and…8 ways you can support friends or family experiencing a spiritual shift
yesterday i shared some things to remember when we are in the midst of a spiritual shift. one thing i want to remind everyone–no matter how hard we try, we can’t make certain people fully understand. at the same time, i think sometimes people are just at a total loss on how to respond. our language, our anger, our shifts freak them out and they just aren’t sure what to do. i thought it might be helpful to revisit some ideas for friends, family, communities, and yes, churches, who are wondering “what do we do when people we know are spiritually spinning?“
here are a few helpful hints:
1. love us, not the words you are used to hearing us say. often, 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.
2. simply listen & don’t to try fix, scripturize, or give advice. it’s so hard to sit with people in their pain. we have a knee-jerk reaction to try to make it better and i always feel it, too. ” what if they just…” is often running through our brains. it’s so important to learn how to just listen, acknowledge the feelings, and not offer advice or solutions. it’s also not a half bad idea to read through this list of helpful & not so helpful things to say & do when people are deconstructing, too.
3. 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 but there are lots of forms for it. 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. remember, God is big.
4. respect our anger. as much as it feels like it is, anger is not a sin. it is a helpful propelling emotion if used properly and an important part of the grieving process. the sure way to get stuck in bitterness is to not have safe places to feel angry and keep moving through it toward letting go and acceptance. the ways we hurry past anger can really jack us up in the end and prevent us from finding more solid ground.
5. don’t hold us to everything we say & do. we are in process. i sometimes rant, i sometimes rave. i still sound bitter & angry one day, forgiving & hopeful 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. let us give up on going to church services or try some what-may-seem-weird ones.
6. trust the long (and i do mean long haul) process (and God). it takes a lot of time to move to new places in our faith. 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 and it takes years, not months, to unravel what needs unraveling. God is always at work, whether it’s in our language or not. trust that beautiful truth.
7. ask what might be helpful. i ask people a lot if there are things that do help during hard seasons. sometimes people can articulate them, sometimes they can’t, but i’ve gained a lot of great insight into small ways that my friends feel loved and supported. it’s so much better to ask than assume.
8. consider creating safer 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. but it is so possible with brave people willing to put people above programs and relationship over doctrine.
i know some of you might be thinking “how can i send this in an anonymous email to certain people?” (i can do it on your behalf if it would help, ha ha).
oh, change is so hard, for both sides. i totally respect how weird it must feel for some of my old friends, to hear me talk the way i do now. we will need to find new ways to love and honor each other through these shifts so there can be less hurt, less damage, less isolation in the process. a whole lot of grace & unconditional love seem to be the most important ingredients.
these are 8 off the top of my head, and i am quite sure there are many others. what would you add?