failed faith.

Well it’s Failure Week here on the blog. If you are just joining us, so far we had a short overview and focused on failed parenting. Today I want to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart because so many I know have or are experiencing it–failed faith.

Just like there’s no such thing as failed parenting, I truly believe there’s never failed faith, either. However, there are many of us who either have–or are currently– experiencing some of these things when it comes to our faith journey:

  • Bombing out of church and finding ourselves on the outs of all we once knew.
  • No longer knowing how to pray or read our Bible or connect with God in a way that is meaningful.
  • Looking back on years of faithful service and dedication to God and thinking “How in the $*#&!(!) did I end up here?”
  • Anger, sadness, and confusion at the loss of faith-as-we-once-knew-it.
  • Others around us thinking we’re not faithful-to-Jesus enough and if we would just get back in line, everything would be good again.
  • Broken relationships with church friends and former “family.”
  • Multiple attempts to make things work at different churches and ending up in the same spot over and over again.
  • Lost ministry roles and drained passions and burnout when it comes-to-all-things serving God.
  • A pervasive sense of being an outsider when we once were part of the winning team.
  • Loneliness and disconnection where once there was joy, purpose, and a sense of community.

Can you relate to any of these?

There are many more that could be added, but the big idea is this–faith shifting realities can often feel like failure.

Where we once had clarity, we have confusion.

Where we were once on the “winning team”, now we’re not even on the field.

Where we once felt a sense of security, now we’re wobbly and unsure.

Where we once could articulate what we believed about God and why, now we’ve lost all our language.

Where we once were good at all-things-faith, we can often feel like faith failures.

A lot of the systems we have been part of perpetuate this feeling of success when it comes to faith.

I remember listening to a speaker at a women’s event talk about “Quiet Time” (yes, I know some of you might be breaking out in hives right now) and thinking to myself, “Okay, I need to figure this out. I need to follow this manual. I need to carve out the same time every day to do this. I need to use this formula to pray (A.C.T.S.–okay, now the hives might be climbing up your neck). I need to _______.” And then, truthfully, I would do it for about a week and before I knew it my determination would slip away and I’d be left with that “I’m-not-such-a-good-Christian-after-all” feeling.

I have hundreds of examples of this exact routine over the years, in all different shapes and forms.

Me trying, me failing, me feeling shame over it.

Even after all these years and so much faith shifting work, when I encounter people who are certain and confident and clear when it comes to God stuff, that same weird feeling stirs inside of being a faith failure.

I know it’s not true.

I know that my faith is in so many ways more free and vibrant than it’s ever been.

I know that I am on the path I’m supposed to be on, even though it’s sometimes unclear.

Yet, I go back to that old familiar feeling of not-getting-it-right-when-everyone-else-is.

That is often where failed faith gives us the most trouble–when we compare ourselves to others.

Where we see others still connected, still thriving, still doing all the things we used to do.

Or when we see others Rebuilding again after a big Unraveling, and we’re still barely breathing.

When we stumble and bumble when trying to describe how we feel about God and Jesus and the Bible.

When people ask us questions we can’t answer anymore.

My desire for Failure Week is working toward whatever we can to re-frame failure. Just like there’s no such thing as “failed parenting” there’s no such thing as “failed faith.”

My favorite part of journeying with other people through faith shifts is seeing what can happen when we re-frame what’s happening to our faith not as a bad thing, a failure, a disappointment, a disaster, a heresy, a rebellion.

But instead to see it as a natural and beautiful and weird and wonderful next chapter in our always-evolving faith story.

That is sometimes so much easier for me to say to other people than to believe for myself, but so much more freedom comes when I can.

I often wonder what Jesus thinks about all the crazy stuff humans have created about faith in his name. How much shame and legalism and this-is-how-you-do-it’s have pervaded the story that was always supposed to lead to life and freedom in the wildest of ways. The sadness of so many followers ending up feeling like failures when nothing can be further from the truth.

There’s no way to fail at faith.

I would love to hear some of your thoughts about failed faith. What are you learning? How are you re-framing it? How are you experiencing beauty out of the ashes? How are you finding freedom?

9 Comments

  • I definitely relate to “Loneliness and disconnection where once there was joy, purpose, and a sense of community.” I’m not at a point where I’m experiencing beauty. I suppose there’s a kind of freedom but it doesn’t feel like a freedom I want. Church was a place where I could be vulnerable and show my broken-ness. I haven’t found another community where that’s possible.

    Reply
    • it makes it so hard, when we once had it and now find ourselves alone and longing for something again but unable to find it at the moment. hoping something emerges over time that fills that need. thanks for taking time to share.

      Reply
  • Hi Kathy, you describe so well with what I have been through. I am Diaconal (Deacon) in the United Church of Canada for 25 years. At the beginning I was so excited. I was living my dream. While there is still much I enjoy about ministry and the church I have felt more and more frustrated and drained. I have a hunger to grow in my faith, but so many people seem threatened by this. In the last 5 years I have been learning about the personality system called the Enneagram which has it roots in mystical Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I love teaching it because I find it to be a great tool find abundant life. Right now I am training to be a life coach through the Deep Coaching Institute which uses the Enneagram as its main tool. I feel that I am broadening my calling to ministry through my desire to work with anyone that wants to grow whether they are a person of faith or not. I am excited again about ministry even though it is not apart of the official church. I hope many people read your series on “failure”. I believe there are many people who need to hear what you are saying. Thanks and Blessings Roland Legge Yorkton Saskatchewan Canada.

    Reply
    • oh i love the enneagram! what are you? i’m a 2 with a 3 wing 🙂 it’s an amazing tool. i have a post about my love hate thing with it, though. so challenging…. so glad you are here.

      Reply
      • Hi Kathy, I am a 6 with a 5 wing. Learning this has helped me to be more compassionate with my self. I think we can all be our own worst enemy. Thank you for your words of encouragement!

        Reply
  • The QT hives, the hives…they’re all over. 7 (for completeness) steps to a winning faith! Jesus looked like a fail to the establishment yet was the King of the Kingdom of God. Oh, the temptation to produce and polish fake fruit. My biggest question is how to produce true fruit from the true vine..Jesus says to remain in him and ask whatever we wish & it will be done for us. That’s grand!

    Reply
  • We all have different stories, and mine is based on my personal experiences. What I experienced may be similar to, but different from what others experienced. In my case, I grew up in a religious system that I eventually decided was an amalgam of many things. A bit of this religion, a bit of that one, a lot of tribalism, a lot of control and do what we say (especially the parts about give us your money and time and do what we say), sprinkle in a generous portion of Bible verses (that we’re told how they MUST be understood) , stir, bake it till hard and crusty, frost with a thin layer of God and Jesus-sounding stuff, and label it “faith” or even “church”.

    Maybe we lost faith in that, whatever we call it. (I call it “religion.”) But some of us found something else almost by accident, and not in that strange cake. Not in “church”. Not in all those systems. Somehow Jesus got lost for many of us in all that. We eventually found him, however. Elsewhere. Yes, I know there are those who say they find him in all that, but many do not. We found lots of “stuff”, some maybe good stuff, some definitely bad stuff, some weird stuff, but no Jesus. The “church” wonders why we left and why others continue to leave. The “church” thinks we lost our “faith.” Yeah, we lost our faith in them and their religion.

    Reply

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