In 5th grade, my school offered band class to help elementary kids learn how to play instruments. I was excited to learn and chose the saxophone since that is what my mother and brother both played. I dedicated myself to practicing every night however despite my efforts I could not vibrate the reed to make the right noise with the proper mouth placement. My band teacher, who was used to teaching high schoolers, would become irate at my lack of ability becoming quite loud and boisterous in front of everyone.
So a month in I switched to playing the trombone hoping that would be the fix. The trombone was easier to play however I still significantly struggled with it. Again the stress mounted on me from the continual pressure and disappointment from my teacher. The original excitement of learning quickly faded and instead became anxiousness and shame for not being good enough.
I talked with my mother about my concerns and she saw the continual unhappiness I would come home with from school. Eventually after these months we had the discussion of quitting. My mother always provided encouragement however in this moment she realized what it was doing to me. She permitted me to make the decision to not be in band.
Now I do not like quitting as I think there are things to be gained from enduring through various situations. However I have learned through the years we need limits and boundaries for ourselves and when something becomes unhealthy we need to rethink our participation in it. The next day I quit which did not make my band teacher very happy. The things he said reinforced why this decision was the right one for me.
I find this story relates to our faith journeys. Sometimes we just need permission to leave. Having permission makes it our choice. Immediately we reevaluate whether this is what is best for us and if it fits our current spiritual needs. It forces us to rediscover our current religious context. This can be wonderfully beneficial because it helps us ignite a passion for discovering what we believe and why. Many times we believe what we have known growing up however this journey may also push us to search new horizons.
So let's look closer at how rediscovering our faith is refreshing!
Rediscovering Your Faith
It is so refreshing when we really start to understand our faith and what we believe. We begin to feel whole and identify the things that really matter in our belief system. Investigating our current church practices and beliefs helps us narrow down what we like and do not like. We begin to formulate what really makes the difference in our spirituality.
When we find our current faith group or church is living what we believe it is exciting and invigorates us with passion. We want to share it with others so they can know the feeling. However it can also be devastating when we realize our beliefs are completely different from that faith group. In fact you might be an outsider for even having thoughts and beliefs that differ. You might feel shame or guilt for not being step in step. Just know there is freedom in giving yourself permission to explore and think outside what you have known.
So what do you do when you make the decision to leave? This article "5 Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church" gives specific things for each person to do before leaving their current church. One important statement it says is leaving your current church can be one of grace and doesn't have to be one of pain. It also indicates that the process should be one of self-examination. Carey Nieuwhof also has written an article "5 ways For a Church Member to Leave A Church Well" which also provides good insight.
Wherever you are at on your journey, continue to self-examine and evaluate who you are in relation to your beliefs.
I appreciate all of the kind words we have received. Please continue to share with whoever you feel would find comfort in this blog.
This week tell yourself its ok to think differently from those around you.
Many churches make bold claims about God, Jesus, heaven, hell, and various other Christian terms. It's awesome to have a belief system that helps you navigate the roadways of life. However when those belief systems cause division, point fingers or break down relationships then maybe its time they are questioned.
One thing my family and this faith community, have taught me that its ok to say “I’m not for sure” or “I don’t have it all figured out.” It's a freedom in knowing I do not have to have all the answers. The notion throws away rigidity and rightness and declares questions and lack of knowing as a natural process of our faith. With this sigh of relief people are allowed to lean into the divine being a mystery to which we are all discovering. Knowing any encounter can be the spirit breathing further understanding of God in our lives.
So why do some of us feel the need to be right and believe we have all the answers? How can our faith grow with the openness of not knowing?
Much of peoples need to be right comes from our own personal biases. A bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. When we specifically look at faith much of our beliefs come from what we have grown up knowing. We hold biases based on the belief system that has been engrained in us. Now this is not bad, its just important to be aware that how we see the world and what we believe about the world may not be the entirety of what there is.
Chaehan So talks specifically about selective perception in regards to confirmation bias, self-serving bias, and hindsight bias. The ones he goes over is just a few of the 50 cognitive biases he states there are. It's a great Tedtalk informing us about our own internal processes and how many times we are wrong. Take the time to check it out as I promise he is entertaining and has good information.
So what does this information about biases mean for our unique faith journeys? Well we all might use this information differently. It informs me that I need to continually be open to listening and hearing ideas that are contrary to my prior judgements or beliefs. For others it may mean that exploring faith and other denominations is ok because its about figuring out what is right for you instead of holding onto potential bias.
Faith Growing By Not Knowing
Now many of us hate not knowing. I mean google is at our fingertips and with a few strokes we calm our fears by finding the answer. Uncertainty can be a beast in our lives. Researchers have found uncertainty is correlated with stress. The article "Why We Hate Not Knowing For Sure" indicates the more someone knows what will happen the less stressed they are even it if is a horrible outcome. Its calming for us to know, and we seek out that feeling.
However on the other hand, in some situations we can feel like we are the only ones that do not know causing added stress. Think about new experiences you have had, or walking into a church for the first time. We put stress on ourselves because we do not know how it will be or what to do. The article "The Wisdom of Not Knowing" talks about the freedom associated with not knowing everything. Many times others have been in the exact same situation or don't know either. But it seems like it takes so much time to figure that out. That's why being vulnerable is so important because it allows us to be free.
With faith there is great benefits of knowing your beliefs. It becomes an internal and external moral compass for how we live. However knowing your beliefs can also create lines causing what is not on that side or challenges it, to be wrong. When we take on an attitude of not having it all figured out we open up the freedom of finding God in new ways. Now I'm not saying throw everything away. That would be demolishing and send us into a crisis. Your past faith experiences should be lifted up and held valuable. But just as there are two sides to every story we must figure out the rest of it for ourselves and what is right for us individually.
It is perfectly ok to be set in what you believe if that works for you. Just be aware of how those beliefs inform your actions and dialogue with others. Ask yourself if it hinders in anyway relationships from being formed or good deeds from being done? If we are to live like Jesus we need to eliminate the biases from our lives by being open to the spirit that leads us. We must see outside of our own perceptual lenses. It is in this task of opening ourselves up that we may actually begin to figure things out.
Our blog is continuing to see great growth. If you feel like you have something to contribute and would like to be a guest blogger please submit your information at our contact us page and we will consider it.
This week reflect on your own interactions. Identify biases you have and how you can make changes.
When I was eleven years old, two years after my father died, I went through a short stage of depression. I didn't know it at the time but I remember feeling empty. Nothing sufficed anymore or brought joy like it once had. I remember my good friends inviting me to their houses, and the feeling of not wanting to go. If I did go I would come home and just cry in my bed. My mother would comfort me as I said, "I didn't have any fun."
It was this dark abyss of emptiness taking over my life which led me to stay in my room and isolate from others. Luckily school started up and I got back into a normal routine. They lack of motivation faded away and became just a short time period in my life.
Looking back I can see how what I was experiencing was depression. By no means is this to the extent of what most people with depression experience. Its just glimpse of what it might be like to live with this mental health condition.
Today our focus on depression is to not only help educate and raise awareness but also to help those struggling find ways in which they can still find God in the midst of their struggles. Having depression or any other mental illness does not mean your faith is weak. On the contrary it means you are incredibly strong.
What is Depression?
Depression based on the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) is a mood disorder characterized by experiencing a variety of the symptoms below.
- Depressed mood most of the day, every day
- Marked diminished interest in activities/ hobbies
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Slowing down of thought or reduction in movement
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or overly indecisive
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideations
According to the World Health Organization over 300 million people are impacted with depression. 16 million (7%) of Americans experienced a depressive episode each year. Depression is a common illness affecting a large amount of people, however much like other mental health issues we do not talk about it. Spring time in particular can be difficult for those with depression as others are excited to go outside while they may not experience the same feelings.
This short one minute video by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) describes what depression is.
Depression can occur spontaneously or be triggered by an event or life crisis. People also believe other factors contribute to depression such as genetics, brain changes, trauma, etc.
I think its important to learn how depression works in the brain. If you are interested in this too please go to this youtube video "Depression and its Treatment" produced by Nature Video.
If you are experiencing depression or other mental health symptoms and are not currently being treated please call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-6264 between 10am-6pm.
Faith and Depression
First let's start by saying Christians can have depression and still have a strong faith. However the lack of understanding by the faith community can cause further pain in those suffering from the illness. Depression usually does not just go away. Simple statements such as, "Just have faith", "Believe more", and "Pray harder" are not helpful for those with depression or anyone for that matter.
Life is seldom that easy and statements like this bring guilt to those individuals who sometimes have little control on what they are experiencing. Stephen Altrogge writes about this in his article "How to Fight for Faith in the Dark". Another article titled "Why Christian Love Matters in Depression" by Kathryn Butler discusses the misconceptions of some Christian communities and how the love of others in a faith community is powerful.
Below a blogger named Jo from Trauma Talk discusses how to still have a strong faith even if you are dealing with a mental health issue.
Therese Borchard writes a great article "How Faith Helps Depression" giving specific ways in how faith contributes to positive growth and outcomes for those facing depression. She identifies these five areas.
1. Faith Provides Hope - Hope is always with us when we hold to a belief in something greater than ourselves. Faith gives us hope that there is more than what we know and experience here.
2. Faith Changes Your Brain - Therese writes about a study completed showing how spiritual practices related to religion/ faith help contribute to changing brain patterns providing protective benefits against depression. Please check out our monthly spiritual practice blogs to learn more about spiritual formation processes.
3. Faith Assigns Meaning to Suffering - There is meaning in our suffering and faith reminds us of this. We can look to Jesus life and death for hope in our suffering.
4. Faith Provides a Support System - Many churches provide a great social network for support. Support networks are crucial for those experiencing any mental health issues. However we have to be open and vulnerable to sharing our concerns with people in those communities. For those of us in faith communities we really need to question the culture we have created to determine if it really is one of trust and openness for others to share deeply about their inner struggles.
5. Faith Provides Hero's and Inspiration - Faith traditions provide a place where sharing takes place. This sharing allows others to come to know the struggles they have went through. Many times this can give us people to look up to and model our lives after. These may be from the Bible or those who we see as mentors.
Faith is a powerful tool that does not heal or take away depression but can help individuals manage it. This is not a replacement for treatment but works with the therapy, medication, etc. you may already be receiving. Faith can be a way for people to find strength through their struggles.
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This week self-reflect on your own thoughts and possible judgments about mental health or other subjects.
One time when I was a kid, I accompanied my mother shopping at Walmart. She was looking through various racks of clothes which didn't set my heart ablaze with excitement. After waiting and waiting for what seemed like forever (and for a young boy it probably was) I decided I needed a plan to use my time. I quickly asked my mother if I could go look at the toys to which she agreed. I leapt down the aisles with a new found freedom from being released from the terrors of shopping.
rThe toy aisle had all my favorites and immediately lifted my spirits. I went from row to row exploring every last item, forgetting about the time. Somewhere in the midst of my exploration, I realized I had been gone for quite sometime and hurried back to where I had last seen my mother.
When I got there, I looked carefully for her but found no trace. I was flushed with worry, thinking I was lost in this big store and didn't know if I would find my mother. Naturally I did the smartest and most systematic thing possible, run furiously down the aisles. :) Tears began flowing down my face as my heart beat faster and faster.
Suddenly, I came around a rack and saw my mother calmly, gazing at clothes. She looked up and noticed my crying and worried look and immediately came to me. Her embrace calmed every fear and worry I had. In that moment I knew I was ok, that I was found. Of course my mother asked, What was going on? I quickly told her, "I thought I lost her." But my mother knew where I was and the time that passed was just a small amount. I still remember the joy I felt having found those loving arms again.
Our Faith Journey
I think this story can easily transfer over to our faith journey. Spiritually we may feel lost, scared and alone. We aren't for sure where to look next and what question to ask. We run furiously panicking to find what is right. Some of us may have even stopped looking and decided we are on our own. Wherever you are on your faith journey, I believe there is a long embrace waiting for you. A hug that will remove those fears and worries leaving you completely vulnerable and yet loved. The continued searching of your heart and mind will hopefully lead you to a faith community. Remember God knows exactly where you are and is waiting to embrace you. Take your time and slowly come to your destination.
