a nifty chart for the journey: stages in our life of faith

compassone of the hardest things about all of the tossing & turning & churning of spiritual growth and change is that it sometime can just feel so confusing and disorienting.  when others around you are perfectly fine with where they are on the journey with God, church & life, but something feels awry in our spirit, we can get a little insecure and sort of wonder “what’s wrong with us?”   in one of the spiritual direction classes i had at denver seminary 6 years ago we read a book called the critical journey: stages in the life of faith (by janet hagberg & robert guelich) that was probably one of the most helpful tools i have come across to give language to the spiritual journey. i sometimes tell people that the tuition money i paid was worth this one tool because it was the first time i saw in black and white exactly what so many of were experiencing but didn’t really have a framework to put it in.  i created a cliff notes version in a chart for a retreat we did way back when. it’s kind of handy and you can check it out here: (important note: this post won’t really make as much sense without reading it first)

grace blogged about it a few weeks ago and it made me want to flesh it out a little more so that those who have hit the wall and are feeling a bit dizzy can get a little reminder that it’s a good thing, a great thing, a wonderful thing to take the journey inward and intensely wrestle with God, themselves.  the hope is always that we can find our way to a new place of freedom, hope, connection, love.  i also think it’s really helpful to remember why other people are where they are.  sometimes i need to revisit this to offer a little grace to those who aren’t as dissatisfied as me & are still perfectly fine with towing the party line.  it’s just where they are on the journey.

i am not going to reiterate everything that is in the chart in the copy of this post because it would be too long but here’s a quick re-cap so you get the idea (purely from my perspective, you might read the book and get a different take):

this chart really highlights the 6 primary stages in our spiritual journey:

1. recognition of God – starting to believe, there really is something bigger than just me

2. life of discipleship – beginning to learn more ABOUT God

3. the productive life – serving and doing things FOR God

THE WALL – things stop working for one reason or another…

4. the journey inward – figuring out a new way to do relationship with God, ourselves, others

5. the journey outward – learning to live, serve, love out of a totally different place

6. life of love – so poured out it’s kind of wild

a few important notes about these stages:

you can’t skip over them initially. there are no shortcuts or workarounds.  you don’t go from 1 to 4 or 2 to 5.  it’s a 1-2-3-4-5-6 process but once you have gone through them it is possible to skip around and revisit certain stages during different new seasons.

we can get stuck at any of these stages on our journey.  they call this getting “caged”.  the chart details some of the ways we can get caged at each stage. at the same time there are things that we can do to keep moving.

none of these stages are bad or right or wrong or better than another. they just are.  i think an important piece to remember is that we couldn’t have gotten to where we are now (i am pretty sure that’s bad grammar?) without the first stages.  sometimes i forget that without my season of learning scripture, becoming part of “the church”, and discovering what i had to contribute and working my butt off to do it, i wouldn’t be where i was today in my relationship with Jesus.

the majority of christians live their entire faith journey in stages 1-3.  these first three stages keep churches in business.  it is what produces workers, people who sit in the pews and learn, tithers, and volunteers who pull the ministry off.

what happens to a lot of people, though, is that somewhere along the road they hit THE WALL. this can be a personal crisis, a faith crisis, anything that basically begins to make stage 3, the productive life, stop working.   most everyone, if they are honest, hit the wall somewhere along the line in some shape or form (some of us slam into it a little bit more dramatically!) but most christians are taught and trained to dance around the wall and then get back to stage 3 as fast as they can.  i really believe a lot of christians don’t know quite what to do when people hit the wall.  the typical response i have seen a lot: read the latest spiritual book, get into a quick-fix workshop, get an accountability partner as soon as possible, or if it’s really bad, go to a counselor for a few times to fix what’s wrong and get back to “normal” as soon as you can.

far fewer people actually do the hard courageous work of going THROUGH the wall because it requires entering into stage 4, the scary place where it feels like everything is up for grabs.  all that we once knew  is somehow gone or just doesn’t bring life.  we don’t feel safe or satisfied or energized in the system we used to give our heart and time and money to.  the way we used to experience God just doesn’t seem to be working anymore.  we have way more questions than answers.    we allow ourselves to feel pain & let God into some places we have not wanted to go before.  sometimes we are bleeding, wounded, and wondering if we’ll ever be whole again. it is the most confusing stage and also the most glorious because it is where we begin to let go of some of the comforts that protected us so well but kept us from deeper, richer, more mysterious relationship with God.  it is also the stage that most outsiders will look at us and say “what in the $#*!^!+@ is happening with them?” others will think we are crazy, heretical, lost, stupid, unfaithful & a little (or maybe a lot) like the prodigal, hoping we’ll come back home as soon as possible.  i think stage 4 is when we need good guides, fellow sojourners who will stay with us and remind us this is a critical stage in our faith journey, to remind us to listen deeply and not lose hope when all that we once knew feels stripped away.

