More often than not when I sit down with someone to have a conversation about faith, the first thing they start to talk about is themselves. This makes sense, being that faith is such a personal topic. But the truth is that most of the times that people come and actually talk to me about faith are the exact times when they are struggling the most and have either lost their faith or have found themselves questioning it to an extreme where it is no longer relevant in their lives.
It is very easy to lose one’s faith, especially with many of the teachings that are out there concerning it. Think of how rigid faith is in this world. Haven’t you heard this line, “If you don’t [believe or do] ___________, you’re never going to know God!” For me, it was a great day when I realized that people experience God in vastly different ways.
I, for one, have never been a big “focused” prayer. For many, this is the only way to connect with God, but I would much rather take a walk and have a conversation with God praying within the awe and wonder of nature. My way is not the best, nor is it even good for many people, but it works for me, connecting me with God in profound ways that focused prayer or meditation never do. But that is me, and I came to that through practicing spirituality and listening to the faith experience of others.
There was a time early in seminary where I was really struggling with my faith. It took me some time to realize that it was not my faith that I was struggling with, but what people were telling me were “good spiritual practices.” As you can imagine, there is a strange piety in seminaries. While many of the students flocked to centered prayer and Lectio Divina practices, I got frustrated. Even after getting proficient in the practice, it never became more than going through the motions.
Frustrated, I went to my mentor at the time, and had a real long conversation. In the midst of that conversation, my mentor laughed and said, “I can’t stand that stuff either.” I was no longer alone, but more importantly, I found that my spiritual expressions were just as valid, though maybe more nontraditional.
No matter what spiritual practices that you engage with, if you are not able to connect with God and others, it is not much of a spiritual practice. Moreover, if you get stuck in spiritual practices that do not bring you to a relationship with God, then you run the risk of losing faith because of the frustration that comes from not connecting with God.
At the root of so many of the conversations about faith, it is not the faith, but the practices that really cause the issues. We are told from a very early age that our faith is just that: ours! But we forget that. Faith is not a commodity and is never static. This is why it changes so much, and why one needs to view it as a relationship. If your spiritual practices help to build on that relationship, then that is awesome. But if they don’t, then we need to figure out how to make that happen, and where the disconnect is between your spiritual practice and your faith.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen