This “Learning & Growing Together” series includes posts I have shared in my private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids. The group, Serendipitydodah for Moms, is a place where moms of LGBTQ kids share a lot of support, information and encouragement … it is a place where moms of LGBTQ kids are learning and growing together with the purpose of developing and maintaining healthy, loving, authentic relationships with their LGBTQ kids. One thing I love about the private Facebook group is we are all both teachers and students – we all learn from each other. I love that kind of community learning. The wisdom and insight is so rich. For more information about the group email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Real life often leads us to look deeper and wider at the things we believe. As we begin to dismantle our beliefs, in order to understand what we believe and why, it often feels like we are losing our faith. The struggle to hang on to our faith can fill us with anxiety and fear. One of the things that was very helpful to me when I felt like my faith was slipping away was “The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith” by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich. Not only did the Stages of Faith make sense to me, but more importantly it let me know I wasn’t alone. Knowing that there were others who would understand what I was experiencing, who I could share my questions and doubts with, who I could turn to for wisdom and insight relieved me of enough anxiety to forge ahead into the process of deconstruction so that I could eventually start to rebuild a life of faith that was simple enough to be sustainable but rich enough to be compelling.
Take a look at this helpful chart before you start reading as the following is the commentary for the chart.
This is a long read but if you are struggling with your faith this is definitely worth reading.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Commentary for The Stages of Faith:
The critical journey is composed of six stages.
The first three are primarily external; the second three, internal.
In the first three stages, our faith or our spirituality takes its expression most frequently in ways that are prescribed by external standards, whether by the Church, a specific spiritual leader, a book, or a set of principles… Stages 4 through 6 represent a difficult personal transformation and reemerging that require a rediscovery on a different level of what faith and spirituality are all about. These are inner healing stages (spiritually and psychologically) for which the journey cannot be prescribed.
The First Three Stages: The External Journey
Stage 1 “is the discovery and recognition of God”. Accepting the reality of God can begin while one is young, or it can occur later through a religious experience or conversion. This conversion can be instantaneous or can occur over a long period of time.
Our first experience of God is wonderful and refreshing in its newness.
Regardless of our age, however, it seems true that most begin the journey in a childlike way. We come to it with innocence and freshness which is seldom ever again as vivid or vital. Consider the way we feel during the first stage of a romance or new friendship. Swept away by the experience of the relationship, we do not look at any of the negative aspects.
Stage 2 is “a time of learning and belonging” labeled “the life of discipleship”. This stage primarily involves learning in a community setting from spiritual leaders or religious writings. “Now, we stumble upon a set of ideas, a belief system or a group of people who show us the light and answer our questions. It is such a big relief and feels so safe and secure – like a haven in a storm. And for now, that is what we need.”
Stage 3 is “the productive life” and involves consciously serving God through one’s spiritual gifts. The truths learned at stage 2 find an outlet in service at stage 3.
Most evangelical models of Christian growth stop here. The implication is that the pinnacle of Christian maturity is faithful, committed service (usually in the context of a church). The most committed people serve professionally in the church. However, it is obvious that a person can arrive at this stage and still be self-serving, legalistic, immature, and inwardly unhealed. Christian service is not the best determiner of spiritual maturity. This is the value of Hagberg and Guelich’s model. According to them, “the productive life” is important, but it is not the goal. Indeed, on the map of the Christian journey, those at this stage are only half-way there!
Stages 4 – The Inward Journey
Stage 4: The Journey Inward Stage 4 is “the journey inward” – “a deep and very personal inward journey” that “almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it”. In this stage, our former views of God are radically challenged. The disruption can be so great that we feel like we are losing our faith or betraying loyalties.
At this stage, many face an abrupt change to almost the opposite mode. It’s a mode of questioning, exploring, falling apart, doubting, dancing around the real issues, sinking in uncertainty, and indulging in self-centeredness. We often look hopeless to those around us.
The move from stage 3 to 4 is most often precipitated by a crisis in our life or our faith. That crisis makes many of the former truths and answers inadequate or inappropriate for the next phase in the journey.
The crisis “shakes our strongly held beliefs or assumptions and we feel adrift on a restless sea, fending for ourselves. Our sense of God is shaken and we can find no new direction, only more questions”.
The crisis shocks our system. We lose comfort and question our convictions as our previous faith-supports crumble before our very eyes.
For the first time, our faith does not seem to work. We feel remote, immobilized, unsuccessful, hurt, ashamed, or reprehensible. Neither our faith nor God provides what we need to sooth us, heal us, answer our prayers, fulfill our wishes, change our circumstances, or solve our problems. Our formula of faith, whatever that may have been, does not work any more, or so it appears.
Why does advancing to this stage usually demand a crisis? The reason is simple: No one would choose this kind of experience on their own!
