I meet many people whose belief systems are in various states of breaking down. When someone tells me they feel like they are losing their faith, or that certain aspects of their faith don’t seem to work anymore, I usually smile and congratulate them. They’re growing.
The natural pathway of all real spiritual growth is that you will realize, sooner or later (more than once), that the ways in which you’ve practiced your faith in God have become too small. This is not because God is too small. It’s because the way that you have believed in God has become too small. Your belief systems worked for a period of time, because that’s what you needed at that time. But as you grow up, you need more expansive ways of trusting that same God.
Richard Rohr gives us a great metaphor to understand the nature of this expanding. He asks us to imagine three boxes: the first is labeled order, the second disorder, and the third reorder.
The system in which you were raised is the box that Rohr calls order. Your understanding of God was most likely tribal; God cared most about you and your group over and against all of the other groups of people. You were given a nice, tidy backyard in which to play, without too much danger. The order box is a container — it’s mostly safe, easy to understand, with clearly defined boundaries. Children need backyards, fences, and containers. But as you grow, you outgrow your need for the backyard fence. If you are growing the way you should grow, you’ll eventually outgrow the order box. That container was necessary (and it remains with you even as you leave it), but it just isn’t big enough as you get older and as your experience with “others” increases.
When you enter the disorder phase of spiritual growth, if you’re honest about your experiences, you’ll begin to question the things you never questioned before. I’ll never forget meeting a woman named Mary (who I eventually married), who told me that she didn’t buy the biblical teaching that men were supposed to be the leaders, not women. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never really given that much thought up until then (I’m also to embarrassed to admit that I thought she was a heretic). The church I grew up in never really questioned gender roles (to my knowledge). Men preached, men were elders, and that’s just the way it was. But the more I talked with Mary and had experiences with women leaders and teachers (and the more I actually studied those passages in the bible), the more I began questioning my container. Eventually, I came to believe men and women are both gifted by God to teach and lead, because the Holy Spirit gives gifts to people regardless of their gender. Since then, there have been many such transformations in my own belief system.
During disorder, you dismantle the beliefs that don’t hold their weight anymore, either through a fresh understanding of the bible, or through your experiences, or both. I see lots of people get angry during disorder because they feel lied to when they were growing up. Disorder can feel chaotic as you watch your belief system crumbling all around you. But the great spiritual teachers will tell you that’s exactly what needs to happen to every person that is growing. What else is Jesus talking about when he says, “You’ve heard it say…. But I tell you….” He’s inviting us to expand the ways in which we practice our faith in God.
If you keep growing, you will enter reorder. We’ve all met people who insist on staying in disorder, well past the point that it’s helpful. These people become tiresome and cynical. But the people who enter reorder begin to understand that there is much more mystery to faith, that they don’t know (and don’t need to know) every answer to every question. They are humble about what they know, and they’re humble about what they don’t know. They hold things much more loosely. They are putting together a system of belief in God that makes room to be surprised. They’re even more convinced of those few things that are essential, but they believe them in a far more winsome way. Their belief system isn’t a house of cards that will fall apart when one card is pulled out.
So, if you are losing your faith, congratulations. I’m not trying to be glib. But it means that you’re actually growing. Embrace your questions and move through disorder towards reorder. Remember, growth isn’t about moving backwards to order. It’s about moving forwards into reorder.
In it together, my friends.
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