When You Feel Like You’re Losing Your Faith

It starts with an itch, the slightest feeling of discomfort. You sit at the back of the church and ignore the questions hovering in your mind. You sing the words of the hymn extra loudly, looking at the faces around you who all seem to be rapt in wonder. You think about the word, ‘rapt’, and discover you have no idea what it means. You realise you are no longer singing, and join in again with a jolt. You can’t be sure, but it feels like the pastor’s eyes are watching you.

***

The next part is more disturbing. You sit in a Bible study, and all you want to do is argue. Suddenly it has come down to one issue: perhaps for you it is the conquest of Canaan, or the predestination of sinners, or issues surrounding sexuality, or who wrote second Isaiah. Every Bible study circles around to that one question – because you bring it there.

The others all take a discreet sip of their coffee, eyes down on their Bibles, and the atmosphere is awkward. You have made it awkward. The Bible study leader takes you aside at the end and asks you why you are so bothered about this, and you break down in tears. You sob exuberantly, so much so that the Bible study leader looks as though they have regretted their pastoral question. You can’t explain it, why it didn’t bother you last year, but now it bothers you all the time. You feel a tightness in your chest. Your faith, once so freeing, now feels like it is suffocating you.

At home, you wonder if you will be able to ever face that particular Bible study group again. You are such a trouble-maker, a questioner. You wonder if they will be glad if you don’t return.

You feel the itch again, and you scratch, in irritation. To your horror, your faith all starts peeling off before your eyes in one long translucent line.

Your old faith fell off, and it looks and feels like you died. You are not yet sure which of the beliefs you have inadvertently shed, or if there is anything left, but there is no getting it back—it has gone.

You check your pulse: your heart is still beating, you are still alive, there may even be a thin covering of faith still, but it is not like the robust skin you once had. Everything else has peeled off, dead and limp on the carpet. It is an outline of you, but it is no longer you. You feel raw and naked, and you hope that no one at church asks you how your faith is doing, because you won’t know how to answer.

***

You talk to a few carefully-chosen Christians, you cry uncontrollably at unexpected times, you read theology books in secret. You mourn yourself. You wish you could return to the kind of Christian you used to be whilst despising the kind of Christian you used to be.

Meanwhile, you move lightly through faith circles, avoiding people’s hard probes and questions. Your new self feels tender and bruises easily, and you’re pretty sure that one good shove of “Christians should be filled with joy at all times” could finish you off for good.

***

They say that snakes need to rub their bodies against a hard surface, a rock perhaps, in order to shed their skin. But if they don’t shed their skin, the skin over their eyes grows so calloused and dry they become blind.

This is how it feels to have a crisis of faith: it feels like a death, but it leads to growth.

***

The seasons change; time passes—weeks, months, even years. You pick fewer theological fights, you stop wondering if everyone thinks you are a heathen.

You talk to others, and realise this is not as uncommon as you once thought; there are other people who have shed their entire faith and found a new one underneath.

One day, a way down the line, you realise you no longer despise the old you, nor do you want to walk the path of spiritual nostalgia, and the questions have quietened down into a gentle pulse.

Though to onlookers you probably look much the same, you are not.

You are still a Christian, you still have faith, but it is newer, bigger. Your skin is not as tough as it once was, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Your faith is now simultaneously gloriously different to before, and gloriously similar.

***

You take your seat in one of the middle rows in church, and the sunlight streams down through the window, illuminating the page of your open hymn book. You think again about the phrase “rapt in wonder.” You open your mouth to sing.

Tanya Marlow
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Tanya Marlow

Writer at Thorns and Gold
Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology. Then she got sick, and became a writer. She loves writing honestly about finding God in hard places at tanyamarlow.com. She also loves belting out songs without knowing the words. She is the author of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, using the biblical book of Ruth as a path back from disappointment, which you can download for FREE here.
Tanya Marlow
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Latest posts by Tanya Marlow (see all)

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  • Hannah

    You have perfectly described exactly where I am at. I have been terrified to admit this to anyone, sometimes even to myself, for fear of rejection and judgement. Thank you for showing me that I am not the only one who goes through this and that I will come out the other side, stronger and with a new / renewed faith. I can’t stop my tears from falling at how beautifully you have captured my current situation. I am not alone.