the hope is that we will transition into stage 5 where we are serving, loving, living from a new, free place that gives life not only to us but to others.  in the journey outward we live from a more whole, integrated place in our faith and personal lives.  we are more vulnerable not only with God but with other people & we are deeply committed to community, a slower pace, and begin to serve and love other people out of deep desire and passion instead of duty or obligation or attachment to an organization or institution.   2 corinthians 1 and 1 john 4 take deeper root:  we comfort others with the comfort we’ve received and we love others because we’ve experienced Christ’s love like never before.

i believe that some of us pop out of stage 4 here and there along the way, not all at once (that is what we expected of ourselves in stage 3!).  movement between the journey inward & outward are a little more fluid. it’s not like one day we wake up and go “okay, it’s all clear now, here’s my new purpose and there’s no turning back.”  i think we live in stage 5 with a greater sense of freedom, compassion, depth and a willingness to not know. my professor described stage 6 as a little on the mother teresa side.  pretty hard to do when we have kids at home, mortgages to pay, and some of the practical things that tie us down.

as you know by now, i am not a big formula person. i am not into “this one idea will make all of the questions of the universe perfectly clear.”  so don’t think for a moment that i am ascribing this chart is 100% accurate and will change your world.  i just hope it stirs up a bit of what it stirred up in me when i first read it a long time ago:  a little reminder that i am not crazy.  the wall is real.  the journey inward is worth it.  the healing, freedom, and love that springs forth from all that hard work is beautiful and worth holding on for.  our spiritual walk is long, wild and important and at many turns impossibly slow.  and there’s no doubt, we need patient, safe, challenging people to remind us that God is big, alive, and present with us even in the darkest, most loneliest of days. 

i’d love to hear your thoughts…

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.


  • here i was thinking i was the only one experiencing faith/spirituality like this… come to find out there is a formula/chart and i’m clearly working my way through it! i’d say i’m at stage four, but sometimes i try to turn around and run back to “the wall” in which case, i just run INTO the wall.
    i like the idea of stage 4 and 5 becoming fluid because i think they are so much a part of each other… sort of like having your inward journey expressed through the outward journey.

    i love that your blog reminds me in so many different ways, that i am not alone in life.

  • Nearly three years ago, I approached the wall. I don’t know if I’m in the wall or somewhere in stage 4. The journey has been fraught with some of the most intense experiences of abandonment in my life. Life/faith crisis are where I have my found myself along this road. I’m sure to many, it really has looked like I’ve lost my faith. Interestingly enough, I’m not angry with God. I’m more angry with the church as an instituation and at self-righteous people who believe they have the ticket and that I somehow fell off the train, when they don’t even know half the story. I’m angry that church and one person’s interpretation of faith can so damage another’s sense of self…it just doesn’t seem right.

  • I haven’t commented here before so hi. It was so good to see this set out so clearly. Lately so many things that I thought I knew about God, myself and other people seem to have been turned on their head and the thing was I couldn’t put my finger on what was different except that I felt an overwhelming hunger for the things of God. It started by deciding I wasn’t going to be boxed in by other people (more in just general life being the perfect mother/wife, blah, blah than anything else) and that then made space to hear what God was saying – that I had boxed Him in. I’m also blessed to be in a church and small group where I don’t feel the need to conform. Anyway thanks for this post.

  • Kath, right on! Preach it sister! The wall is tough, terrifying, and dark, no wonder so many never press through but only return to the previous stage of existence. But oh my, it is oh so worth it to press on through. To me it’s the example of the paschel mystery . . . life out of death. The wall is most certainly a death experience–death to what we knew, who we were, our dreams, identities, position, false self but also an emergence into life like we’ve never known. Perhaps a wee taste of what lies ahead. Press on, press on!

