When the sun shines and the wind is at your back and love is in the air, faith comes naturally. When life is great, it's easy to believe in a God/Higher Power/Spirit that is love. Faith gets difficult when life gets dicey and things don't go our way - or even implode on us completely! Have you had your heart broken? Have you experienced trauma? Have you received violence? All of these events can profoundly affect and even disrupt one's faith. But that doesn't have to be the end of the story. You can heal yourself and grow your faith.
How do you begin to rebuild faith and trust in God/Higher Power/Spirit after you have been betrayed or hurt?
First, let's look at how faith is formed. James W. Fowler wrote a seminal book, Stages of Faith, in 1981. In it, he put forth seven stages of faith development. This is taught in universities, seminaries, and the like. It is not specific to a particular faith or religious tradition but describes how an individual grows in regard to relatedness to the transcendent. The ages give a timeframe for when this developmental stage is available to the individual - it does not describe a person's development at that age. A 45-year-old, for instance, may still be in stage 3 of faith development.
Trust or Mistrust sets the groundwork for faith later in life. Are caretakers responsive to my needs? Are my needs met with love and compassion? This initial experience in early infancy is critical to how an individual relates to and trusts others.
Encounters with stories, images, the influence of others, and an intuitive sense of right and wrong. Innocent perceptions of how God influences the universe.
Justice and fairness: doing good yields good results. Doing wrong yields bad results. God is a human image (often as an old man with white hair and robes with a long and flowing beard in the clouds). Metaphors are taken literally, often leading to misunderstandings. At this age, abstract thinking is not possible. When the world doesn’t work the way they understand it to be, there are big disappointments.
Identification of the person with a religious institution/belief system and the growth of a personal religious or spiritual identity. Therefore, any ideas that conflict with the person’s beliefs are ignored, because they represent too much of a threat to one’s religious identity. Institutionally this is seen when Galileo posited that the sun, rather than the earth, was the center of the universe. The Church had not yet grown into an entity that could grow its identity to adjust to this shift in fundamental belief. Many, many people live in this stage of faith. To grow in faith beyond this stage is to do challenging internal work to grow emotionally as well. Psychology and faith grow and develop together; one presupposes the other.
Marked by angst and struggle. This is the stage when you “wrestle with your demons,” as the individual takes personal responsibility for his/her religious beliefs. They may take on greater complexity and nuance, and an openness to new ideas. This also causes difficulty as different ideas collide.
A person at this stage acknowledges paradoxes and the mysteries attendant to transcendent values. This causes the person to move beyond the conventional religious traditions or beliefs he may have inherited from previous stages of development. A resolution of the conflicts of this stage occurs when the person is able to hold a multi-dimensional perspective that acknowledges ”truth’ as something that cannot be articulated through any particular statement of faith. In other words, it lies beyond a statement of faith.
Later adulthood if at all. This is rarely achieved. A person at this stage is not hemmed in by differences in religious or spiritual beliefs among people in the world but regards all beings as worthy of compassion and deep understanding. Here, individuals ”walk the talk” of the great religious traditions (e.g. ”the kingdom of God is within you”). Think Mother Teresa, Gandhi, the Dali Lama, etc.
The above stages of faith development give a broader picture of what our brains and souls are capable of as we grow and develop. It's important to be clear on what you want in your life from your faith. I know people in each of these stages who live happy and content lives. If you want to attain a higher stage in your life, it's helpful to know what's available to you at your current stage of development, and to have an idea of a timeline if you feel "stuck."
For example, many children's moments are taught with metaphors and symbols. Children under the age of 12 do not have a capacity to understand these. So to say, "God is like..." the child will hear God is a/an.... . This is confusing. A much better approach is to share a story and invite the children to wonder about the specific details, but nothing abstract. If you are telling the story of Zacchaeus from the Bible, for instance, tell it very simply. Ask questions such as, "I wonder if Zacchaeus liked climbing trees. Do you like to climb trees?" Or, "Have you ever not been able to see because an adult was in front of you?" This is sufficient for children in this stage; they have heard the story and the questions have invited them to interact with it. When they are older, they will recall this and will be able to extrapolate.
If you experience trauma, your faith will likely not develop past the stage of faith you were in when you experienced the trauma. An infant who was poorly cared for will have difficulty establishing faith until he/she is able to develop a trust for authority figures. Or a person in faith stage 4 who experiences trauma or heartbreak will struggle until he or she is able to heal from the emotional wound and find greater meaning.
Putting a timeline on when you experienced more difficult things in your life, will allow you to see how your faith might heal and grow. But no matter what is happened in your life, no matter what difficulties you have had, it's not final. There is still a path for you to heal yourself and to grow your faith. Click here for free resources to help you in your journey. Resources to work on forgiveness, specifically, are found here and here.
Are you wanting to commit to spiritual and emotional growth? Click here. fiLLLed is a program that will give you what you need to grow your faith and emotional health as far as you want to go.
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Hi, my name is Melissa Ebken, and I'm so glad you found your way here.
I am at home in the difficult spaces of peoples’ lives, willing to listen and to support those who work to grow themselves. I am a trained coach and have consulted with churches in conflict. Not your stereotypical minister, I embrace the Gospel with joy and laughter as I seek to help those around me grow in faith and understanding, always striving to leave people better than they came. An agent of wholeness, I create a safe space for people, especially those who have been marginalized, where they can understand how ridiculously loved and valued they are by God/Higher Power/Spirit, and to experience the difference that makes in life.
I started the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast to share the stories of people who have faced life's most difficult challenges, to inspire you to lean into and overcome your own. It's helpful to know that you're not alone in your struggles and to see how others have navigated similar circumstances. You can listen to it here.
Here's what I can do for and with you.