know came up to me and asked “Are you saved?” I smiled, and answered that I follow Jesus. He then asked “Yeah, but tell me what you believe about inerrancy so I’ll know if you’re saved”. I shut down the conversation and resisted the urge to grab his collar and shake some common sense into his doctrine/theology-filled head. Arguing theology rarely if ever results in faith.

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  • I love the idea of safe equating with security……. I remember that feeling (a lifetime ago) in seminary about truly believing that I had a “leg up” on the rest by knowing the ins and outs of how to dissect verses into teeny tiny bits. When shifts started to happen, it felt better to not be so restricted, but frightening in others that I was literally all on my own.,, I think that has been what has been so unnerving about shifting in faith over the years- that feeling of not being protected, or anyone having my back. Feeling all alone is terrifying.
    The message, both literally and figuratively, in school, as well as the church system i was a part of , was that one would be punished for not ascribing to said beliefs. The irony is that the super scariest seminary scholar (well, professor, but I liked the s theme), who had us pick with a fine toothed comb over every verse and told that we would be judged for every false belief we had, so be prepared, was one that made me begin to *want* to shift. I mean, I did not want to be known a harsh meany-head at the end of my life. But with that shift came the feeling of rut-roh, now my guards have been dismissed…. But what I am learning, in lots of different ways, is that what I have is enough, and that I might be *gasp* enough as well. And I don’t always feel so alone anymore. 🙂

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    • Hi Stacy,

      I’m touched by what you have written. You have talked about the fear – but isn’t it exciting too? I’m most alive when I do something that takes the most courage (sometimes courage is facing fear). Performing stand up comedy does that for me :). So I’ve learnt something form what you have written – in order for you to no be a “harsh meany head”, I could help by scaring you. *wink*. That was a light hearted comment, friendly teasing.

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    • thanks stacy, yeah, it’s so scary to let go of so much and still feel like there’s enough left. but yes, gasp, there is….if we can acknowledge and embrace it and allow it to be enough…i always love your sharing here!

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  • Kathy, having attended the Walking Wounded class, I am aware as you are the courage that it takes to have beliefs challenged and to face fear, step out into the unknown, take risks, let down walls and find a way of being. I keep going back to the CS Lewis quote in my mind that talks of love this side of heaven being fraught with danger, and yet to not love, to put up walls, to be self-focussed is a pathway to hell.

    So the beliefs and the dogma you talk of is what I see largely of social conditioning. And this freeing, the taking courage to step out of what has become one’s own worldview to be able to engage with different worldviews being a difficult and lonely step to take. Some things we once believe strongly now become things of the past with social consequences. It is the need to belong and for others approval that can get in the way of this that can keep us in fear and out behaviour that meets with what others want or what we perceive others want rather than entering into the fullness in Christ that he came for.

    So humility, desire, hope yes. Let’s not also forget that there is the reassurance that in Christ we are more than conquerors. Yes, in order to grow and prosper, sometime that does mean some deconstruction, but lets not make that our focus.Let’s rest in the assurance that things are working out as they should, accept the world as it is, and even in the midst of difficulty there is hope, there is confidence we have in knowing everything is working out for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.

    Be strong and dwell in God’ mighty power!

    And by the way – you are looking at healing as transformation – interesting! I’m looking at humour as transformation. I’m remembering a Tim Vine joke where he talks about two sets of footprints in the sand. At one part there appeared only one set of footprints. Knowing this represented the hardest times in his life, the man turned to God and asked where you then? God answered, my dear son, that is where we both decided to hop :). .

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    • yeah, i am with you, the social conditioning part is so strong, cultures are created by what it’s taught and these grooves are so deep…it’s really lovely to see so many breaking free and finding their way but it is scary territory when the culture is so strong the other direction. and yes, humor can be so transforming!

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      • It is difficult when breaking free and fear if allowed can lead someone to go back to social situations that we are talking of. There is comfort in the familiar. But then courage is also about experiencing fear and not letting actions be determined by the feelings. To act as if the fear is not there. That is when breakthrough is experienced. Humour – the ability to say death where is your sting is a healthy sigh of things being where they need to be 🙂

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  • YES. “a God who is in the darkest of the dark with us and cares very little about a long list of beliefs, yet cares very deeply about our hearts” — this is the God who is Love. Thank you.

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  • With this in mind of the heart, being free and of love – if you would like to
    see something that had started with Simon Cowell teasing a psator
    about his weight then resulting in Cowell saying “praise the Lord” and a
    prominent comedian talking about a performance making him want to go to
    church the have a peek at this. There is a lot of trouble in the world but also a lot of beauty if you are open to receiving it :).

    http://www.godvine.com/Simon-Cowell-Made-Fun-of-This-Gospel-Singer-Then-Everyone-is-Blown-Away-3177.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=4-21-2013#.UXPU2rDS_2I.facebook

    Reply
    • thank you for sharing this. so much in there that is so good! i have a few people i am going to share it with and very grateful for our little wild community where this is so in the open. there were so many little gems in there, but these two really jumped out at me: “most humans have an innate distrust for other humans and most humans think at a core level they are inadequate..”

      and “I wanted to see.

      1. Extreme Vulnerability
      2. Exposure expressed in humility
      3. Unconditional Love
      4. No judgment
      5. No assumptions
      6. Acceptance

      I wanted to see outside of the bubbles. I wanted to be taught by a bubble-free person. I wanted to be surrounded by people who got me and saw me and wanted to see me; people who weren’t scared of me because I choose to not live in fear.”

      Reply

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