    • You are so not alone. Thank you for your courage in commenting. I’m sorry Tanya made you cry 🙂 but I am happy that our common struggle and fear has been able to bring you some peace and hope. There is no judgment here. There have been many seasons in my life when I didn’t know how long I could hold my head above water, and wasn’t sure I even wanted to. I had a miscarriage years ago and it took over four years for me to trust God again, believe he loved me, and let people into the darkness, fear, and pain. But there is hope. And when you can’t carry it yourself, there will be others to help carry it for you. Us included. Please feel free to write us if you need support or prayer. That’s what we’re here for, to sit with you in the mess. themudroomblog (at) gmail.com

    • Dear Hannah – I am sorry I am so late to reply, but I wanted to say that I was very moved to read your comment. You are so very loved, and I believe that you will come through this and out the other side with a renewed faith. (He is making all things new – that phrase pops into my head). This is so much more common than we think, isn’t it? There are so many others who are in silence, who are feeling this, too. Tammy and Brenna are the greatest people ever for prayer support – so do take them up on the offer if you feel able. With a whole lotta love x

  • Susie

    Wow Tanya, you hit the nail on the head again. Thank you so much for your writing which always lifts me out of ugly religiosity and brings me back to the open embrace of the Father.

    • Thanks, Susie – this is such a lovely way of putting it! i really appreciate it.

  • I try to offer this thread of hope when I love on those who are having a faith crisis. “It leads to growth.” Thank you for this, Tanya. I offered it up as a prayer for a dear friend today.

    • Thank you, Traci – I’m hoping it ministers to others. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Lindsey Smallwood

    Tanya, I feel like I could have written this, the itch, the discomfort, the tears – moving lightly through faith circles. Thank you for telling this story. I wonder sometimes if we grow like snakes do, shedding one skin as another grows. We think the shedding is death, but it’s just making way for new life in a new season.

    • I’m so glad this speaks truth to your situation. I’ve been so heartened by how many have said, ‘wow – this is me. this is how it feels.’ Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Wow, Tanya, I love this. And very appropriate for me right now. Thanks so much x

    • So glad this is ministering to where you’re at. You’re not alone. x

  • Suzanne Terry

    So good, Tanya! I love this.

    • Thanks, Suzanne! I’m sending you a virtual coffee in appreciation 🙂

  • pastordt

    Beautiful, Tanya. And perfect. And true. Thank you so much.

    • Lovely Diana, thank you for your encouragement.

  • Your description is perfect. This is the kind of message that gave me hope when I was in the middle of shedding my faith. It really does feel like a death. But the new life that comes after is so good and beautiful and true. Thank you.

    • I’m so glad to hear that this resonated so well – and that I’m not the only one who feels like it was a death.

  • SurvivorGirl

    You’re in my head. You’ve given me hope. Bookmarked.

  • Lesa Edwards-Schepers

    Beautiful post! It captured very well the journey my faith went through when I discovered that my son was gay 8 years ago. It’s a hard journey, but a very beautiful one at the same time…and I am much stronger because of it.

    • Hard and beautiful – that sums up so much. Thank you for stopping by, Lesa – I really appreciate it .

  • Paul Canon Harris

    excellent and sensitive summary of a common experience…it can be drying up or growing up.. often both.

    • Thank you so much! I really appreciate your encouragement about my writing.

  • Excellent post. I suffered a major crisis of faith while working as an evangelist in a lively church in London. I could not tell people what I was going through and had to keep acting like someone with a really strong lively faith. preaching at an evangelistic service nearly broke me. my face now I have worked through all that is much stronger than it was before.

