Over recent months I’ve had a recurring conversation with different people who are finding life a bit tough at the mo. And when I say ‘a bit tough’ I mean everything from full on mental health decline, to missing church; from ‘I can’t see where God is’ to, my faith is dipping a bit.I don’t think I know a single person who has sailed through this year without feeling things are ‘a bit tough’ at some point or another. So how do we hang on to our faith when things are tough?
James exhorts us that we should consider trials a joy, that they will bring us to maturity; and that doubting is like being thrown around by the sea – in his view not a good thing, but as a sea lover I may disagree… He goes on:
for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Frankly if James were talking to me right now I’ll tell him where to stick his analogies. Pastoral support is probably not his gifting… And that’s the thing, as Christians we are often taught to be joyful, to put up, to get on with, to believe more – often without really acknowledging the trial we’re going through.
And I really don’t think that’s helpful.
If your faith has sunk to: ‘I don’t even know whether God exists’, you probably aren’t going to force yourself to believe. If you’re feeling so low that you can’t pray then you’re not likely to jolly yourself out of it. What’s more, for many of us at the moment, the places where we might go for support and spiritual nourishment are not there (or when they are it’s all a bit strange) – church, home group, prayer group for example.
So, prompted by a Twitter suggestion here’s some ideas for how to be spiritually resilient when all around the sh*t is hitting the fan. Some of these might strike a chord, some may definitely not, but I hope something here might be of help if you are struggling right now.
1. Get real. Resilience is all about being able to cope in, or even to come back from, difficult times, so we need to recognise we’re in them before we can start to recover.
I know a lot of Christians who feel that it would be a sign of a lack of faith or a spiritual weakness to admit they might not be coping. Personally I think it’s a sign of strength to know that we need God to help us. Paul talks about delighting in his weakness because it makes him strong – to know that he can’t carry on without Jesus. (2 Cor 12). Jesus says come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest (Matthew 11). So, look it’s not only totally ok to admit that things are completely bloody awful but there’s a biblical precedent right there!
So be honest with yourself, perhaps take some time to reflect on how you are doing right now?
2. Get processing. As I noted in last week’s post there’s lots of theories and advice out there right now but how can you process how you’re doing? What works best for you?
Are you someone who needs to talk things through?
Do you need to let stuff out? Cry, shout or scream if you need – with or without company – there’s a good biblical tradition of lamenting! (There’s a good article here on lament and how helpful it can be).
Are you a creative type? Can you process or let things our creatively? Write in a journal? splash some paint on a canvas?
Allow God to help you work through how you’re feeling… Not only will that help in the immediate but it will also help you develop tools for being more spiritually resilient in the future.
3. Get into the word. You need to know you are not alone. It’s easy to succumb to: ‘I can’t be a proper Christian because I feel X,Y or Z’ but that’s mostly BS and whatever you are feeling, facing or dealing with, someone else will have felt it too.
As a good evangelical (not the American kind just to be clear) my go to is scripture. I find that when I read a story or a verse that chimes with where I’m at, it gives me strength. Not only that but verses often stay with me so when I’m feeling that emotion or facing a similar situation, I know where to go for a boost.
Try reading the Psalms or Job’s story for a start. Job’s life is like some hideous movie plot where anything that could happen to him did, but he didn’t just suck it up, his story is full of moaning and questioning but he still took it to God. The Psalmist too pours out pretty much every emotion under the sun and you’re bound to find something in there that strikes a chord.
4. Get away – escape when and where you can. I don’t know about you but there have been times recently when I have felt like there is no escape from the reality of life. Literally, in that everyone was at home ALL THE TIME, but also in that mentally there has been so much going on that I just could not switch my mind off.
Jesus regularly took time out from the busyness of his life to rest and to pray and we need to as well. So think about when or where you can get space to just be. I realise this will be easier for some than others. I asked on Twitter last week where people find peace and one mum of 5 said: in the loo! – busy parents will get this I am sure!
But if you can, go for a walk, run, swim; get in the car and go for a drive; take 5 mins out with a cuppa in the garden. Whatever it is and for however long, find some space. Sometimes it’s in those moments that the Holy Spirit works most.
Last week I sobbed for a good mile while out for a run – not even really sure why but I think it just needed to come out. Also see my endless SUP posts on Insta!
5. Get Praying. In tough times there can be massive barriers between us and prayer but I’d class pretty much all of the above as prayer – whether it’s in actual words, or thinking, or being intentional about seeking time with God. So, I encourage you, if you can, to be totally open and honest with God, I’m sure God has heard it before. Anger, upset, doubt, even F-bombs, really God can cope with whatever you throw out there. Equally if all you can manage is a short: ‘help Lord’ that’s just as good. And if even that is too hard ask someone to pray for you. Which leads me on to:
6. Get help. Being resilient doesn’t mean handling everything yourself all the time. Knowing when you need someone else’s help or input is a strength not a weakness. Can’t pray? ask a friend to pray on your behalf. It can be a real comfort knowing that even if you just can’t, that someone is doing it for you.
Need to talk? Find a friend, Pastor or someone you trust who you can be honest with.
