One of the reasons I started writing this blog was for an audience that doesn’t have a name.
I keep noticing a trend among the spiritual journeys of many of my friends. The journey looks something like this: you are raised in a religious home. At some point, this faith-thing that has been there in the background clicks personally with you and you get really into it: maybe you’re super involved in a youth group. Or spending your summers doing mission work. Or filling your journals and loading your bookshelves with theological works trying to hammer out your beliefs. Then, for one reason or another, you lose momentum. For some, it happens after leaving the college bubble. For others, it happens when an unthinkable event pops their bubble. But now, things just don’t fit like they used to. Which is hard and confusing because it was the lens through which you viewed everything.
These aren’t the “spiritual but not religious.” But any denominational labels get stuck trying to come out of their mouth. (Even though many of them are still attending some service every week). They believe…they think?...if they’re thinking about it much at all. They are the spiritually displaced.
There is a model of spiritual formation that suggests faith stages that look similar to the journey I described above. This model labels the place my friends are at as “the wall.” The language and Christian view of this framework isn’t quite accessible to everyone (even Christians), but I think they’re onto something here.
The friends who are stuck at this wall, squirm if I try to bring up the topic of faith. The word itself is triggering. It stings like a reminder of an ex-relationship that ended poorly. It has associations with things they used to do so emphatically that they feel embarrassed or angry about now. It’s a word that belongs to the types of people and places they no longer identify with. It reminds them that this used to be so important and now they think very little of it. And that they sometimes feel guilty about that. They don’t have words to describe their “faith,” if they would even call it that, anymore.
My heart breaks in these conversations. Not because of the “lack of faith” I find there. But because they see it that way at all.
I stayed in this space for several years. My answer to the faith questions, if I bothered to stay in the room for them at all, was “I don’t know. Nothing fits.” I felt embarrassed and would look away, feeling found out. But after a while, that became my answer. “I don’t know,” I’d shrug and smile, “Nothing fits right now.” I accidentally discovered this beautiful book that related spiritual places to natural landscapes. This was such an abstract way to think about that “faith-thing” I’d been avoiding, that I ventured to open that door again. I thought about relating to the desert, but I realized the place I was in wasn’t dry. Instead I found the cave. It still had connotations of a lifeless, desolate place, a place of darkness and solitude. But it was also a place of shelter. A waiting space, a place where things could percolate slowly, where I could rest, come out when I was ready. It wasn’t a bad place, it was a safe space. Like a cocoon. Like the shade of a yet-unsurmountable wall.
Being stuck at the wall hurts. Believers who had been walking along their familiar path of faith run straight into a wall, usually rather hard, because they didn’t see it coming. Now they are left with decisions to make: do they head backward down their path, unwriting all that had been there for them? Do they find the nearest rock and smash and thrash with a wasted energy, thinking enough personal effort can gain back what is lost? Perhaps they try to keep moving forward, as if the wall were not there at all, thinking going through the motions of walking will climb them over this wall. Or maybe, after all these attempts, they just sit down, defeated, resigned to always being a wall-dweller, but at least grateful that the wall provides a hiding space for their disgrace.
If you are at any of these places along the wall, that’s ok. Do what you need to do to make sense of your wall. But my message to you is: the wall is not your enemy. Keep walking along it.
If the path you were on isn’t fitting anymore, perhaps it’s time to step off it. To walk along the wall, at your own pace. To lean into it if you need support. And eventually, you will find a perfect you-sized-opening, with your new path on the other side.
Because the path of faith is so much bigger than the tiny trail you treaded before. Divinity is so much wider than the chunk of brick you were eye-level with. Keep moving, friends. There is room for you at the wall.