  • steph – yeah, i was the exact same way the first time i saw it in black and white and it was comforting to me, too. i hope i get to see you before you leave & i am glad the carnival helps you feel less alone. me, too.

    lisa – i think it’s great that you are able to separate out God from people & the institution, too. a lot of times that is really tricky…i am with you, that there’s nothing worse than someone saying “i know what is 100% true about this situation” and make all kinds of assumptions and have all kinds of responses that tend to hurt. there’s alway so much more going on underneath than meets the eye.

    melissa – thanks for stopping by and commenting, too. i am glad this chart made a little sense for where you are at & that you have a safe community to process some of these things out loud. that is beautiful (and fairly rare!). if there was another description for stage 4 i think it would be “letting God & ourselves out of the box”…i am always curious, how did you hear about this blog?

    debbie – good to hear from you! i am wondering how things are with you and of course you know this book well (i am assuming they are still using it?). i love your reminder that the wall is a death experience. dying to all that we held on so tightly to. and we all know that when things die there is grief, loss, confusion but that from the loss God brings forth new life in beautiful, mysterious, wonderful ways. hope to see you soon!

  • Kathy, where were you a decade ago when I needed to know this? 🙂 I remember feeling utterly crazy coming out of stage three and hitting the wall, and of course Joe Average Christian was quick to let me know I WAS crazy!

    Anyway, I’m in stage five now (and I still have occasional days where stage four is my home, too) and it’s good, very, very good. I’ve never had this peace in my heart before, and I cherish it every single day.

    So glad you wrote this!

  • I think this is a very accurate and accessible roadmap. It reminds me a lot of James Fowler’s Stages of Faith, who did some groundbreaking work on the subject. His categories outline roughly the same thing, but in much more esoteric language.

    I have often thought that what so many people describe as “deconstructing” their faith is actually the loss of meaning that comes with faith development rather than some postmodern phenomenon. What’s different these days is that whereas the journey was once a lonely path to walk, it is now made a bit more companionable through blogs and such.

  • I remember seeing and using your chart about three years ago…it’s so great to be reintroduced to it. It has a very different meaning to me today then it did back then. I feel like I have been journying inward for a very long time with breaks in between where I sit on the wall, but my current journey inward has been the most difficult by far and the wall is calling out to me. in a way the wall offers some respite to the pain of looking inside, but like you said it keeps us from experiencing a deeper, richer, more mysterious relationship with God. thank you kathy!

  • I would offer some different language categories and one big change.

    1. I would categorize 1-3 as church as we typically experience it. It’s the stuff of learning about God. Doing church is rather easy and predictable.

    2. I would categorize 4-6 as following Jesus.

    The two are very different animals. And because of this I would place discipleship at four because learning about God is not really discipleship as Jesus offered it. Engaging relationship with God as Father through following His Spirit is where the wild ride begins.

  • Kathy – I found your blog through another blog but I can’t remember whose.

  • Hi, my name is Stacy, and I have hit the wall dead on. Hi Stacy.” I am totally in tears, and I do not think that I have read something so freaking validating since your “jenga faith” post. Really.

    Yes, I needed to read this, as I feel like Alice tumbling down a long, dark road to non-Christianhood. In so far as friends saying “what in the $#*!^!+@ is happening with them?”, I think that I uttered the evangelical equivalent when I told a friend yesterday that I didn’t feel like a Christian anymore. *GASP*

    —-> This paragraph changed my world.

    “we don’t feel safe or satisfied or energized in the system we used to give our heart and time and money to. the way we used to experience God just doesn’t seem to be working anymore. we have way more questions than answers.” E-X-A-C-T-L-Y.

    I feel validated, yet terribly, terribly afraid. Not of losing my salvation, as I ascribed to the “you are in, you’re in” philosophy before I “strayed (?)”. *PHEW*
    The wall, however, casts a dark, lonely shadow that on a life that was once filled with all the propoganda that faith can offer. Books, service, music, prayers- all of that- feels meaningless once wounds that only fellow Chistians can offer run deep. Thank you, Kathy, for fleshing this out, as it is giving me tons of fodder to process in my journey. :/

  • Wow and thank you. I think I’ve been hitting the wall for about 20 years now. Actually I think I made my way through about eight years back but the only voices around keep saying, “get back over that wall this minute! You know you’re not supposed to be over there.” And so I stubbled backwards and slammed into the wall again (and again and…) trying to “redeem” myself according to the voices. Thank you Kathy for being a voice on this side of the wall. The last two years have been painful but definately freeing, frightening but definately revealing, costly but ultimately rewarding.

