Spiritual Practice: Faithing Over the Lifespan – Stage Four

We continue our look at how people grow and develop spiritually over six different stages of faith. To look at stages one and two, the early black and white stages, click here. There, you will also find links to books on this topic for further reference.

To read about stage three, the time of significant belonging and foundational growth, click here. 

Today we face more challenging topics. What generally happens to force us from the warm cocoon of stage three into continued spiritual growth is something difficult. It has to be a strong push to move past the confines of intense “us vs. them” thinking and into the ambiguous beyond. Generally, we hit what is commonly known as “a wall” in our lives. Perhaps we face a divorce, a health crisis, a job loss, or the loss of someone we love, and our equilibrium is tilted into a time of deep questioning and we begin to realize the old pat answers don’t work as well anymore.  It can be a dark time when heaven seems closed to us, when it feels like our prayers are useless, when worship or Bible reading falls flat.

St. John of the Cross coined the term, “The Dark Night of the Soul” to describe this transitional space. You can read about it in his book by that title.

It is a grumpy time. We may feel betrayed by our faith tradition as we realize that almost every religion has a creation myth, that there are different ways to view Christ’s atonement, and just as many ways to think about the end times. I remember reading books during this period that challenged the things I’d always heard from the church, and they made sense to me. I remember thinking, “I’ve been a Christian for thirty years. Why have I never heard this before?” It can be a time of great spiritual disorientation. We no longer fit easily in our cozy Christian bubble, but we don’t fit anywhere else either.

This disorientation leads us ever reluctantly into stage four faithing. It’s as if we are given a bigger basket to hold all the disparate realities, ideas, experiences, and people of our lives. We suddenly find the gifts in other religions, like in Rumi’s poems, the practice of Yoga, and other things that, at stage three, we would have considered off-limits. God gets bigger at stage four. We are less judgmental and more loving as we identify with marginalized populations. A stage four bumper sticker might read, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

The most significant changes in stage four seem to be in how we relate to God. Our prayer lives change dramatically. Instead of praying with lists of words, we find peace in sitting in silence with God. Walking in a forest or gazing at the ocean will do as much for our souls as sitting in church. Contemplative practices, like those offered in this blog, become more meaningful.

Slowly we leave our anger at being pushed out of our happy clappy Christianity and begin to find others who are also on this journey. We move from the order of stage three to the disorientation of stage four and eventually to reorientation, which comes in stage five.

As with the other stages, we can get stuck in stage four. We are hurting and in pain, and we feel betrayed or violated by “the church.” I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I love God. I just don’t like his people.” That is understandable, but we can get stuck there. Hopefully, we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are wonderful people of faith we can connect with—places where our questions, ponderings, and pain will be welcome. Hopefully, we move forward in our faithing to a new spiritual depth, which we will cover in the next blog.

Can you relate to hitting a wall or to stage four? I’d love to hear what moved you into this time of disorientation. Take heart, it won’t last forever, and we are in this together.

Photo credit:

Top Photo by Dark Indigo on Pexels.com

Second Photo by Francesca Zama on Pexels.com

Third Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Faithing Over the Lifespan (Stage Three)

In the last blog, I talked about how our spiritual development moves along predictable stages, unless it gets stalled. We covered stage one and two. You can read about that here and also see the books I’ve linked on this interesting topic.

Today we will talk about stage three, a happy, wonderful time in faith development. Stage three is all about “belonging.” For most of us, that involves being involved in some faith institution like a church, temple, or mosque.

It is a time of tremendous spiritual growth. For the Christian, which is my faith tradition, it is a time to learn. If you’re lucky, you will learn to read and study the Bible, as well as teach others to do so. You might be taught how to pray, serve others, share your faith, and perhaps get to take a life-changing mission trip to share your faith in another country. It is a warm and loving stage where you are on the inside of a faith culture.

Unfortunately, a sense of “us versus them” develops by necessity at this stage because the goal of any institution is to keep nurturing its members. So, we are encouraged to invite people in. Those on the inside are “us.” Those on the outside are “them.” On the inside, we have our own language, music, and often unspoken rules that separate us from “them.”

People often ask if Institutions like churches can grow beyond level three spirituality. It’s very rare because how could they exist without people staying inside to run the show, give money, and help each other? Institutions need committed members to stay healthy but many folks, if they start to grow beyond stage three spiritual development, begin to feel stifled and look for support outside of the institution. Some churches with wise leadership create spaces for these people to continue to grow without leaving their faith community.

This understandable limit to institutional change can become problematic when there is a clear line drawn around who is inside and who is outside. When those unlike “us” are looked down on or defamed for having different beliefs, it can become toxic spirituality. I’ve known of churches that will “disfellowship” members for not behaving in ways they don’t consider proper, like dating a non-Christian, being a feminist, or, heaven forbid, being gay. To find yourself pushed outside of that warm and fuzzy circle can be devastating. We will discuss this phenomenon more in the next blog when we get to stage four.

I’ve noticed that for me, the current political climate has pushed me right back into stage three, thinking. It’s easy to villainize people on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Apparently, other countries like to stir up this discord on social media in incredibly smart psychological warfare to keep our nation divided. If you don’t believe me watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix . I’ve been trying to limit social media and skipping political posts so as not to participate in so much level three thinking.

You can see the benefits of stage three faithing. But there are drawbacks to staying in it for too long. Suppose we seclude ourselves from other ideas and keep people different from us at arm’s length. In that case, it can lead to all kinds of problems. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other issues arise when our circle is too tight; we don’t allow everyone to have a voice at the table.

Does this make sense to you? What benefits and drawbacks have you experienced in stage three faithing?

Photo of friends by fauxels on Pexels.com

Photo of worship by Shelagh Murphy on Pexels.com

BLM Photo by Life Matters on Pexels.com