All too much? Then please please seek professional help, see your Doctor, find a counsellor, whatever you need. It’s not a lack of faith or a sign of weakness, God works through all kinds of people, including medical professionals. Check out organisations like Mind & Soul Foundation too, which has masses of info, articles and resources.
Getting the right help or working out the right coping strategies for you really helps to build up resilience.
7. Get remembering. One of the things I say to people most often is to remember where you have seen God at work in your life. When things are unsettled, anxiety is in overdrive or doubt is rising, the practical things we might usually do to boost our faith can seem out of reach, impossible even. So if you feel you can’t read your bible or praying is too much, then remind yourself of a time when you really felt close to God or think of a prayer that was answered. Focus on the good things in that memory, the way it made you feel, the faith you had in that moment and hold on to that. I’ve heard a number of people questioning faith in tough times but as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 17, all we need is a mustard seed (which are tiny) and most of us have a tiny seed of faith when we remember where God has been at work in our lives.
8. Get on Spotify or your phone/ipod/computer/insert generationally specific music device here.
If all of the above is still too much then why not create an atmosphere of faith or worship, that you can just be in. Put on some worship music or the audio bible in the background wherever you are and just let it play. You never know what might sink in or how God might work through that.
9. Get a habit. The old ‘it takes 21 days to form a habit’ seems to be a disputed idea now, but there is evidence that the more often you do something, the quicker it becomes habit. Good spiritual habits once formed can be really help us to be resilient when tough times come along. Now, being in the midst of the sh*t may not be the best time to start new habits but it’s worth a go, right? Ask yourself what can you commit to doing each day to help you stay spiritually healthy? It might be something simple like: I’ll pray the Lord’s Prayer each morning. Or you might take a bit more time and try the ‘Bible in One Year’ or reading some of your bible each day. You could even try something new like journaling or committing to reading a Christian book. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself though, even if you do 1 day that’s better than none!
10. Get off with the excuses. So far I’ve made suggestions based on being in a tough place, but one challenge for those who are doing ok – what’s your excuse?
Many of us are not coming to church in a physical building right now (some of us can’t, even outside of the pandemic) or we are unable to meet with our home group or prayer partners, but that’s no reason not to work on growing your faith or your spiritual resilience. If your church is not offering online services, find another one – there are literally thousands out there right now! If your home group/bible study/prayer triplet is not meeting together then do it via zoom/MS Teams/Facebook or over the phone instead. Or heck set up your own group with a few friends. Try reading some theology or good Christian books. Ask your Pastor for good resources if you don’t know where to start.
Chances are we’ve got a good few months at the least, of some sort of restricted living to go yet, so don’t let your faith just sit there and stagnate, take some initiative!
So there you go, a few suggestions on staying spiritually resilient. If you’ve got other ideas do drop a comment, I’d love to hear them.
Caroline ArmitageOctober 13, 2020 at 7:59 am
This is really helpful Jules. I’d add ‘Do what you can now – don’t wait’. Just like there never a ‘slower day’ It’s going to be a long time till life changes again and we get to AD – after disaster 2020. Life isn’t going to go back to BC (before Covid) any time soon. So you miss music in church? Well don’t not do, go and take what you can from gathering again. My own church took a while to open so in July I went to. a nearby BCP Eucharist for a few weeks – totally not my tradition but for me it was important to be with other Christians. You don’t like masks and sitting apart? still go! If you are an extrovert grab whatever social interaction you can wherever you are (and of course now it’s different regionally). Accept the rules and work with them to take the extra stress of railing against them down a notch.. As an extrovert I’ve recognised I need to be in community (spiritual yes, but also just normal human interaction) to energise my relationship with God. And that’s fine as The triune God exists in community.
JulesOctober 19, 2020 at 9:11 pm
Hey Caroline! Yes so true on getting on with it – that’s what I’ve been thinking about writing about next, so watch this space! J x
Rosemary RiepmaOctober 13, 2020 at 5:30 pm
Thank you for being so real and giving wise advice in down-to-earth language.
I really like using audio Bibles, and I love your insight that just having them playing in the background still gives a chance for something to sink in and speak to me. Something I find really valuable is to play one while I do some stretches in bed as soon as I wake up. When I can be disciplined about doing that, or using the Pray as You Go app BEFORE my thoughts start racing off into fears or to-do lists, the day gets off to a better start. (It would be better to have suitable audio on a cd player by the bed than on apps, though, as it’s all too easy for a smartphone to draw me into a less helpful starting point, like the news! A friend says she solves this by having her Bible app on her opening screen, and her distracting/ anxious ones on another screen.) Another favourite thing if Bible reading feels dull when I’m down is to listen or read in another language (google audio bible and the language. I sometimes use Word Project). I might start by treating it as just a brain exercise some days, but often something familiar has a fresh impact in a less familar language.
JulesOctober 19, 2020 at 9:12 pm
Hi Rosemary, yes that’s so good, it’s so easy to get distracted first thing, I agree! Love the idea of listening in another language too, I’m a rusty spanish speaker, that might help my memory of it too 🙂 Blessings x