  • katherine – i really look forward to what you have to say so keep me posted…

    tracy – with stage 5 does come this weird & crazy peace, a strength and foundation that in some ways doesn’t look on the outside as “solid” but is stronger than ever before. ps: got my book, too, thanks! look forward to reading it.

    unorthodoxology – good to hear from you again. i haven’t seen fowlers stuff, will have to check it out. i am a simple girl though and like language i can relate to. one of the things i like about this material is it was written in 1995, a ways back, and really has nothing to do with all of the popularity of the current deconstructing conversation. there’s something to that, i think

    amber – yeah, isn’t it interesting that we revisit these things and they take on new meaning. stage 4 is sometimes so painful, going to places that need going but require a lot of us. it really is a hanging on process and trusting that light, hope will emerge eventually. so glad we get to do the journey together…

    jonathan – i like your different way of looking at it. i agree, that stages 4-6 is where the deeper intimacy resides…

    melissa – cool. look forward to hearing from you again

    stacy – oh you are in the thick of things and i am so glad that you are feeling a little less alone and crazy in the process. sometimes, with some of the things you say, i am like “oh i wish you were in some of these conversations face to face instead of over the internet.” it is a weird feeling when all of the things that provided structure–certain books, authors, music, kitsch, you name it–just don’t resonate anymore. hang in there, my friend. stay the course & i hope you keep noticing God at work, small weird ways Jesus’ spirit is reminding you, comforting you, loving you in the midst of the chaos.

  • minnowspeaks – your comment came in right after i hit send on the previous response. yes, the tug “back” is so strong. i have felt it often. and yes, too, there’s a cost. and yes it can be frightening. it doesn’t come cheap or easy, this deeper, free-er, more integrated life of faith. thanks for your thoughts!

  • In his book “A Search for What Makes Sense” Brian McLaren shares a similar chart of stages of growing in faith. His are:

    1) Simplicity
    2) Complexity
    3) Perplexity
    4) Humility

    As you’ve pointed out, people tend to get stuck. For many, it’s at stage 2.

    My wall is looming, but I’ve got the hammer out . . .

    Another insightful post, Kathy.

  • What a great post! I posted something like this in reference to Joyce Meyer’s book Woman To Woman. She talked about these different life stages for Christians. It’s all so true. It’s easy to figure out what stage we’re in!

    Getting to the harvest level IS really hard and lots of people do give up there…it’s sad. We’ve gotta press on! It’s worth it!

  • brian – haven’t read that book. i love those 4 descriptions. really, really good. keep swinging!

    heather – glad it was helpful!

    r.l. – welcome and thanks for stopping by. it is easy to give up and just go back to egypt. at least the food and the work was predictable. but pressing on into the unknown brings freedom…

  • Hello, Kathy … it is always depressing to find another blog that I want to read 8) … too little time, so much to read!

    Your chart took me immediately back to a summary chart I made from M. Scott Peck’s book “The Different Drummer: Community Making and Peace” — where he describes the four stages of spiritual growth in Chapter IX — Patterns of Transformation.

    Stage 1: Chaotic (antisocial)
    Stage 2: Formal (institutional)
    Stage 3: Skeptic (individual)
    Stage 4: Mystic (community)

    …of course, I have now spent 15 minutes trying to remember just where the fine of that chart is … LOL! I know it’s here somewhere….

    The interesting thing I remember from Peck’s descriptions of the process is that when someone is more than one stage ahead, they are frequently perceived as evil … and so we have those who are stuck in the “institutional” stage afraid of those in the “mystical” stage. It is best to try to reach to those who are in the stage adjacent to you — unless you are deeply in touch with what you were like in earlier stages and can build appropriate bridges backwards.

  • This is great stuff!!I’m wondering rather than a journey through these stages, like a trip to Nirvana type thing, you can’t get to stage 4 unles you attain stage 3 – that our journey is a kaleidscope of these stages, for me the inward journey took off, when the outward journey began. That these stages need to be kept in balance, the gravity being our relationship with God?

