returning: playing it safe.

So far we’ve touched on Fusing and Shifting from Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart as part of this 6-post series. These posts are only a small peek into what’s in the actual material. If you haven’t read it yet and are drawn into the content, there’s so much more in there to help engage and process in different ways.

I think most every person shifts in their faith over time. It might not be overt; the questions might not be asked out loud and the rumbles might be small ones. But most honest people have doubts in the dark of night and are often afraid to bring them into the light. As I mentioned yesterday, Shifting is within our control. We can navigate it, manage it, keep things rolling along still.

What happens to a lot of people when the shifty stuff starts bubbling up (read that twice, it’s an “f” not two “t’s…) is a returning back to the safety of Fusing. This can be intentional, something inside of us that says “I just can’t lean into these feelings. I need to let them go and do whatever I can to become comfortable again” or unintentional, where there’s an underlying and unexplainable pull to dismiss the rumbly feelings and keep things the same.

Most of us don’t like change, discomfort, or the unknown. We like to play it safe. 

I call this stage Returning.

I shifted and returned many a time over the years; I think a lot of us do.  Returning is not bad, a sign of weakness, a signal that you’re doing something wrong. It’s just reality for a lot of people in this process.

In the book, I talk about several reasons for Returning (there are many others, too):

1. The kids and spouses. It’s tough when our spouses aren’t asking the same questions and/or we aren’t quite sure what to do about the kids.

2. Our addiction to inspiration. Giving up the comfort of music, inspiration, and teaching we have loved for a long time is no easy thing.

3. Looking for a spiritual bypass.  A lot of people are good at church shopping and finding a new way to stay above water without addressing what’s underneath the iceberg.

4. The “but what abouts…” Because many of us have been trained in the need for certainty, we find ways to second guess our doubts (p. 54-60).

All four are all fleshed out in the material, but I want to touch on #2 and #3 briefly as part of this overview because I think they are deeply entangled in the resistance to shifting faith.

My dear friend and co-pastor at The Refuge, Karl Wheeler, coined the term “inspiration addiction” years ago. I loved it the minute he said it, and I love it still. Inspiration addiction is prevalent in many of our systems, especially contemporary Christian ones. It’s a reliance on some form of weekly church service to get an infusion of inspiration that will carry us through the week.

I know this feeling well.

I was addicted to getting a regular inspirational high when I attended church the last chunk of years before my big unravel. Excellence mattered. After all these years, I still sometimes miss what it was like to get that feeling and read Facebook posts from people sharing how “awesome the service was this weekend.” Giving it up has been one of the best things that’s ever happened to me because I have to engage with God in new, much more subtle ways, but initially it was a big loss. That’s why so many people are afraid to give it up.

Here are some ways to know if we might be addicted to inspiration:

  • Do you primarily attend church because of the powerful worship and/or teaching?
  • Do you often listen to the pastor’s sermons online to get another dose of the Sunday message?
  • Do you negatively critique church services or experiences that are less than excellent, not funny, or uninteresting?
  • Are you constantly telling others about the great message you heard on Sunday that they should listen to? (p. 57-58).

Again, these things aren’t bad. My personal problem with it is I don’t think it lines up with a lot of Jesus stuff, how he taught and what he calls us to. Inspiration addiction can also create a false sense of security and help us avoid the pain in our real lives and the lives of others.

The other thing many often do to address our shifting experiences is what my friend and partner in facilitating Walking Wounded: Hope for Those Hurt By Church and Ministry, Phyllis Mathis, calls a “spiritual bypass, in which instead of wrestling with the intense realities of our faith shifts, we unplug from the current pain and quickly plug into another type of church, a different strain of faith, or a popular spiritual program that provides immediate relief. But in the long run, this replacement church prevents us from experiencing the meaningful soul change that a faith shift will bring” (p. 58).

How many of you have tried a spiritual bypass, hoping a different church, a different denomination, a different _____  would make the rumbly feelings fade away quickly?

I can relate to both, and the kids and spouses and “but what about’s” too.  It is what is kept me in for a long time, despite the rumbles. The bottom line is that shifts feel scary, and returning can alleviate some of the fear and get us back to safety.

Some people do fine Shifting and then Returning. It’s important not to judge them for their experience.

However, others of us end up facing a much messier and confusing experience–Unraveling–when things about faith and church slip beyond our control and everything we believe starts to come apart (that’s tomorrow).

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts about Returning and our desire to stay safe. What are some other reasons you might add to the list?

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • 1. 6’s are the most common type of people according to Enneagram teachers. 6’s are motivated by fear a lot of the time. I think a lot of people return because of fear of rejection, fear of punishment, fear of the unknown, fear of risk, fear of being different from the status quo, and fear of loss. Fear drives our expressions of Christianity so much and I think there a lot of six’s that associate with Christianity. The second most common type are 9’s which are mergers out of fear of conflict because they want to be peacemakers but lose their voice in the process. We cannot embody a spirituality of love if we are driven by fear so we return over and over again.
    2. We do not have deep enough formation practices like an embodied contemplative spirituality that will carry us through a dark night of the soul if we do not return to what is safe. The church does not really teach contemplative spirituality so we are unprepared to move forward.
    3. There is almost no community support – friendships that can walk someone through this. It is a miracle if someone does not return. People feel alone and find no way to move into a new path.
    4. Conventional Christianity is so strongly embedded into someone that they cannot rely on the kingdom of God within them to find inner resources of their true self to persevere.
    5. We cannot hold to healthy boundaries with family or friends who expect something different from us. So we end up pleasing them instead not doing what we really desire.
    6. Suffering is not welcomed. We will suffer if we do not return in possibly many ways. American Christianity is so disconnected to any kind of suffering as a part of the gospel. For most of us we live in our comfort zones so our lives are about keeping suffering from happening to us. We ask God to protect us from it where maybe God is leading us to embrace it as part of our lifelong journey to authenticity.
    7. We will lose a lot of power. We will have to operate outside of the system of traditional church. We will have to develop a deeper humility. It is humiliating for most of us to lose power, status and admiration. And probably all of that will be gone. Relationships become more important than money and power.

  • Our experience found “churches” that proved to be strange amalgamations of church, politics, business, power platforms and more. They rarely resembled Jesus very much, if at all. We eventually moved on.

    In keeping with that thought we have no interest in returning to any such group, but instead have found others who follow Jesus, many in places we had been led to believe contain no such people (such as among the poor, outcast, homeless and LGBTQ communities).

    We never had “inspiration addiction”. Finding yet another church with prepackaged religion doesn’t work for us. Jesus is not a “walk in for an hour or two, get your weekly fix of prepackaged religion and repeat next week” for us. Walking with Jesus is messy, ugly and pretty. Some of our stories are so ugly that we can’t tell them. Others are so pretty that most people wouldn’t believe them.’

    How come we had to get old to figure out that a lot of the stuff we were taught in church was baloney? (That’s not the “b” word I really have in mind!)

    • Sam I agree with you about ‘prepackaged religion’ too. As part of the younger generation,I was initially drawn to the energy and the music and the bands in Evangelical/Pentecostal churches, but it’s sad that questions on Bible are discouraged and all I hear are success stories, not the ugly and messy ones. It kept me from returning also and led me more into Progressive Christianity.


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