The Spiritual Loneliness of a Messy Faith

            As I have walked this journey of faith, I learned something that I never read in any book on faith: 

            The deeper you go in your walk with the Lord, the lonelier it can get. 

            The higher you climb on the mountain of faith, the less people you’ll find climbing with you. 

            First off, other people can’t go with you into the hardest parts of your journey - when you are struggling the most with your faith, with the hardest trials, with the deepest truths and doubts and fears.  Those struggles are between you and yourself and the Lord.

            Of course, other people can lend you whatever support they can.  They can be there to pray with you and cry with you.  But they cannot truly know what you are going through and the amount of pain and fear and doubt that it’s causing and the hard lessons you are learning.  (And of course, they have their own times where we can’t go with them or truly understand what they are going through.)

            And secondly, I learned that the more you seek to grow through the trials and the more serious you get about your faith and the closer you draw to the Lord, the less people there are who are also at that kind of “deep faith” level. 

            When I hit my hardest times and learned my deepest lessons, I found that there weren’t very many people who could relate or who even wanted to relate.  Most people didn’t want to wrestle with faith the way I was or talk about the deep things that I wanted to talk about.  Most didn’t want a faith that messy.  They didn’t want to have their “comfortable faith” upset or challenged. 

            Most seemed to be at a surfacey, textbook, predictable, “pat answer” level of faith.  

            And God was taking me (reluctantly) so much further than that.

            I was asking the kinds of questions that no one else wanted to.  Questions I didn’t even want to ask.  I was wrestling with pain and confusion and weakness in a way that no one else seemed to be, in ways most people avoid.  I wanted to talk about the deepest things of faith and when God is confusing and seems absent and when you realize just how insufficient you are, whereas most people wanted to talk about the improvements they were making to their house or the island vacation God blessed them with.  

            And so it got really hard to talk to people, to share my journey with them. 

            Because I didn’t want someone to give a clean-cut, textbook, “good Christian” answer to my tough questions and my honest fears and doubts.  I didn’t want someone to go “Well, just give it all to God because He’s in control and He cares for you.  He’s doing all this for a reason.” 

          I wanted someone who knew what it was like to feel like God “abandoned” you in your deepest need and pain … to wrestle fiercely with a confusing faith and an unpredictable, mysterious God … to have all your “pat answers” and naïve presumptions about how faith works dashed to pieces … to doubt deeply and struggle painfully and come to place of complete brokenness … to fall down in exhaustion and to pick yourself back up again and to fall down again and to lay there in heartache and yet find the faith to say, “I don’t know what You’re doing or where You are or how this ‘faith’ thing is supposed to work anymore.  But I trust You, Lord.  No matter what.  I trust You.” 

            I wanted someone else who came face-to-face with the depths of their own humanness, who had come to clearly see and admit to the depths of their own weakness and neediness and self-insufficiency, to the point where they truly understood the incredible awesomeness of God’s grace and where they grasped onto that grace in a new, real, hungry way, with every ounce of strength they have … and in learning about the incredible beauty of that undeserved grace, they willingly and lovingly share it with others because they truly understand that we are all on the same level at the foot of the cross.  

            I wanted real and raw and unpolished and messy and a faith that has its doubts but clings to the Lord anyway.

            Whereas most Christians want clean, polished, predictable, controllable, understandable and “doubt-free,” like a “good Christian” is supposed to be. 

            (This is why I write as honestly as I do and why I like to read blogs by other people who write about the hard, uncomfortable stuff instead of just sharing simplistic, "pat answers" about faith and how to be a Christian.  I'd rather wade through all the messy, nitty-gritty parts of faith than hear only about the superficial, smooth-sailing, "Christians should do X,Y, and Z" things.  The more real we are about the dark parts, the more hope and truth shines.)  

            As you climb higher with the Lord and dig deeper into spiritual truths, it gets messy.  Doubts come up.  Hidden fears.  Concealed sins.  Idols.  Presumptions.  Misconceptions you’ve always believed - about yourself and God and faith.  God prunes off more and more things you didn’t know where there, and it hurts.  Your simplistic “pat answers” get challenged.  You feel like you are losing your balance.  You learn just how little you really know about this thing called “life” and just how little control you really have.       

            And it seems to me that many people in the church just don’t want to go there, not when they have their righteous-sounding, textbook answers of what faith is and how faith works and who God is and how to be a “good Christians.”

            The higher you climb and the deeper you dig on this journey of faith, the lonelier it gets.

            But the closer you get to Jesus, the less you care.

            Because you learn more about what God meant when He told Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Cor. 12:9).

            You understand more about what Paul meant when he said “… I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord …” (Phil. 3:8).

            No matter the trials and obstacles and loneliness and the fact that so many other Christians have parked on the side of the spiritual road in comfort while we are struggling up our spiritual mountains and digging down into the deepest, darkest parts of faith, let us always remember that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” …and so therefore … “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith …” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

            Even if no one’s running with us!

            Let our lives testify along with Paul, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.... Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil 3:12-14)

            So that in the end, we may be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the day…” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

            And so that we may one day hear the most worthwhile words we could hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  (Matt 25:21).

            Our spiritual mountains might be very lonely places.  But keep climbing … because God is waiting for you at the top.  And remember that you are never alone … because the Holy Spirit is climbing with you and the “great cloud of witnesses” is cheering you onward and Jesus is always interceding for us at the right hand of the Father (Romans 8:34).

            And that’s the best support we could ever have!

(reposted from my other blog, Love, Heal Me)

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