  • peggy – nice to hear from you over here. i remember reading that a long long time ago. i love what you reminded us of–the idea that two stages of ahead is just too freaky for some. it is a good reminder for me, too, to offer love & respect for others who are just in different places in their journey…i finally was able to take a look at some of the stuff on your site, too. good stuff and yeah, i know the “oh know, another blog!” feeling

    mark – thanks for stopping by. yeah, i think there are so many angles to look at it…

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. I have been at “the wall” for a while now and it was such a breath of fresh air to read something that so closely related to where I am at. I had tears reading this.

  • I’ve been thinking about this chart a little…

    I drove a train into the wall, tried to climb out of the wreck and carnage, tried to clean it up, or at least get over the wall…only to end up setting up camp on the wall. The pain-numbing adrenaline has stopped flowing and I am beginning to see how much I am hurting – and more so than I thought I was.

    My heart, body, mind, and spirit are cracked, and often leaking all over… The spiritual duct tape I used to put over the cracks, that used to hold me together (at least on the outside) just looks a little silly now. It just doesn’t stick well enough to hold anything together.

    Sometimes I really want to go back to the certainty and clarity of “normal” as I knew it. Sometimes I feel like I am ruined for the old ways I used to do life, and it’s kinda unsettling. I feel closer and further away (often at the same time) from God and life, real life, than ever before.

    Most of the time I have no idea how “figuring out a new way to do relationship with God, ourselves, others” is the way through the wall, especially when that was such a huge part of how I ended up here in the first place. But, I do know I can’t just skip over the wall, or settle for just going back, no matter how much I want to…

    • I don’t know if you’ll ever see this comment since yours was made in 2008 … but your comment that you’re now “ruined for the old ways you used to do life” really resonates with me. The sense of no going back … I wonder: is this what Jesus’ closest disciples felt when He said, “Follow me”? They didn’t know what it would mean or where they would go … they simply knew they could be nowhere else but with Him. Others began to follow and turned back when the way started to mean suffering. It does seem there is a “no turning back” point — when the journey is beyond uncomfortable, but you know there is no road back to what once was. It’s only Him.

  • jenn – thanks for taking the time to comment and i am glad you connected with it, feel less alone…

    eb – wow, such beautiful words you shared. thanks. i love your thoughts about spiritual duct tape. i think the word that throws me off a little bit, too, is the “figuring out..” i am not sure that is the right word to use, not sure what a better one is and i think you get the point, it is wrestling with new ways because in so many ways we can’t “figure it out.” thanks for your honesty.

  • kathy, thank you for this post. i go from being a crumpled up heap underneath the wall to saying, “what wall? there isn’t any wall, i’m just fine, thank you.” honestly, i am scared. scared i’m not going to get to the other side…that i don’t have the courage/desire/ability/willingness/etc to go through this. sometimes i want to tell poeple that i wasn’t always this way. i used to be a good christian. you should have known me before…you might have liked me better because i wouldn’t be stepping on your toes at the moment. but alas, here i am. trying to hold on. trying to let go.

  • I’m almost lost for words!
    It was on Saturday that I made a fresh start with blogging. I had no idea where it was going to lead and then I find this site!
    I’m 72 and I’ve been on this journey outside the box for a very long time.
    I created a chart about three years ago based on my feelings at the time about the stages of faith. It can be found on my web site (4stages.html) – based loosely on the work of Alan Jamieson and Fowler.

  • Davida, I just wanted to say that many of us know exactly how you feel because we’ve been there. I mean EXACTLY :-). I just wanted to encourage you that you’re spot on saying you don’t have the courage, desire, ability, willingness, etc. That’s right, you don’t. If you did, who needs Jesus? It’s so great when we come to the end of what we think we have to bring to the relationship. Sounds like you’re just about to let go of the end of the rope. Welcome to free fall, my friend–it’s a great place to be! Well, I just wanted to chime in because I know at times you can feel like you’re crazy and the only one. You’re not!

  • hey davida, i am so glad you are holding on. like tracy said, you are so not alone…going through the wall is brutal and hard and scary. i so know that feeling about saying “if only you knew me when i was such a ‘better’ christian”…i was just saying that to someone else last week! so as you keep walking, taking that next step, next breath: hang on to what is good. let go of what you no longer need.

    old pete – welcome! i am so glad you stopped by! i tried to go to your link but i couldn’t find it so if you don’t mind sending it to me, that’d be great. 72 years old and out of the box for a long time, that is so inspiring. look forward to hearing more from you along the way….

    tracy – you are always so encouraging & yep, we’re not crazy but it can sure feel like it

  • Kathy, a friend asked me a question about this post and I’ve been mulling it over for days. I finally decided to go to the source and gather your thoughts: She asked me if I thought it was possible for a person to “go through the wall” if they were still in a traditional institutional church setting.