    • Wow, Linda – I can totally see how that would totally break someone. I’m really amazed that you got through it all. Especially being in a position as an evangelist – there are so many people who are evangelists who doubt, but then find it difficult to articulate the doubts because you’re ‘supposed’ to be the one with all the answers. Actually, I find it is the evangelists who are the ones most prone to doubt (and is part of the reason that they/we are good at answering the tricky questions – we’ve walked through them so many times ourselves). It is sad, though, isn’t it, that it’s such a taboo subject. All this is making me want to start a series on doubt and get the church talking about it more.

  • Ginger Sinsabaugh MacDonald

    OK. Why isn’t ” finding your lost faith” the same as finding your lost car keys? I mean, you can’t just retrace your tracks to get it back. Instead, you gotta forge forward.

  • Lisa England

    To be honest it’s almost freaky how you’ve described exactly how I’ve been feeling. I’m not through to the other side yet but this gives me hope that the doubts aren’t the end of the journey. It’s incredibly reassuring to read your piece so thank you so much. You always inspire and encourage me.

    • Oh, Lisa – I’m so glad this has spoken to you! (Your comments always encourage me). The middle of it all can be so long, and so frustrating, and so lonely. Hang in there in the messy middle. I believe you’ll reach the other side, whatever that looks like. x

  • K Adams

    Everyday for the past two weeks it’s felt like I’ve been drowning and today it feels like I will die. . To pray and beg and wait on God to answer a prayer that I have cried for YEARS, only to have it finally at the tip of my fingers and then snatched away. . I’m losing what little faith I have left. .

    • K, I am sorry you are hurting so deeply right now. I’m sure there are many of us here who would gladly sit on The Mudroom floor, listen to your story and let you cry on our shoulders. These times are the worst, when you can’t hold on to the fact that God is good or that life will ever be good again. My heart is breaking for yours. There are no easy answers, only solidarity in the pain. Please feel free to email us if you would like to talk or vent or cry or pray. themudroomblog (at) gmail.com

      • K Adams

        Thank you Tammy. I’m trying to take it one day at a time but it feels like I’m covered in a sheath of sadness. I go to sleep crying and wake up crying. Please keep me in your prayers. Deep inside I know that God always sees it through but this season is hard.

        • I’m so sorry for my late reply, but I wanted you to know that I see you, and I see your pain and frustration and weariness. It’s that raw frustration, when you can’t understand why God isn’t acting, and you feel so very alone and betrayed. I’m so sorry. This sounds so very, very hard, and you shouldn’t have to be bearing it alone. Tammy said it so well – but in addition, I’m praying that there are people locally who can hold you through this, and that they will make themselves available. I hope you’re able to keep going, one day at a time, one footstep after another. Each day that you wake up is a triumph. I’m thinking of you.

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  • Megan Hall

    I needed this post. I am currently going through a change of Faith. It is so weird and terrifying but at the same time freeing.

    • I’ve only just discovered this, but – really glad you wrote. Hoping that you’re walking in greater freedom

  • Tryingtoworkitout

    Thank you so much for this post. Knowing that others have been through it is such a relief. And that there is hope after all.

    • So sorry for the late reply. Like you, I hope for hope.

      • Tryingtoworkitout

        Replying late too. Thanks for replying.

  • Tanya, thanks for your brave, wonderful essay. The path of faith, I think, is not straight. I talk about the “long and winding road” of our journeys. Ups and downs come, just as the seasons change. Something which seemed just fine suddenly brings us to tears. Be cautious about self-blame … I mean, don’t do it. If life were perfect – pink, golden, sky-blue, peaceful, overflowing with kindness given and received, then we would still have the everyday unplanned interruptions to serenity – the care breaks down, or the baby is teething, or the pastor is not as sensitive as we need, or spouse is annoyed. This says nothing about the strength of our faith. Faith is a gift from God who loves us. It is a support, particularly in times of stress and confusion. …” the substance of things hoped for” …. hoped for, not attained. Keep on, Tanya! Thanks again @LatelaMary

    • Just seen this – but thanks so much for this comment. ‘The path of faith, I think, is not straight” – so true.