Most of us are so comfortable and self-sufficient at the previous stage (called the productive or fruitful life) that we have no natural tendency to move at all. In fact, stage 4 does not even look like part of the journey for those of us at home in stage 3. It does not appear to be an extension of our faith and growth.Consequently, we are not drawn in this direction.
Our aversion to stage 4 is increased because of the very real dangers that accompany this stage. “Sometimes people drop off the journey totally at this point. Overwhelmed by pain or crises in our lives, we absolutely cut ourselves off from God”.
The end of stage 4 involves an experience of “the Wall” – “a face-to-face experience with God and with our own will”. It is impossible to go over, around, or under the Wall. One can only go through it. “The Wall experience is the place where… psychology and spirituality converge. Up to this point, one can be religious, spiritual, or fruitful and not be healed psychologically, or vice versa”.
At the Wall, we become “aware of all the lies we have accepted about ourselves”. We are forced to “face the truth” in order to move forward. “The Wall invites us to integrate our spiritual selves with the rest of us. And that involves facing our own and others’ demons. We must face that which we fear the most, and that is why it is so unsavory, and why so many people only enter the Wall under duress”.
Only through self-acceptance and surrender to God’s will can one go “through” the Wall to deeper levels of spiritual growth. “The power behind the transformation at the Wall is this: learn to embrace your whole story with loving, forgiving detachment”. We must accept ourselves with all our wounds and imperfections. We must experience God’s love and acceptance of us as we are in all our weakness and humanness. And then we must fully and completely surrender to God’s will, even though we remain in the dark.
If the description of the experience of the Wall and the solution to the challenges it provokes seems ambiguous, it is intended to be. The authors are aware of the great amount of mystery that surrounds this point of the Christian journey.
So the mystery of the Wall remains a mystery. We sit in awe of the process of surrendering and going through the Wall. But, as we emerge, we are able to move along on our journeys with much less clarity about the direction and much more assurance of not having to be in charge of our lives. We are being transformed, turned inside out.
Surprisingly, through doubts and difficulties we come to know God and ourselves better. Communicating this stage to others who have not experienced it is difficult. People at stage 1 can’t imagine such an experience. Those at stage 2 view it as a lack of conviction. Believers at stage 3 wonder whether we have become apostate altogether. It is hard for those at previous stages to recognize that doubt is not disbelief – doubt is faith taking itself seriously. Willfulness, not doubt, is the opposite of faith.
The Journey Outward Again: Stage Five and Stage Six
Stage 5 is “the journey outward” where our “focus is outward, but from a new, grounded center of ourselves”. At this stage, “we surrender to God’s will to fully direct our lives, but with our eyes wide open, aware but unafraid of the consequences”. We possess a new-found confidence that God loves us fully, just as we are. “There is a human tendency to think that if God really knew us God would not love us… At stage 5 we grow into the full awareness that God truly loves us even though we are never fully whole. God loves us in our humanness”.
With newfound inward resources, we “venture outside our self-interests to others”. We are weak, but whole. Aware of our faults, we are confident that God will work through us.
Wholeness looks a lot like weakness at this stage. Wholeness does not make us stronger; it allows God to work through our weaknesses. Wholeness means being very aware of our faults but not letting them trip us… God can use us most in our brokenness, a truth that was very hard to accept until the Wall experience.
To those still at earlier stages, we appear impractical, inefficient, and out of touch.
Frequently, we appear to be impractical and out of touch with reality. The way the world functions around us, people who are other directed, whole, selfless, and called by God are counterculture. When we love people despite their having failed miserably in our society for whatever reason, we are called naïve; when we stay with the grieving, we are considered caretakers; when we give money away, we are considered poor managers; when we yield, we are considered noncompetitive; when we let go, we are considered weak. We just do not fit with the realistic expectations of a world that is out to be productive and to win.Even the productive Christians at earlier stages in the journey think we at stage 5 have lost our edge…
At stage 5 we are not as oriented toward productivity with outward signs or products. Consequently, we appear less productive and slightly isolated. We are in fact quite active. But we have a tendency to do things behind the scenes or on a one-to-one basis. We never realize that we are hardly noticed. This style can be very confusing and even frustrating for those who want us to be leaders in the more traditional way.
Stage 6 is “the life of love” where God’s love is demonstrated through us “to others in the world more clearly and consistently than we ever thought possible”. By losing ourselves, we find ourselves. God’s presence is experienced in all relationships.
Our times alone with God come during the quiet times away as well as in the everyday, unceasing conversations. We have little ambition for being well known, rich, successful, noteworthy, goal-oriented, or “spiritual”… We are Spirit-filled but in a quiet, unassuming way.
We love with great compassion modeled after God’s love. We live with less and delight in doing menial tasks.
