Before this past year of my life, I used to think that spiritual matters were one thing and emotional matters were another. They may overlap here and there, but by and large they were different arenas of life. A deeper exploration of both scripture and health science has helped me to have a more holistic view of human well-being that I believe our creator intended us to have.
This means that significant changes to our beliefs or spiritual practices will have significant impacts on our emotional processes. This is especially true when the change in our spirituality also leads to a change in our relationships and usual support systems.
The good news is that as our spirituality becomes healthier and healthier (more aligned with our creator’s intent), our emotional health and relational health will continue improving and strengthening, too.
But we will have to experience a lot of change for that to happen. And significant change is rarely easy or comfortable.
In my own case, the change happened rapidly and painfully. I don’t think it had to be that way, but it taught me that God truly never abandons us, even in the fires and the messes. If my journey can help shed some light along the path for someone else, I count that as a grace and thank God for it.
Here are 10 practical things I would recommend to anyone undertaking the deconstruction and reconstruction of their faith to help make the journey a little less crooked, a little less painful, and to help them stay centered and balanced along the way.
1. Trust God, even and especially when He seems silent.
One of the most poignant ways I’ve heard the silence of God explained is in comparison to human relationships. If you love someone, would you want to constantly interrupt them and speak over them? Even if you knew what was best for them? In our trials, God sometimes makes space for us to speak. And to call to Him in ways we never have before.
Often, He has to help us reach the end of all our idols so we can finally burn them down and place our hope in Him alone. This is the MOST loving thing He can ever do for us. Even from a young age, I was able to understand that far worse than failing would be succeeding at the wrong thing.
God’s temporary silences in my own life pulled me into new levels of humility and trust in Him, and pushed me to actions and studies that were so far outside my comfort zone I would have otherwise avoided. In those moments, I questioned His presence or His love for me, but in hindsight I can see that He never actually left me alone. And now when the difficult moments come, I am quicker to seek His guidance and submit to His will.
2. Take it slow. Probably slower than you’d think or want to.
We can’t configure or re-configure our entire faith in a day (or a week, or a month). Instead of waiting to figure everything out until we find peace, we need to find peace on the journey. And once the initial shock and emotions of uncomfortable change settle, we can even learn to enjoy the ride.
3. Accept the weirdness of change and learn to cope with being uncomfortable.
The routines we are used to are comfortable, and I think humans often confuse comfort with safety. We can become comfortable in many things for better or worse, but our true safety is in the Lord alone. Try to consciously acknowledge that new spiritual routines and environments are going to feel really weird for a while, and just ask God for His guidance and wisdom along the way.
One example of this for many people today is the transition from singing hymns to the worship music experience. I used to have a disdain for worship music because I thought it was “emotional alchemy” with Jesus’ name stamped onto it. I still think the lights and fog machines can be a bit much sometimes and I don’t think music is the only form of worship, but looking back I was mostly uncomfortable with worship music because I was uncomfortable with the level of humility and vulnerability that I felt tugging on my heart while experiencing it. Now I really cherish times of worship in music (both alone and in gatherings of Christians). It’s not just the lyrics and love that touch my heart but a reminder that so many other people’s lives have found supernatural healing and renewal through the teachings and communion of Christ.
Long story short: train yourself to identify the difference between “this feels weird because it’s new” and “something isn’t right here.” Having a trusted friend to talk through your experiences with can help a lot.
4. Develop a robust and stringent self-care routine.
Falling into a rut of habit is not always a good thing, but having a healthy self-care routine to lean on when times get tough or confusing can be a huge saving grace. No matter someone’s spirituality, I think one of the most important things we can all do as we enter adulthood is to build a toolbox of healthy and sustainable coping practices. For me, self-care looks like prayer and meditation, watching/listening to soul-nourishing sermons, frequent exercise to release stress, doing yoga, buying healthy groceries, listening to uplifting music, and having a reading list of good nonfiction books. Sometimes it also means watching comedies on Netflix or just enjoying a cup of tea or hot cocoa. It also means getting out to see friends and family (or calling/Skyping loved ones), especially when I can feel myself wanting to hide away in my room for too long.