    What do you think? Pour forth your wisdom, oh wise woman! 🙂

  • hey tracy, oh trust me, this will not be wisdom pouring forth, but i will say that yes, i do think you can go through the wall in a traditional institutional church setting. that’s really what i did the first time a long time ago &n have seen many others do, too, all in different ways. i was still “in church” but underwent a huge initial personal and spiritual transformation that really changed everything about my journey. the whole time i was still part of the institution for sure. this 2nd big wall that came a few years ago was the one that bumped me out. i think a big piece of making it through the journey inward after hitting the wall is community–some safe people, group, whatever, that will stay with us no matter what. i think that’s what makes staying “in” the structure and going through it possible. there are so many different variations & possibilities because each person’s experience is unique but those are just a few thoughts at the moment! we’ve been camping all weekend with the refuge and i am behind so sorry for the late response…let me know your thoughts back!

  • Kathy, my thoughts were similar, but maybe with a few more reservations. I think I would have said it was possible to go through “the wall,” in a institutional church setting depending on what part of the wall you were going through, what type of support people you had in your life (i.e., if your friends don’t even SEE the wall, good luck getting support for your journey!), and, of course, what type of IC you were part of. Some ICs encourage struggle and pushing through and others view it as weakness in your walk…I think in some ICs the only way to go through the wall is to get out, but that’s not true in all of them by any stretch.

    I guess I could have summed up my answer like this: It depends!

    If you’ve been camping all weekend I have two words for you, too: Go shower! 🙂

    Thanks, Kathy, for your response!

  • Tracy
    I’m sure you are right – it depends!
    Apparently not unlike Kathy I came through a wall in the 1960’s when I left a traditional church, and then again in the mid 1990’s. I was finally ‘pushed’ to question just about everything I had ever been taught.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that some people need the safety and security provided by traditional churches, and some leaders who are happy to provide that security (at least for a time). But then there are those who are being drawn outside of their own comfort zones – people who are asking the awkward questions to which there are no easy answers.

    I am where I am now because I’ve been asking questions and trying to understand why people believe what they believe – and it often does not tie up with scripture as I’ve been led to understand it. BUT the important thing for me is that it’s not everyone who is even being asked to consider those awkward questions. I remember the first time in 1966, in a men’s discussion group I asked the question, “What is the purpose of life?”. The immediate response of the Vicar was, “Peter, you can’t ask that, it’s the 64,000 dollar question (a lot of money in those days). Let’s go on to the next question”.

    I would suggest that traditional churches lay a somewhat faulty foundation – but never get to the heart of the matter!

  • tracy – i’d agree with you, “it depends” is probably the word(s) of the day related to this. every situation is different and this paints broad strokes instead of all of the ins and outs of each person’s individual circumstances.

    old pete – i really like your thoughts here. thanks.

  • I only read Kathy’s post and not all of the comments, but Dang! — If those 6 phases describe what most Christians go thru in their spiritual walk, it’s no wonder we’re waking up in a handbasket.

    My “conversion” experience came via 12-step groups, and because they exist only for people who are fed up with pretending, there was no Phase 2 or Phase 3 in my conversion — it began with Phase 6. Jesus’s love washed over me, and I responded with a slow, crescendoing Yes! I just finished the fiction novel “The Shack”, and it describes another “Yes!”

    Now, 20 years after I found out how much Jesus loves me, I do struggle with the journey, and I often try to do Phase 5 without God’s unpredictable love as its foundation. But I’d still take my journey over what the Christians of my youth were offering me (these 6 phases).

  • Hey there, just found your blog. I realize this is an old post, but the subject is of great interest. I’m wondering if anyone has read “A Churchless Faith” by Jamieson, and if so whether they think it does justice to this topic? I feel like at the Wall and in Stage 4, and ready to leave church.

  • martine – so sorry i never responded to your comment way back when. i just realized this! yes, i think that this chart does not cover every single person’s experiences by any means. it is interesting that the 12 steps are so helpful in helping people get in touch with so much of the deeper stuff earlier on. thanks for sharing.

    liz – thanks for the link. i need to check out that theocentric article one of these days 🙂

    rob – thanks for stopping by, sorry that i am just now getting back int eh groove, but haven’t read that jamieson book but i’d love to hear more. and if that is where you are at, you are definitely in good company here!

  • I’m not sure whether it was more encouraging to read what you wrote, Kathy, or to read the words of so many people going through the same things!

    What you said:
    it is also the stage that most outsiders will look at us and say “what in the $#*!^!+@ is happening with them?” others will think we are crazy, heretical, lost, stupid, unfaithful & a little (or maybe a lot) like the prodigal, hoping we’ll come back home as soon as possible.

    …that is definitely how I feel about myself. Wondering if I can really believe that this is a good phase that is leading me closer to God, or am I really crazy, heretical, unfaithful, etc.? I have really amazing and gracious friends that don’t treat me like that…but the voice of “church” is so ingrained in my head, that I feel a whole lot of fear. Wondering if I can really feel safe with God now that I’ve lost everything that used to make me feel safe with him.
    Reading these things makes me feel more like maybe I’m not lost. 🙂

  • blueorchid – i am so glad you are reading & are feeling less alone in all of the craziness. we are doing a series of conversations in mid-september through mid-october called “doubt” and i wish you could be part. we’re using some of the videos from http://www.recycleyourfaith.com, which is a venture of one of our friends and includes some great videos about some of these topics. this particular post is one of my all-time favs. i think back on this chart all the time, like i said, it was worth that $ i spent at seminary 🙂 peace and hope to you on the journey. i believe many of us are finding a faith that is much stronger than we ever imagined even when so much of what we believed has been stripped away. you are not alone & you’re definitely not crazy 🙂 love, kathy

  • I wish I could be a part too 🙂 I’ll check out the videos, though. It looks like a good site. I think I have that book (critical journey)…it’s just a friend took it off my hands right after I got it! 🙂 I think now would be a better time to read it than before anyway. Thanks for your encouragement.

  • Kathy, I came across your site this week as I was looking into Hagberg and Guelich’s model. Thank you for the summary you provided, and for how you have tied it into your own journey and your teachings/leadings for others.

    The last few years of my life have been a journey of stage 4 and The Wall, but no one had ever shown me a model like this. I felt like I was losing my faith. I found your post on Jenga Faith and I have also described my wrestling in this way. After banging against that wall for a couple years, I crashed and burned into it last year. I reached a point where I had to either get through it or give up. Everything I believed and shaped my life around was laid on the line and I had to accept who I was (with ALL the faults) and accept who God was (not who I thought he was in my false images and expectations). It was incredibly hard but now that I have made it through much of that journey I know it was worth it. The wholeness I have found may appear as brokeness and weakness to others at times, but I have found a peace, comfort, conviction, and centering unlike anything I have ever known.

    I am now stepping up to walk with those who are disillusioned, lost, and hurting. Many of them may be at the same place I was for the last few years, and I want to be present to assure them that what they are going through is normal, good, purposeful, and beautiful. I liked your recent video where you discussed that Church as some experience it just isn’t providing what they need to grow and change, and the point Hagberg and Guelich make that most evangelical churches only reach people at stages 2 and 3 really opened my eyes and heart.

    Keep sharing! Keep ministering and teaching. I think you are raising some great questions and bringing some insights that many others are not willing to dialogue about. I will be back to learn and grow more with you. Thank you!

  • restoring the heart – thank you for reading and taking time to comment. i always like to meet people who have a passion for walking alongside the hurt, disillusioned, and lonely. and i always think the only people who can really do that are the ones who have somehow experienced it ourselves. i do think this model is the best one out there that really hits what so many of us have or are feeling/experiencing. the refuge hosted a workshop back in june 2007 called “walking wounded” for those who are hurt, disillusioned, and lonely. we laughed, we cried. we are doing another one in october of this year in denver, totally free, just a chance to get folks together for a while and learn that they’re not the only ones. and they’re not crazy. this was the link from the one 3 years ago: http://wounded.therefugeonline.org/. anyway, i am not sure where you are located but thought i’d pass it on. i look forward to hearing from you again!

  • Thank you for the information about your workshop. I live in Oregon and October is a very full month where I am involved in major community service events almost every weekend, so I won’t be able to attend, but I will keep it in mind as I communicate with others across the nation. You are very right that those who understand being lost, captured, disillusioned, and who have had their faith falls short have an ability to relate and connect with others who are walking through those same things in ways many others don’t understand. I have encountered few who understand my journey, but those who have are a real blessing and strength to me.

