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:
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.)