In the theology course I took this summer, we studied the book The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith by Robert A. Guelich and Janet O. Hagberg.* In this book, the authors describe six stages that Christians might go through during their life. I will briefly describe them to you, then share some of my thoughts on them.
Stage 1 – Recognition of God
In this stage, we have a simple realization of God’s reality. It is often a joyous time of awe and wonder and feeling close to God. We may just begin to realize our need for God, and we might have a lot of black and white thinking, i.e. this is right, and that is wrong. We may be very judgmental of others.
Stage 2 – The Life of Discipleship
In this stage, we begin to acquire biblical knowledge, maybe by studying the Bible, and/or going to church. We may attach ourselves to a teacher or belief system that excites us. In this stage, we might need to feel that we are always right, and have a lack of humility about others’ beliefs.
Stage 3 – The Productive Life
We begin to realize the spiritual gifts God has given us. We realize we are responsible not just for ourselves, but also to serve others. This is the beginning of the sanctification process.
Stage 4 – The Journey Inward
In this stage, we experience some type of life crisis, and because of the crisis, our faith hits a wall. The Christian life suddenly does not seem “good.” We become confused. We may wonder
If God is good, and I am following him, why am I in this horrible mess? Tweet This
Why doesn’t God protect me? We may fear we have lost our faith. We become confused. We thought life was easy to understand, and suddenly everything seems to be going wrong. God seems so far away.
Many Christians resist this wall, and try to retreat backward to one of the earlier stages, in other words, try to live in denial. “Things aren’t really so bad, this is not really happening to me.”
Perhaps in Stages 1 – 3, we felt a sense of moving forward, and now our faith journey seems to have halted or taken a huge leap backward. We may feel frightened, angry, lethargic or depressed, and feel things will never get better.
Stage 5 – The Journey Outward
My professor terms this stage “finding simplicity on the other side of complexity.” We have looked at pain and heartache, and have come out on the other side. Now, we are no longer naive, thinking being a Christian will protect us from the pain of this life. We have experienced great pain, and realize God did not abandon us. Perhaps “Christians” have abandoned us, but God has not. We now have a greater trust in God, even when we don’t understand why he allows intense pain in our lives.
We now have a renewed sense of calling to help others, and a calm, though perhaps not as vocal, faith. We find ourselves concerned more with the best interest of others, maybe than we have ever felt.
Stage 6 – The Life of Love
Many never achieve this stage. Here, we live in total obedience to God. We have wisdom gained by life’s struggles, and knowing we have come out on the other side. We find we are less stressed. We suddenly care less about physical things, or the opinions of other people. Our lives are abandoned to God, and we can live life no matter what happens.
So, let me ask you,
Question: Have you ever hit a wall in your walk with God?
Many of us hit this wall when we are with our abusers. Being treated with contempt by the one who is supposed to love and protect us can seriously shake our faith in God, especially if our abuser claims to be a “Christian.” We wonder, why would God allow this? Why doesn’t he change my abuser to be the person he claims to be/should be?
For others, what comes after leaving our abuser shakes our faith. Our church leaders, and other “Christian friends” may turn their back on us. They may shame us for not “submitting” to the abuse, and may blame us for the demise of the relationship. Instead of coming alongside us in the crisis of our lives, they abandon us. What a difficult thing to accept! At this point, we may also feel God has abandoned us.
For me personally, I was able to weather these first two storms with my faith intact. Yes, my husband claimed to be Christian, was even going to Christian college during the worst of my abuse. My pastors told me that unless I was willing to “date” him, and reconcile, I should step down from the leadership positions I held in the church. Since I had a restraining order against him, I told them that was never going to happen. So, I resigned my positions, and left that church.
Fortunately for me, I was a leader in a para-church ministry. My co-leaders stood by me. They loved me and cheered me on during everything I experienced giving me practical, emotional and spiritual help. I was able to hold onto my faith through all of it.
Then, I remarried. My second husband brings much joy to my life. He is kind, loving and self-sacrificing. We have an amazing marriage. Along with my new marriage I became step-mom to his four children. These kids had been through a lot, and were very wounded. Being their step-mom was mostly pain for me. I endured this for many years. But my faith was still intact.
One of his daughters became pregnant at age 21. This was hard, but my faith still stayed intact.
Then, a second daughter, age 16 became pregnant. This is where I hit my wall. This daughter had been going to Christian school, wearing a “promise” ring from her dad, promising to remain pure until she was married. She wanted to go to college and become a horse therapist. With one poor choice, all that was erased. Suddenly, she had to leave her school, give up her dream of college, and became a mom at age 17.
Oh, how I struggled during her pregnancy! At that time I was meeting with a woman twenty years younger than me for discipleship. I hope she didn’t expect me to be the “wise older woman” in our relationship. Instead, I spent half of every session that summer in tears, leaning on her. I was a hot mess. I pictured myself raising our grandchild for the next 20 years. I sobbed over the lost opportunities of our daughter. I felt betrayed by her poor choice, and that God would allow her to become pregnant. I had a major life crisis. It took me months to come out of the depression into which this event threw me.
Getting past that was probably one of the hardest things I ever did. I held onto God while raging at him. WHY DIDN’T YOU PREVENT THIS?!?! HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE YOUR WILL?! I am not sure how I finally got past this. It has been a process.
Hagberg and Guelich say that hitting the wall in Stage 4 can be a Christian’s most fertile place. It can begin to help them integrate their head knowledge of God with their heart knowledge. God becomes bigger than the box we’ve put him in. We no longer expect to be insulated from pain. If we can hold onto God during this dark time, (to me, the image of a cowboy on a bucking bronco horse fits how this feels), we can then move forward into stages 5 and 6. If we try to deny our pain, and move back to one of the earlier stages, it stops or stunts our Christian growth. Many people give up their faith when they hit their wall. Their “Christian” friends or family have abandoned them, and instead of seeing that those people may never have truly been Christ followers, they assume God is not good because his “people” have abandoned them.
What stage am I in now? I feel like I have moved into Stage 5. I am not as sure of myself as I once was. I am humbler about how strong my faith is. I have a calmer faith than I once did. I know that things I love about my life can come crumbling down in an instant. I am not saying that if I have another crisis, I will just sail through it. I may still struggle with doubt, and wonder where God is in my difficult circumstances. But, my hope is that I won’t descend into a prolonged depression the way I have before. And if I do? I believe I will be able to hold on until God calms either my circumstances, or my heart.
Sometimes we believe that a really strong person or Christian wouldn’t struggle with doubt the way we do. Not so.
Even the Apostle Paul, one of the greatest apostles of all time struggled. Tweet This
In 2 Corinthians 11:24 – 29 Paul writes:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
No. Even Paul, the incredible pillar of faith, struggled with pain and doubt. But in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 he says:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
If you have hit a wall in your faith, and are struggling with doubt about whether God is good, and whether he has abandoned you, I pray these verses and hearing about my experience will give you hope.
Many blessings to you all,
*Robert A. Guelich and Janet O. Hagberg, The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company, 2004).