At stage 6 we can reach far beyond our own capacity and love our fellow human beings with deep compassion, because we know that all come from and are loved by God. As Jesus was compassionate even in Gethsemane, at his trial, and on the cross, so we are compassionate under extreme hardship…
At stage 6 we become aware that the more of God we have, the less of everything else we need. We do not renounce material possession. We simply learn to need them less; we become detached from things and people as props or bolstering devices…
We are full of surprises because we are so free, so full of God, and so whole. We can say or do preposterous things because we are not afraid of death. We can deliberately give up our lives, materially, physically, mentally, and emotionally for the service of others without feeling afraid of the deep loss.
Our expression of love is selfless rather than needy. We love without the need to be loved in return. We passionately love others in a dispassionate (disinterested, detached) way. We are not egocentric (self-centered), but theocentric (God-centered), christocentric (Christ-centered), and eccentric (others-centered). We love others, not for our sake, but for their own sake; not with our goodness in mind, but with their goodness in mind.
Having shed the false self – no longer rooted in possessions, accomplishments, and human acceptance – we embrace our true self, that of being eternally and fully loved by God.
Insights from the Six-Stage Model:
Embracing Hagberg and Guelich’s six-stage model sheds light on the Christian journey.
It demonstrates that: The stages are normal. For those who are unfamiliar with the normalcy of stage 4 in Christian experience, their newfound doubts feel like an abandonment of faith rather than faith’s rediscovery and enriching. A faith-map that helps them see this as a normal and necessary step along the way to the life of love is priceless.
Growth is painful. Ask any person who is currently transitioning between childhood and adolescence and he or she will affirm this wholeheartedly. Growth comes at a price. It involves more than enthusiasm. It involves commitment, determination, and perseverance. Although we may desire to grow rapidly, our awareness of the difficulty involved in the transition from one stage to another should curb our desires to move ahead too quickly.
After reading about the stages on the journey, you may find yourself wanting to move because it looks better or will move you further along on the journey. This for many is a natural response, especially at stages 2 and 3. But look at some of the consequences. Moving from one stage to another always causes confusion. We are in a time of limbo between two stages. We may find it exhilarating and exhausting. Nothing seems certain. Something undefined lies ahead. Frequently, the move means loneliness, and can be very upsetting… though the change may be welcomed, it leads over an emotionally rocky road.
Maturity takes time and experience. There is no quick fix to spiritual maturity. There is no silver bullet to a deep, intimate relationship with God. Instant intimacy is an oxymoron. Just as in any human relationship, deeper trust and intimacy only comes through trials, struggles, and periods of doubt. The “critical journey” proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that real growth only comes through the crucible of suffering.
A Higher Call Than Service:
Most, if not all, contemporary evangelical models of growth climax at stage 3. For example, the “Purpose Driven Church” model assumes that a person is spiritually mature when they are part of the “committed core” – serving in and through the church according to their gifts.
But it is entirely possible (and indeed, quite probable) that many people minister for selfish reasons. Church activity is not an indicator of maturity. Busyness in church activities does not automatically lead to spiritual growth.
The church primarily focuses on stages 1 through 3 because the contemporary church is best equipped for these stages.
The church is generally best at working with people in stages 1 through 3, so the fact that the highest number of people is in stage 2 fits with how the church sees itself. It does raise some issues through, as to what and how the church relates to people beyond stage 3. So many people leave the church when they experience stage 4 or the Wall, since there are few resources or programs available for them, and they feel estranged when the faith they held dear does not work for them any more.
In his book, Exit Interviews, William D. Hendricks demonstrates that most of the dechurched (those who formerly attended or even served in a local church but have since left church-life altogether) have not lost faith in God. They have lost faith in the church. They have “grown disillusioned with the church and other institutions of Christianity” and have “lost the energy and enthusiasm they once had for programs of spiritual development.” Consequently, they “are now looking elsewhere to meet their deepest spiritual needs”.
The dechurched leave primarily because they are disillusioned with the church. They claim it is not “spiritual” enough – that it is stunting their growth.
Perhaps we should take their criticism seriously. Maybe the dechurched have exposed a very real weak spot in many evangelical churches – a stunted model of spiritual formation that leaves little room for questions, doubts, and rediscovery. Could it be that the stunted growth of the evangelical church comes from a stunted model of spiritual formation?
Serendipitydodah for Moms is a private Facebook group created as an extension of the Serendipitydodah blog. The group is secret so that only members can find it or see what is posted in the group. The group was started in June 2014 and presently has more than 1,600 members. The space was specifically created for open minded Christian moms who have LGBTQ kids and want to develop and maintain healthy, loving, authentic relationships with their LGBTQ kids. In addition to providing a space for members to share info and support one another, a special guest is added each month for a few days. The guests include authors, pastors, LGBTQ people, bloggers and public speakers.
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