Faith is meant to be lived out with other people. Through others we are able to find God and share the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. Faith communities focus us on relationships, deepening our faith in the process. Faith communities grow us spiritually and push us beyond our comfort zones so our gifts and talents can be fully utilized and shared. It is in community where we fully become aware of the wholeness of God in our lives. For those that do not have a faith community, I encourage you to courageously search for one that fits you; one in which love can grow where previous pain has been. Unsure where to go, check out the nearest Community of Christ by clicking here. If this is too big of step, please contact me and I would be happy to be a part of your faith community.
What Can You Do
Its important to ask yourself various questions about what you are searching for. Each has value and importance in leading you down the path that is right for you.
What experiences have led you to where you are at today?
What does your potential faith community look like and feel like?
What would your faith community be active in doing or living out?
What do you feel spiritually passionate about?
What specific part of your faith are you struggling with?
Who might be someone you could talk with about your searching?
Please hug someone this week! Give them a long embrace letting them know you love them! Also go to our activities page to see when our next small group is as we would love to have you join us!
American Theologian James Fowler wrote a book called "Stages of Faith" which identified a human faith development process. This link Stages of Faith through psychologycharts.com gives you a visual perspective of the process. I find this document extremely helpful with understanding mine and others spiritual journey.
There Is No Right Stage
Everyone is at a different spot on their spiritual journey. Key words their faith journey, not yours. Truth comes from many experiences and stages. It's important we acknowledge and value people where they are at. Sometimes it can be frustrating when we do not see other people questioning or thinking in similar ways about faith. But that's the beauty of faith development. It's a personal process that every individual dictates. As a welcoming community we need to be supportive of where others are and the belief systems they have. Dialogue is an excellent tool to gain understanding and needs to be used with respect in an essence of knowledge seeking not for the purpose of changing others. It's also important not to push others into a faith crisis. People will move on in their own time, and the pushing more than likely will cause a greater division rather than openness.
Individual growth is personal and happens differently for each person. These changes occurring deep within us or in our own understandings often leave us feeling alone. Churches in particular have a history of struggling to help individuals in this process. Contentions with what has been taught in church or the bible can cause individuals to be quiet for fear of being outcast or judged. Lack of communication and transparency heightens these fears. I want to assure you there are some churches who will assist in helping you work through your changing belief system without judgement. So be courageous and openly and honestly talk with others about your questioning.
Stage 5 - Focus On Community
I want to draw attention to Stage 5. It states truth can be found from many different experiences and begins to put more credibility in the aspect of community rather than individualism. The stage also identifies people gaining an understanding of life being full of mystery, removing the fear of individuals from having to have the right answers.
I find the idea of our community being the driving force behind our faith compelling. Living in community with others being the key aspect of faith. What this means is truly living out discipleship must be in conjunction with a community. It is in community where our faith grows and we respond in compassionate ways to assist others. Our focus changes from ourselves to the community, those around me that are continually in my presence.
Where Are YOU At?
I choose to live out my faith journey with Community of Christ. The emphasis on community and holding up the worth of all people speaks to who I am and what I feel God is about in this world.
How are you living out your faith journey? What stage of faith are you in? What communities are important for you? Who is driving you to a deeper faith connection? How does your community reflect you beliefs?
Thank you for all those reading and following along! Please share a question of faith you have with someone in your community. If you are uncomfortable with that please go to the contact us page and I will be happy to talk with you.
Craig Hidy like the majority of ministers in Community of Christ is a bi-vocational, self sustaining ordained minister. He is a member of the Midlands Mission Center Emporia Team and an ordained Seventy. He and his family, live in Topeka, Kansas.
What is a Seventy?
The Seventy carry out missionary work for the church in close association with other missionary leaders. They represent Christ primarily as ministers of evangelism through witnessing, inviting, and church planting. They especially proclaim and promote Jesus Christ’s invitation to faithful discipleship through vibrant witness, and train individuals and congregations in witness and invitation. They particularly minister with seekers, individually and in groups, to share the gospel in relevant ways and to invite response. They support sacramental ministries by preparing people for baptism and/or confirmation, presiding at sacramental services, and performing most sacraments. They promote community by inviting individuals, households, and families to respond to Christ’s call to discipleship. They promote justice and peacemaking by inviting people to experience all aspects of Christ’s peace through active discipleship. They create ministry partnerships with mission center officers, apostles, elders, and evangelists.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.