    There are so many who just need a little help to find their way. I am thankful for people like you who are finding ways to connect with many who have been left behind by other believers (out of lack of understanding and not hurtful intention).


  • I’m a recent lurker here and would like to add what I’ve learned to this wonderful post with such insightful, pained, and poignant comments.

    Although charting can be helpful, having categories is the same kind of constrictive systematic thinking so many of us have fled in disgust. I’ve experienced what you all have, and it’s ugly, anguished, and sprawling, and not neatly contained within a nice category box. That said, I’ve been circling through 4-6 for a couple decades (why limit 6 to Mother Theresa?)

    What I’ve discovered over time is that there isn’t simply one wall. There are walls of differing sizes and heights, in differing areas of our lives–faith, emotions, family, abusive pasts, church indoctrination, thought, behavior, and practice, and each is a refining fire. To think we have only one wall will lead to discouragement when the next one looms.

    Sometimes a wall is in one area, sometimes it will cover all at once. Walls require an incredible leap of faith, especially when we’re afraid, with a faith so damaged that we don’t even believe there is another side. And as some have pointed out, we’re scared of joining whatever tribe there and becoming strangers to ourselves.

    But a jacket gets too small and it’s a straitjacket.

    Two of my favorite songs are by Sara Groves, and both are about wall experiences. Painting Pictures in Egypt deals with pain and fear in leaving security, and Maybe There’s A Loving God is about venturing beyond boxes and fixes in our hesitant search for God.

    I also love to encourage others who are struggling, to help them have the courage to recognize walls, take them on, and know that the other side is worth it. Those of us who are “two steps ahead” can light their paths, even if no one lighted ours, and comfort them on the way.

    I write this as I am again struggling with another wall.

    • somehow i missed responding to this but thanks for sharing. yes, i think there are plenty of walls over the course of our journey, some higher and thicker and harder than others. once we’ve been through a really big one, though, when it comes to these issues of faith, it does seem like we can much better light others’ way, too. peace.

  • Thanks for sharing this chart…I’ve been at “4” for several years but I feel like I am approaching “5” or at least I am hopeful/praying…(Smiles)…Nice to meet you, Kathy 🙂

  • I totally agree with your last few sentences Kathy. It’s a brave book written to address issues that churches don’t know how to handle and that have been swept under the carpet in many communities. So, yes, as we process through these kinds of transitions, we do need those kinds of people you mention around us. I call them companions on the journey of faith and they are crucial to that journey. I am so pleased you’ve blogged again on this – I found the book first here because you recommended it last time and it was key in my faith walk. So thank you. Jane x

    • thanks, jane, for sharing. i am so glad you liked the book. it really is a great tool. yes, we need those companions on the journey, who remind us we’re not crazy and we’re not alone. thanks for reading!

  • HI kathy,
    My bible study group is going to use your chart to help with a faith journey series, but I wondered if you have ever come across anyone who has linked specific bible verses or studies on the disciples’ faith journey with these stages/ transitions/ experiences?

    • hey gayle, that’s fun. i’d love to hear how it goes. i actually haven’t seen any exact bible verses attached to this but i’m sure they are there in some way, shape or form, just might be a little bit of a stretch to make them fit perfectly. peace.

    • 2 Peter 1:5-8. The Wall is between perserverance and godliness. Godliness is the inward turn. Botherly kindness is stage 5 love stage 6

  • The movement of the journey you described reminds me a bit of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, moving through the rooms inward until you reach the most interior room of the castle. Great thoughts!

  • I just stumbled upon you and your ministry and…oh.my.goodness. thank you.

  • Sounds like the dark night of the senses, dark night of the soul from the catholic mystical tradition. Have you heard of the purgative, illuminative and unitive stages of the spiritual life? Your chart is just a different way of explaining it…. Catholics have known about all that for quite a while…. Ralph Martin’s book “The Fulfillment of all Desire” is a great resource to learn more.

  • The stage culminates in the “ final test ,” which of course is the LSAT. It seems scary and challenging at the time, but by the end of the journey the hero realizes that it was just the first step. Think: Harry Potter fighting Professor Quirrell in The Philosopher’s Stone or Frodo choosing to break away from the Fellowship and travel alone to Mordor.


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