  • This is profound! Sounds so much like what has been happening with me for years! Love the snake image!

    • Just discovered this comment – but thank you! So glad it resonated with you

  • Whoknows

    I am in desperate need of some advice; I was raised a Christian and have been my whole life, I have had a deep and intimate relationship with God (or at least, that’s what I felt it was at the time) and have been heavily involved in speaking at church and leading youth groups. For many reasons, I am now in a place where I don’t know whether ‘Christian’ is a way I can define myself anymore – I would lean towards agnostic, but I feel guilty using this term – like a traitor. I have been talking the talk for a while now, without any personal faith behind it, but no longer feel able to do so. How do I approach telling the leaders of the groups I am involved in that I don’t feel I am in a place of spiritual leadership? Should I be stepping down, or is that what ‘the devil wants’? I feel like a total hypocrite speaking from the front of church and I hate it, but I fear cutting myself off from it all will cut my last lingering ties to how it felt to have faith.

    help …

    • I know this wasn’t directed at me, but I feel like I’m in a very similar place as you. If being in leadership is putting stress on you, I think it would be an act of self care to step down. That’s not giving up on faith, it’s giving yourself some space and room to breathe. There are times we are called to lead and other times we need to just be led. Sounds like you’re in the latter.

      For what it’s worth, I feel like an agnostic Christian too these days…meaning I believe in Jesus but am uncertain about everything else. Don’t beat yourself up for doubting. Are there any trusted spiritual mentors in your life? Maybe you could speak to one of them?

      I hope this helps…

    • So so sorry im so late to this comment – I’ve only just discovered it. Glad that Beth stepped in to answer, though, especially as she said basically what I would have advised. I’d love to know how you’re getting on now

  • Profound post. But it’s unclear to me what happens if the doubts don’t go away. Not everyone can resolve every question or concern that plagues them. As for me, I believe Jesus is who he says he is, but I don’t know what to think about the other things that are part of the “Christian package” (hell, homosexuality, creation, etc). I don’t want to give up on faith, but I can’t make myself blindly believe things that never made sense to me, either.

    • I’ve literally only discovered this comment, but I think it’s a really important question. One of the things I’ve given myself permission to do is to sit in a fragmented state for a while (I.e. A long while…!) I don’t think there’s any shame in saying, ‘this is what I know. This is what I don’t know.’ Or even, ‘this is what I like. This is what I don’t like.’ It doesn’t have to be the end pronouncement (though that wouldn’t be bad if it were) but it’s a statement of where you’re at in that moment. I don’t know whether this then will ultimately resolve your doubts, but I’m a firm believer in the process of accepting what is, and becoming aware of the person you are at that moment. Otherwise, you end up with a really tiring fight with yourself every day! For me, I often get to the place with doubts where I think, ‘I just don’t get this at all – I’m going to take a break from thinking about it’ – and then, months later, when it doesn’t wound so badly to talk about it, I find myself realising what I now think about an issue. I’d love to hear more about your process

  • ariana

    I was exactly there, except I failed. I’ve moved away instead of moving closer, so I’m not expecting my faith to grow, but rather be weakened.

    • Hi, lovely ariana. I’ve just discovered this comment. I just wanted to tell you that you’re not a failure, and that you are loved. I think even in the Bible there’s so many stories of people’s faith becoming weaker and people wandering away – but God is still good and God is still waiting. (If God exists, that is!) I believe that God is stronger than our weak faith. I don’t know if that makes any sense. I also wanted to say that I hear the loss and disappointment (and guilt) in your words, and I want to bear witness to that. There is real loss, there is crushing disappointment. (But please release yourself from the guilt)

  • Abby

    After losing a brother and sister this is exactly how I’ve been feeling I cry all the time and ask myself what is wrong with me why have I lost my faith & don’t believe as I once did . I’m also scared to get judged for feeling this way by god … if you don’t mind me asking what helped you get your faith back ? Ive been praying and asking god to help me get closer to him & to help me get my faith back for months but it seems like I’m believing less and less ..