surviving spiritual vertigo

kathyescobar church stuff, crazy making, healing, spiritual formation, the carnival in my head 14 Comments


this post is part of a synchroblog (a group of bloggers writing on the same topic at the same time. check out their links at the bottom of this post) put together by my blog-friend-on-the-journey glenn hager.   the topic is called the revolutionaries synchroblog and you can read more about it here, but the basic idea is some thoughts & perspectives for those who:

  • have been wounded through serving & separating from ‘church as they  have known it”
  • are feeling alone
  • are former church leaders/staff members trying to find a new direction.
  • may have left community but want to return but not get mired down in the system they left behind.
  • long for a faith community that is vibrant, accepting, and real, that joins in God’s kingdom in practical ways.

what does this growing population of the “restless, “wandering”, “transforming” christians need for their journey and how do we, as part of the body of Christ, understand these needs and come alongside?

the reason i chose to participate is that this is a topic near and dear to my heart because i myself have experienced what i like to call “spiritual vertigo”, a weird and bizarre disorienting piece of my journey that has terrified me, thrilled me, and caused me no end of grief, confusion and powerful transformation.  in the midst of all of this i have been co-pastoring a community along with a lovely group of fellow sojourners.  some would say that is irresponsible, and i would say it has been healing not only for me but others, too.  and that it is so possible to have incredibly deep faith and Jesus’ hope and not feel certain about a lot of other things at the same time.

while i do not have any trite solutions, i do have some thoughts for those who may be in the midst of the confusion and are feeling a little dizzy.   at the same time, i wanted to toss out a few ideas for other friends or communities who aren’t experiencing the same symptoms but are in relationship with us and aren’t quite sure what to do.

here are a few survival strategies that helped me when i stepped out of what was comfortable and sure and enter into the land of questions, change & spiritual adventure.

remember this important truth:  you are not alone!   that is why blog-land can be so helpful.  i had been talking about a lot of these things long before i knew what a blog was, but when i really transitioned out of the old system i was completely and utterly disoriented.  all that i knew for so many years i suddenly couldn’t buy into but at the same time i desperately missed.  i felt so crazy.   reading about other people’s journies–how they knew similar feelings i was feeling–gave me great hope.

get used to blank stares & nervous twitches.  some people just don’t know quite what to say or how to react when we start saying more clearly some things we are considering or strongly disagree with, or are more raw and unedited than they are used to.  it can make you feel awfully misunderstood, but i am trying to learn to take it less personally and recognize that it is just freaky for some people to hear different ideas.

let yourself grieve.  spiritual shifting includes a lot of loss.  i way underestimated how hard it would be to leave so much of what was safe and comfortable, what i had built my whole life, family system, even my job, on.  grief has a wide, wide range of emotions and springs up in the weirdest of situations.  i have gone to events or parties thinking it would be no big deal for me and ended up bawling in the car all the way home.  interactions with people, situations, experiences still tap into my grief and loss, how much i have changed, let go of. part of growing is just learning to recognize it and let it be what it is and not try to run from it or pop a cork in it.  i lean on the 2nd beatitude in matthew 5:4.   “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

focus on love (and relationships) . God’s love supersedes language and systems and cultures.   Love binds us all together somehow.   no one i know is throwing out God’s love on this journey of spiritual transformation. in fact, it’s just the opposite.  we are trying to move closer toward it, to receiving it, to giving it, to knowing it in the deep crevices of our heart.   at the core of all the shifting seems to be a sincere draw toward how to live Jesus’ love out truthfully in the here and now.  so regardless of how far off the map sometimes we feel we’ve gone, if we’re pursuing Love, people, we can’t go too wrong.

strain to hear God’s voice in new ways. the reason i use the word “strain” is that in the midst of all the din, confusion, fear,  i found that the ways i used to hear God i didn’t anymore.  the old tricks didn’t work.  i felt dead to things that once made me feel so alive.  part of the journey has been learning to notice Jesus’ heart for me, the world, in ways that i previously hadn’t relied on. songs, people, experiences, movies, bizarre interactions, random scriptures, all kinds of things started to get my attention and i started taking greater notice of ways God was indeed reminding me of what was true, noble, pure, good, trustworthy. it just came in new ways.

find safe people (and hopefully funny ones) to journey with.  some how, some way, find some safe people to process this with. this has saved my life, my faith.  my friends who listen, make me laugh, let me go off the deep end and still love me, who don’t care about my questions, my doubts, my radical ideas, but care about me.   online, face-to-face, in a group, on the phone, whatever you need, it’s worth seeking.

consider pursuing some of your dreams.  so many have wanted to be with the poor, write, create, be part of something in their communities, love their neighbors more intentionally, go abroad and be part of tangible ministry beyond their local church walls.   consider just going for it, quit waiting for the perfect time.   give it a try. experiment.  risk.  the only thing to lose is pride & ego and those are worth losing anyway.  it will help clarify what you really are passionate about.

now, for those friends, family, communities who are wondering “what do i do when people i know are spiritually spinning? ” here are a few helpful hints:

love us, not the words you are used to hearing us say.  what has happened to a lot of us is when we stop expressing things in the exact same words people feel comfortable with we get judged, rejected, abandoned, slowly cast off.    the most healing and beautiful thing others can do to those in the midst of spiritual vertigo is love us no matter what, stand by us no matter what, be willing to see beyond words & activities & your comfort zone, and still love us as people even if we disagree.

recognize that there are lots of ways to live out our faith in Jesus, community, church.  many people are finding “church” in ways that look nothing like sunday at 10 am with music & a sermon.  i do believe that community is essential.  we can’t be disconnected from people and live out our faith.  affirm ways we are growing, learning, serving even if it looks different and honor that God is big and can work in wild and crazy ways that look “wrong” or “not spiritual enough” just because they don’t fit into our limited paradigm of church.

let us feel what we are feeling & trust us to keep moving.   just let us be honest about where we are at and don’t tell us subtly or directly that our feelings are unacceptable.   that really messes with our head.   we can have doubts and still believe.  we can be confused and still serve.  we can be sad and still love.  we can be angry and not sin.   don’t use your own pre-determined measure of “movement” and assume we’re missing the mark.  there’s a lot more going on underneath in our hearts, our minds, our souls than meets the eye.

don’t hold us to everything we say.  we are in process. i sometimes rant, i sometimes rave.  i sound bitter one day, forgiving the next.  i have been all over the place.  just know some things i said a year ago i don’t necessarily hold to today and some things i am saying now i probably will be embarrassed about in a year.  allow us to change our minds and see things differently at different times.

consider creating safe places in your existing communities.   i know what it feels like to be a notorious sinner in a group of put-together-do-the-right-thing-and-then-you-won’t-suffer-christians. it feels terrible.  in some ways, spiritual questions can put us in the same precarious situation as lepers and adulteresses; we become outcasts.  it would be so beautiful if we could learn to live together somehow–the certain & the uncertain–and listen, respect, and trust each other, our differences.  this takes some heavy duty relationship skill, putting people’s hearts–not belief-expressed-the-way-we-feel-comfortable-with–as the highest priority.  i am seeing it in action, it is hard to do, possible, and glorious all wrapped into one!  

there’s no simple solution to spiritual vertigo, no easy 5 steps to get to solid ground, no sure-fire way to be the perfect friend or community during the process, but i believe in every part of me that God is bigger than the dizziness and that somehow, someway he uses the tossing & turning & spinning to draw us closer to his true heart, the bigger story.

ps:  other bloggers participating that i know of at this point, check out their posts for other perspectives on the topic: