friends-of-faith-shifters: things that help, things that hurt

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, relationships 26 Comments

listen without fixing

Some things I originally wrote made it into Faith Shift, and some things didn’t.  After multiple conversations in the past several weeks, I thought I’d share some of the on-the-cutting-room-floor pieces of this part of the Appendix to offer some possibilities for those who have friends or family members who are shifting in their faith and you don’t quite know what to do about it.  If your faith is unraveling and you’re getting pushback in all kinds of directions, maybe you can print this out and anonymously send it in the mailbox to them, ha ha.

Below are some things that help, some things that hurt, a few simple thoughts on how you can stand alongside someone in the midst of a faith shift. There are some ways of engaging that do, indeed, help; at the same time, it’s good to consider things that could possibly hurt, too. These lists aren’t all inclusive, and there are many nuances depending on the person. My intent is that some of these thoughts will help minimize pain and increase the likelihood your friends or family members will feel better supported during a tricky time in their faith.

These ideas aren’t just my own; they come directly from conversations with other faith-shifting-friends, too.

What Hurts:

  • Trite spiritual phrases like “I’ll pray for you,” “God will lead you back home,” or “All things work together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” These can sting and have the opposite impact of their intent.
  • Statements and questions like:

“The Lord told me to tell you….” (even if you believe that)

“When are you going to come back to church?” (even if you hope they do soon)

“When are you going to stop being so bitter?” (even if that would make sense to you)

“I’m scared for you.” (even if you are)

“I have a sermon you really need to listen to (or a book you need to read)” (even if you want them to)

“The church is made up of imperfect people.” (even if you know that)

“You’ve got to be careful of the slippery slope.” (even if you want to be helpful)

“You still believe _______ (fill in the blank), don’t you?” (even if you want to know)

  • Accusing us of “becoming liberal,” “throwing out the Bible,” “opening our hearts up to Satan,” “being divisive,” “being deceived,” and “putting ourselves at risk by coming out from under the church’s spiritual covering.”
  • Using Bible verses against us or out of context to try to make a point. It doesn’t draw us toward you or God but instead repels us.
  • Posting comments on Facebook that detail biblical arguments.
  • Expecting us to “be better” or “back to our old selves” the next time you talk to us.
  • Questioning our faith and thinking that we somehow aren’t strong enough, faithful enough, dedicated to God enough.

What Often Helps:

  • Listening without judging, fixing, scripturizing, or advice-giving.
  • Phrases and responses (but only if you mean it; please don’t say these things unless they are sincere as that only hurts more!) like:

“I’m with you no matter what.”

“I care about you, not your beliefs.”

“I will walk with you in this.”

“I love you.”

“What do you need right now?”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Regardless of what you believe, I am in your corner.”

“I trust you.”

“No matter how long this takes, I am with you.”

“I respect your integrity, honesty, and courage.”

“I will be friends with you no matter what.”

  • Respecting our anger. It’s part of our grief process. God can handle it, and it helps so much when our friends can, too.
  • Listening without judging, fixing, scripturizing, or advice-giving.
  • Honoring that there are a lot of ways to live out our faith other than go to church. Often, that’s all people focus on–our struggles with church. Faith is so much bigger than that, and there many other ways to engage with God, Jesus, or community beyond church participation.
  • Trusting our process. It takes a long time to move to new places in our faith–years, not months; honoring that reality and not rushing us or expecting outward movement helps so much. In faith shifting, a lot happens underneath the surface, and good friends trust our soul work.
  • Hearing others’ real stories of struggle and doubt.

And yes, I am repeating it over and over again because it’s the most important: Listening without judging, fixing, scripturizing, or advice-giving. 

Honestly, that is what we need the most. If you can stick with that and have patience to trust our process, it will make all the difference.

I’d love to hear what you would add.

What has hurt, what has helped?


ps:  Tonight I’ll be in Berkeley at American Baptist Seminary of the West, talking Faith Shift.  This is a little different format from the other Faith Shift Parties, but will be a lot of fun. All are welcome if you live near there and would love to meet you.  Also, yesterday was International Women’s Day (and the 50th anniversary of Selma).  I didn’t write a new post, but here’s the one I re-shared from a few years ago: 10 reasons i’m an advocate for women’s equality.  Here’s to more and more advocates, more and more change, here, there and everywhere.