Not too many years ago, I met a particularly dark period in my faith walk. I was afraid of death–even to the point of having to avoid news programs and television shows. I struggled with shame (where’s my faith?), doubt (what if God really isn’t there for me?), and discouragement (what’s the point?).
Just wait, my wise friends advised. And although the wait was years long, I did come through to the other side with a new understanding of faith.
Let me be clear. Mine was not an anemic, untested faith. I had known God’s touch on my life through rebellion, reconciliation, sorrow, poverty, cancer, and Multiple Sclerosis. But this was a new season, and it was scary. Since that time, I have heard other women speak of similar experiences. And I hear women my age talk about how their church experiences have changed, as they near retirement age.
James Fowler’s Stages of Faith and a second work called The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich–helped give me the words I had been searching for to describe the changes taking place in my life. Here is a simplified version (adapted from the above works)–you may want to read more. This is not a prescription of how things are supposed to be–merely a description of common experiences. Where do you see yourself?
- I believe! New believers are willing to do whatever a strong leader or church group says is necessary to grow in faithfulness.
- I am learning about God through connection with other believers. I am learning about my gifts and talents and what I have to offer the church community.
- I work for God. As I grow more sure of my role in the church, I show my commitment with action. I show up, serve, and share.
- I hit “The Wall.” My old practices aren’t resulting in growth. I wonder if there’s something more.
- I am living with God. On the other side of The Wall, fresh surrender to God comes along with a renewed sense of my vocation or ministry, a deepening of my faith, and a less-frenzied relationship with the church.
- I believe again. As I move toward life’s end, I detach from the stuff and stress of life. I receive God’s love and shalom and am sharing it with those around me.
It helps to know that these seasons are not the result of having done something wrong–rather they are reflections of growth.