Independence, Isolation, and Spiritual Growth

Perhaps the most significant change in my belief life over the past several months is this:

I now take full, personal responsibility for my own beliefs.

That means I believe what I believe because I believe it — because it resonates with my soul, because I perceive that God has led me to a particular insight or truth, because it fills me up and changes me for the better in terms of my ability to love and be loved.

Of course, the flipside of this radical new change is that I no longer believe simply because a person, institution, or book tells me to.

Don’t get me wrong: that doesn’t mean I disbelieve what people, institutions, and books tell me.  In fact, I affirm much of it.  I wrestle with other aspects, struggling to comprehend how or why it fits, seeking to unlock the truth within it.  Sometimes it’s easy.  Sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes it seems necessary to reject what I once accepted.

I understand that because I am flawed and incomplete, much of what I believe is flawed and incomplete — even downright wrong.  (Though I’m not clear which parts.)  I’m more and more comfortable with my independence, though, as I realize that everyone’s understanding is flawed, incomplete, and downright wrong.

Because, you see, I don’t believe in a God who requires perfection and completeness of understanding in order to redeem.

The result is that I now feel at liberty to approach faith on my own terms.

This is empowering beyond words.

It’s also terrifying.

To a certain extent, I expected that.

What I didn’t expect was a third side-effect, though perhaps I should have:

It’s lonely.

If you decide to go your own way in matters of faith, one of the biggest trade-offs you’ll make is the security of community.  That doesn’t mean you won’t have people in your life, a congregation you can serve in, and friends you love deeply.  It doesn’t even mean you can’t gather like-minded people around you, who also march to the beat of their own drums, and discover truths on their own terms.

But in the end, you can no longer rely on them to reinforce your perspectives.  And you never realize how much you miss the camaraderie that comes with believing pretty much exactly the same thing in pretty much exactly the same way … until it’s gone.

Sometimes you’re journeying, and there’s not a soul in sight.  Sometimes it’s just you and God — and sometimes God’s not answering.

Then it’s just you.

And that’s a strange place to be, when you’ve grown accustomed to having a built-in support system and a built-in expectation of what God’s going to say.

To be honest, I’m never really sure what to do in those moments.  I usually experience an urge to run, but I can’t tell which direction.  Back to where I was?  On to where I’m going?  Somewhere else entirely?  So I just stay put.  And wait.

Of course, perhaps ironically, I know I’m not alone in this.  People at all stages of belief experience isolation and loneliness.  Perhaps it’s simply part of the process of learning to stand on your own two feet as a spiritual person — heck, as a human being. But it’s a part of the process I wasn’t necessarily expecting, so I thought I’d throw it out there as an observation…

(Image in this post by David Hayward.)

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on February 5, 2010, in Personal, Thoughts on God and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. It could be lonelier. You could be a Hellenic polytheist.

  2. I really appreciated this. I feel like this a lot. Sometimes it’s our experiences that change our ideologies and sometimes it’s our ideologies that changes our experiences, but we all end up in our place. I think most people just assume other people think just like they think.

    There are few things harder than sitting in a Church meeting and thinking, “Wait! That’s not what I believe! How can you be saying that?” I think that’s one reason all of us need to be careful with the kind of language we use and always, always ground our statements in authority or in our personal experience.

    And be better listeners 🙂

  3. How existentialist of you! Standing on your own terms, passionately seeking your truths and taking personal responsibility. This post of yours makes me happy 🙂

    It IS lonely! I lost my “security of community” quite a long time ago, and I’ve wrestled with “which direction to run to” also. I’ve been taking small steps forward for many years, but just recently I took a leap of progression with my spiritual path and I feel exalted and free and more alive than I have in a long time.

    I recently sent my Dad a detailed email explaining to him my stance with the Mormon belief system and religion in general. I won’t go into detail, but I basically told him that I have zero faith in any kind of religious system for Salvation or Exaltation. I hold no grudges to anyone or anything, and am only looking to enlighten my mind and spirit on my own terms, and in my own ways. He was quite shocked and hurt at first, but in the end, he basically said that he supports me looking for my own truths and loves me no matter what. My Dad had a short period of time before he married Lecia, and was raising 4 boys on his own, when he had his own questions, so he said he could even relate a little bit.

    It was an emotional ordeal, but for me personally, I felt like this (talking to my Dad) was one of my final steps in my own personal and spiritual progression. I’m proud of you Katie and proud to know you. Keep on keepin’ on 🙂

  4. Katie,

    When I look back on significant spiritual markers in my own life, it’s been the times of heartwrenching loneliness when I have grown the most. You’ve told me before that you’ve also grown the most during trials and hardships.

    I was reading a section last night in Streams in the Desert and thought I would share this beautiful poem here:

    “Through the wearisome hours of a sorrowful night,
    I have prayed for the morning to break;
    Till there came-not the morn-but this broad beam of light:
    He knoweth the way that I take.
    He knoweth the way! and the way is His own,
    And I take it with Him-not alone, not alone!

    And so, as I journey, through darkness and light
    Till the valley’s dark shades overtake,
    And the city of rest lifts its towers on my sight,
    He knoweth the way that I take.
    He knoweth the way! and the way is His own,
    And I take it with Him- not alone, not alone!”

    – Mrs. S. M. Walsh, At the Beautiful Gate, 1879 as quoted in Streams in the Desert, Vol. 2, January 29th.

  5. Laura, thanks for stopping by! It’s certainly a frustrating feeling when your beliefs aren’t accurately represented in church, though I’m becoming less and less disturbed by it (probably because it’s becoming somewhat more frequent). 🙂

    I think it hits on your point about authority — the more comfortable I become in my own skin, the more willing I am to take an authoritative role in my own life regarding what I do and don’t believe. This means I sometimes believe differently than the community, which is hard, but I also have much more internal peace because I’m not trying to make things fit that just don’t. I rarely rule things out entirely, but I am now willing to admit to myself, “I don’t know about that one” — and on some occasions, even “I disagree.”

    I am sensitive that some people don’t appreciate that, so I try not to hit people over the head with it unless I’m asked directly. I also do my best to find the places of commonality, and the deeper levels of truth, symbol, and meaning that might be underneath a particular teaching or principle that on its face is hard to reconcile. Ultimately, I want to be accepting of people wherever they are in their journey, just as God is with me…

  6. Todd, wow. I’m sure that was an incredibly emotional experience. I’m glad you were able to be upfront with your dad about it — I expect that, in the long run, it will bring you closer. I’m glad we can share our journeys in some respects. 🙂 I love you!!

    Jessica, thank you, what a beautiful poem. I love it. I really appreciate you sharing it with me.

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