The more you can build a routine of healthy self-care, the easier it will be to lean into it when challenges come your way. It will also help deter you from seeking relief or distraction from unsustainable places like substances, alcohol, or unstable romantic relationships. If you think your coping methods are leading you somewhere worse and not better and you’re not sure how to change them, please seek help!
5. Keep up with the physicals of life.
It’s hard to not obsess over our problems without having other things to give our attention to. Not matter what we may be going through, taking care of the physicals of life will serve us well. Establishing financial stability, cleaning and organizing our living spaces, getting rid of excess belongings, meal prepping healthy food, and maintaining some sort of fitness routine will not only help fill our time but it will help lay the path for holistic health.
6. Build your support network of people who prove themselves to be wholesome and supportive of you as person (without the condition that you agree with them on everything).
When friendships and relationships are founded on mutual beliefs, it can be tough when that foundation changes for one side. Ideally, with time and lots of grace, we can learn to re-establish the relationship itself simply out of respect and unconditional love for one another, even if we find ourselves on different paths of service. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. During the most tumultuous times of transition in life, it is important to have a support network of people who don’t just love you for your beliefs or what you can do for them. Rather, people who will pour into you and make sure your needs are met while you figure out a new normal for yourself.
My personal recommendation is to identify whether each relationship/friendship is:
a) truly toxic to your well-being, in which case you may need to establish distance and boundaries until you can figure out what the ultimate resolution looks like;
b) not toxic but not uplifting, in which case you may still want to establish some boundaries but still try to show grace towards each other as the transitions of life keep playing out; or
c) uplifting and nourishing, and supportive of your growth with God. Keep these people close and pour into these relationships! Resolve offenses quickly and enjoy sharing life with these people.
It should go without saying, but the marriage covenant is in a category of its own here. I believe God’s intention is always to heal a marriage by healing the individuals and healing individuals by the healing the marriage. But it does take two willing people. I would encourage you to seek professional (licensed, medically compatible) Christian counseling that you both can feel comfortable with if changes of belief are straining your marriage. Remember to find identity, belonging, strength, and comfort in Christ and not your spouse for the tough moments.
7. Avoid obsession. If you feel yourself heading that way, lean back into your self care.
If there’s a theological topic that I find myself thinking about constantly or I find myself so stressed about a particular question that it’s really affecting my daily routine, I have learned to stop and put it on the shelf for a while. The knowledge that there’s a creator who loves me passionately and that Jesus is Lord is enough. It really is. I’m always sure to write down my questions and things I want to study further so I know I’m not just ignoring my curiosity, but then I lean back into my self-care or my community until I can pick up my study from a more balanced place.
8. Intentionally build friendships and seek community with a wide range of Christians.
Finding a base note of unity with all Christians is only threatening if your belief structure is founded on elitism and exclusivism. Seeing how diversely God works is one of the most humbling, beautiful evidences of His ridiculous grace. Make intentional time for friends of all different denominations and traditions and ask them how God has worked in their lives.
Side note: I highly recommend building friendships with people of all faiths, agnostics, and atheists too! In this particular case, I’m just speaking to the growth of your faith within the realm of people who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.
9. Set small, achievable goals along the way (and celebrate your progress often).
For me, this looks like checking books off my reading list, reaching small financial goals, hitting a fitness checkpoint, or even just celebrating when I’ve had a good day or week. I really believe celebration is born out of gratitude and is the key to a joy-filled life. That’s why I love birthdays and holidays so much, despite the materialism of the world. We should all look for more excuses to celebrate the things we are thankful for — including our own growth.
10. Stay on the give — even if it’s in a different way than you’re used to.
Service makes us happy — it’s science. When our service routine is interrupted, it is important that we find ways to stay on the give. Volunteering in your community or even just working on being a really great spouse/friend/family member will help keep your mind off yourself and will help you build healthy relationships naturally.
This journey of reconstruction can truly be a fulfilling adventure with God if you take care of yourself along the way. These are just 10 of my suggestions, but find what works for you and discuss with your friends who are finding their way as well!