My Spiritual Path

I have found myself on a spiritual journey over the last 5 years that began with my prayer to know God in the way he wanted to be known. For along time I had a sense that maybe the things I was being taught (which were really the same old things over and over) may not really be what God wanted for me to understand. I was relying heavily on what pastors, teachers, friends, etc told me about God without much searching on my own. So I have been on a quest. And have learned a ton.

One of my spiritual mentors posted on his blog a few days back his view of our stages of spiritual growth that I think describes my journey very accurately. I have copied and pasted a section of that post here:

Stage 1: Pre-Faith Stage
Stage 2: Institutional Faith Stage
Stage 3: Throw Away Faith Stage
Stage 4: Personal Faith Stage

Pre-Faith:This is the period of time before we come to accept/believe that God invites us to accept His acceptance. Some of us lived in that stage for a long time.  Others, like me, can’t even remember it. I was taken to church just a few days after my birth and was there several times a week for most of my life with my family.

Institutional Faith Stage:We we come to faith, it is usually connected with some religious system. That might be a church or para-church organization like Campus Crusade, etc. As newbies to faith we look to someone to explain what the content and practices of our faith looks like. It may through a Bible Study, Sunday School Class, or some discipleship process. It is not so much an education as indoctrination into our mentor’s faith. There may be a discussion of alternative points of view, but they are generally labeled as wrong, false, liberal, new age, heresy, etc. If we get the “correct” information and can repeat it, then we get a star on our chart. If not, we need to relearn the “truth” as they understand it.

Generally, it is a simplified version of their faith and can sound pretty black or white – as if there is an answer somewhere in the Bible for every question we have or decision we confront. The problem is that life presents all of us with issues and situations that are not so clear cut. Some faith systems very effective help people transition from the early stages of faith to learn discernment about living out faith in a complex world and others don’t. You may know people whose faith is stuck in the Institutional Stage – that is, they depend on the institution to define how to live life, answer questions, never question what it declares to be the “correct” answers. In fact, people can be so trapped it the Institutional Stage that they live in denial about the complexities of the world. We all have an amazing ability to not see what we can’t handle within our belief systems.

Throw Away Stage: If we grow beyond the Institutional Stage, it usually involves some degree of throwing away the faith we have been given. We really don’t have to grow and some people choose to stay in the Institutional Stage so long that changing would feel to them like they had wasted their entire life and change is just too hard. “Throw away” may be too strong to fit the experience of some who move quite naturally through this stage where they question what they have been given. For others, it does not look like they are throwing anything away because the still attend services and talk the talk but they have become closet non-believers. They really don’t buy what they once believed but choose to keep quiet for the sake of others in the family (like keeping quiet about the tooth fairy) or they enjoy the social networking so just go through the motions. Others are more open about throwing away their faith and may loudly express they feel betrayed by God, the church and friends.

Personal Faith Stage:Some feel so deeply betrayed and justified in their disillusionment that they never move beyond the Throw Away Stage. If we grow beyond it it would mean coming to a new view of faith but this time it is not about asking the institution to define what we “should” believe but a personal exploration of what we choose to believe. Hopefully that includes an honest search of the history of ways the faith has been viewed – few of our questions are so new that no one has never thought deeply about them. We might even come to accept things we had decided to throw away, but now it is because we choose them. (We have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath in the Throw Away Stage).

I would have to say that I feel I have one foot in the “Throw Away Stage” and on foot in the “Personal Faith” stage. My re-examination of the faith of my childhood continues. Sometimes I drop an idea or two. Sometimes I retain an idea or two. Sometimes I drop and idea and then pick it back up later on. One thing I am finding for sure is that I am closer to God than I think I have ever been, and it is mainly because I quit trying to meet the expectations that other people told me were God’s expectations and instead started searching for myself. And I am in a better place for it.

Where do you find yourself in theses stages? Do you agree with them? Do you have a different idea?

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15 responses to “My Spiritual Path

  1. “Where do you find yourself in theses stages? Do you agree with them? Do you have a different idea?” (Dougie)

    I am in the ‘throw away’ stage to some degree – still defining what can and can’t be thrown away. I am also in the personal faith stage – since my defining what can and can’t be kept relates to what my faith looks like in this 21st century world I live in – and how this will effect me. I find my faith is much stronger in these days than in any of the previous periods of my life – not sure why – but the questioning helped refine something I needed refined.

    I like the stages – they make a lot of sense – namely for us bloggers and examiners of all things scriptural/faith related.

    I have seen a lot of people throw faith away – and to me – that’s not a big deal – because I can see why they did it (faith burnt them). Funny though, faith burnt me also – I want things changed more than I dislike the actual feeling of loss.

  2. I don’t go along with the linear image at all but would instead see it as a circle that we might go around many times throughout our life. I don’t think of any stage as better or worse or people in those stages as greater or lesser, just different.

    We are all different personalities. Some people are content with what we might see as a ‘simple faith’ because they’re not like us with this need to question, explore. They look at us like we’re nuts and making everything so difficult. Why can’t we just shut up and relax for awhile? It’s that Mt Gerazim, Mt. Ebal image, what you see depends on the direction you’re looking.

    Some people live their whole lives in the place of their birth, never venturing far afield yet are quite content with their lives; lives that are quite meaningful and contribute much to the betterment of the world. Some of us can’t wait to hit the road and are ever restless, perhaps contributing nothing at all, the classic bums riding the rails. Different people, both can contribute much or little, it’s not dependent on if they are homebodies or free spirits, but is instead about the choices they make wherever they are, whoever they are. Not better, not worse.

    I am resistant to the idea that one stage is growth while another is stagnant. I like circles. Linear images can so easily become tinged with pride. You know what I mean? Besides, Tanakh teaches what has been is what will be again.

