Tackling a Faith Crisis Head-On: The Darkest Night Finally Begins
After writing about my faith crisis last week I was overwhelmed by the response, both public and private. People reached out to share their previous or ongoing struggles with faith with me. That column was probably the most difficult thing I've ever written. I did it mostly as an exercise in catharsis but it ended up being so much more.
Because of the number and nature of the responses, I have decided to keep writing about this journey of mine. As I mentioned before, writing is another way of thinking out loud for me, and there were a couple of realizations that hit while exploring the problem in that manner. My hope is that a weekly or bi-monthly examination of where I'm at will assist me along the way, and maybe it will be of help to others as well.
Publicly admitting that my problem was bigger than I had been treating it to that point was a great help. I spent the day dwelling upon the fact that something I'd relied upon my entire life was not only gone right now, but might not return any time soon, if ever. That was so jarring I couldn't eat for most of the rest of the day.
What was perhaps not clarified in the first installment is that I'm not just experiencing a lack of God's presence in my life, I have been questioning my belief and it is nonexistent at this moment. Many have said that the mere fact that I am bothered by it means I still really believe, but I have to be honest here.
I'm not feeling it.
This wasn't gradual either. I essentially went from being a devout, faith-based person to a borderline atheist overnight. The circumstances precipitating this are almost irrelevant. The fact that it could happen at all is the real problem. If it hadn't happened now, it's likely that something else would have kicked it off.
Unbelief is not something I ever pondered happening to me, which is why I'm flailing so much while trying to deal with it.
What has happened in the last week and a half, however, is that I have begun tackling the problem on a daily basis. I'm doing the familiar things, hoping that something gets sparked inside of me. I went to Confession. I've been to Mass a couple of times. The former was simple enough; the two trips to Mass were difficult, however.
Generally, I am relaxed and happy when I go to Mass. Or "Stephen Kruiser happy," which just means "less irritable." Still, it's a happy place for me.
The first Mass I went to wasn't at my parish, but it is a church I go to frequently because it's close by. I found myself restless and annoyed by the priest. I wanted to walk out, but I was sitting near the front of the church. I once saw a sign in the back of a Catholic church in Buffalo, NY, that said, "Judas was the first person to ever leave Mass early."
Since that day, I have never left Mass early. That I even wanted to is indicative of just how far afield I am with this problem.
In what many will no doubt say is Divine Providence, the Gospel reading that day was about the great faith of the Canaanite woman. Part of that same Gospel had popped up a couple of weeks earlier up on a "Daily Bible Verse" reading on one of the Catholic apps I have on my phone. The priest hadn't gotten around to bothering me yet, so I smiled when I heard the Gospel. Should this problem resolve itself sooner rather than later, we can probably point to that double-whammy as being the beginning.
The experience that day was so unpleasant, however, that I wanted to go to a weekday Mass at my own parish for a sort of spiritual palate cleanser.
The sanctuary in my parish church has been a place of great solace to me in some of the most difficult times in my life, so what I experienced that day was difficult to deal with.
I went in a few minutes early to pray. Or try to pray. That went nowhere so I thought I'd just sit still and take comfort in the familiar ritual.
Rather than being comforted, I was agitated almost from the moment Mass began. Weekday Masses are only about twenty five minutes long, and I couldn't wait to get out of there. I had told myself and my Facebook friends that I was going to Mass without expectations. Maybe I wasn't being honest with myself. Perhaps I did have some and when they weren't met, I became upset. That's one explanation.
Perhaps I feel like a fraud when I'm at Mass right now.
Whatever it was, it was exceedingly unpleasant.
It may seem like there is nothing positive to report about the first week or so of meeting this problem head-on, but that isn't the case at all. I have been proactively dealing with it every day, and that alone has brought some measure of comfort. I have relaxed quite a bit in general now that I'm not keeping the struggle at arm's length and hoping it resolves itself.
I am praying every day even though I don't feel as if anyone is listening, and I have begun reading the two books I mentioned in the first post. I'll have more on them next week.
Most importantly, going public with it and talking to so many people both on and offline has been just what the doctor, or God, ordered. My commitment to exploring it here has brought in an element of accountability. I can't back away from the struggle now even when it is difficult. I will keep going to Mass, despite the rocky recent return.
I would like to wrap up this installment by thanking everyone who read, shared and reached out to me after the first post. It has been--pun most definitely intended--a revelation.