    Hey, you should know by now to expect a ‘different’ view from me. But, seriously, this is something I’ve thought much about from within my own tradition. I don’t like linear images. In a circle we can all be different but still see each other and be there together, rather than having people going off on their own and lost to the rest of us. Plus, a circle allows me to kick off the shoes and put my feet up for awhile instead of having to roam constantly searching for what may well be unknowable. I don’t see this as regression to some infantile stage, but merely moving around that circle one more time and perhaps seeing things I missed the first, second, third, fiftieth time around?

    As for where I am in my circle right now? I imagine several people have opinions on this! Machts nicht. I’m just dancing the hora and having fun! 8)

  3. No one has called me “Dougie” in a long time other than my wife. I had a high school coach call me that regularly but not much since. Sounds funny.

    I think Yael’s emphasis on the path being circular instead of linear is good. I do definitely find that my life cycles. In fact my post, “That Same Old Place Again,” emphasizing one of those cycles for me. Whether my entire life is a cycle I’m not so certain. I sure hope that I advance as I go along. So I think it is probably best described as a cycle that keeps advancing along a tangent.

  4. i really enjoyed this post. i think i’ll always be occilating between the throw away and the personal faith stages… maybe they shouldn’t be separated. to make a faith personal, you will constantly be modifying and adding and subtracting as your journey continues. i’d mesh those two categories together and journey on! great stuff!

  5. I like what Yael had to say, this song kinda sums up that idea for me.

    Slowly I heal the love that’s found its way
    Onto another path in times of change
    Crossing a bridge unknown
    Hoping our strength will hold
    Should they both let go then let me lay
    …..Let me lay

    (Chorus)
    Show me a sign
    To a light that shines
    One direction into another
    Sheltered peace of mind

    Somewhere I lost a piece of memory
    Somehow I know my legs will carry me
    Searching for circles end
    Hoping the wounds will mend
    Should this scar, then it was meant to be

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quqxGp6OZcY

  6. We have lines, circles, tangents, oscillations….just to add to the geometry, one Jewish friend prefers the image of a sphere, another of concentric circles.

  7. it’s interesting how we often interchange faith and belief. i’ve been reflecting lately on these terms. our actions come from our faith, but our beliefs are rather meaningless if our faith is based on something bigger than ourselves. if the bigger thing that is out there is really bigger than me, i can’t shape it. whether i believe this or that about it is inconsequential to the rest of the universe. now, on the other hand, faith is a lifestyle. it actually changes things. how i relate to others; how i prioritize; how i live. it also simplifies things for me. i don’t have to worry or wonder about whether or not someone else believes something–i only have to look at their life.

    i thought about deleting this, because i’m not sure it fully makes sense even to me. but i’m letting it run because i think it’s important. lots of conversations can go round and round about belief, but faith seems stronger and of greater substance.

  8. lots of conversations can go round and round about belief, but faith seems stronger and of greater substance.(teason)

    This reminds me of the one I heard about Love.

    “Love is not a feeling but an action”

  9. i think this post helps: http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2008/12/religious-case-against-belief.html

    kinda sorta what we’re talking about. maybe? i tend to make connections when there shouldn’t be any ;-)

  10. Yael, since I haven’t seen you in a bit on my site (you avoiding me and my controversial blog?) – I have bought the book ‘Night’ by Elie Weasal and plan on reading it over the Christmas season(its quite short). I still love Jews and I like circles too (my culture also uses that symbology – not linear).

    I also agree with Luke – those 2 are in constant battle like Job and God – things changing over time – some things remaining very constant (faith in God) – but the battle will continue on for years to come – maybe even unto our final days on this planet…and maybe…this is good for the old peanut.

  11. I’ve been thinking about what teason said. I’m not sure if I am disagreeing with him or not on this but I think my faith comes from my beliefs. I think of my faith for example as my faith in God. I look at the evidence and believe that it points to God. My faith then is shaped around what I think of that God, what God is like. But if I first don’t believe this God to exist, I can’t have any faith in him and instead have faith in the fact that he doesn’t exist. Am I off base? I don’t see how faith can come first.

  12. Luke. I meant to comment that I find your link to the book review very interesting. It might be worth a good read. Have you read it?

  13. I like that review as well. Nice to not hear the usual bashing of religion! This guy seems to understand religion as I understand it! Thanks for the link. I may have to read that book as well. I have some money burning a hole in my pocket that was given to me as a gift to be used to buy another book….

    Jason,
    You’ve got too many church people on your blog these days, no place for me right now. So, I’m just hanging out with the rest of the Canon. Hey, you always know where to find me.

  14. “My faith then is shaped around what I think of that God” (Dougie)

    Bruced from BoldGrace told me something a while back that made all the sense in the world to me:

    ‘One’s God’s behavior will become the behavior of the believer’

    Faith is effected 100% of what someone thinks of God – is He close minded? Is He open minded? Is he inclusive? Is he exclusive.

    Faith is defined by us in many regards.

    “So, I’m just hanging out with the rest of the Canon. Hey, you always know where to find me.” (Yael)

    True. I will see you around the canon I guess. But do not forget Mark – he wants to be pseudo included in the canon too? :)

  15. Great post. I saw a similar phase list but there were a few more that I think worked well. The writer felt that people have a significant destabilizing event, this either causes them to move back to a more fundamental version of an early stage, or go on to belief system collapse. At that point a rebuilding occurs, or as you said, a personal faith stage. I think his last stage was vital – openness to repeat the cycle. I think there is still that tendency to want to have a solid answer, so it is common to step right into the missteps of the past under a new heading.

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