Ever faced a time when Christianity suddenly stopped making sense to you?
When the doctrines don’t work out in your head. When you can’t relate to the preaching. When the community in church just gets on your nerves.
I’ve been in such a season for quite a while. I started hanging out with friends outside of church more and drinking became a weekly affair. I even took a break from church for an extended period. Going for service is sometimes still a struggle.
I’ve learnt to try to understand the heart behind the boundaries that God and people want to place around me. These boundaries are there to keep me as far away from the edge of the cliff that leads to a fall into sin.
So why am I penning down my thoughts on my current season?
First, I hope this encourages those who are in a similar place – so you know that you’re not the only one facing such thoughts. I’m no cell leader, or ministry head; just an ordinary 20-year-old figuring out his place in this world.
Second, even if you’re not in that place, maybe you know someone who is, whether you’re his leader, mentor, or just his friend. I hope this helps you understand how he feels, so that you can relate to him at a deeper level.
WHEN YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH THE RULES …
Some friends advised me to stay away from alcohol, because “we shouldn’t be drunk on wine, but be full of the Spirit instead” (Ephesians 5:18). In my rebellious state, I took this as a hard-line stance being imposed on me by a higher authority. I yearned to break out of a stifling environment and be free from such rules.
Having a rule imposed on you is definitely not pleasant when you have not been personally convicted to lay something down before God. But rather than stew over what I’m being told to do or not to do, I’ve learnt to try to understand the heart behind the boundaries that God and people want to place around me.
These boundaries are there to keep me as far away from the edge of the cliff that leads to a fall into sin.
WHEN YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH THE PEOPLE …
I grew disillusioned with my community in Church. I felt pressured to be someone different. It was as if there were certain expectations that I had to meet in order to consider myself “Christian” enough to be part of the community.
The continuous “good Christian boy” image that I had to put on was tiring. I didn’t feel vulnerable enough to be myself. It seemed hypocritical to me: The Church constantly taught about love, but it all seemed artificial, just a front.
I gradually retreated into myself and turned to friends outside Church who I felt didn’t have such expectations of me.
I was blessed to have friends who were willing to hear me out, who didn’t probe too deeply when I was uncomfortable, and who didn’t judge me for having these doubts. They pulled me back when I drifted too far.
But throughout the process, I was blessed to have a handful of friends who were willing to hear me out, who didn’t probe too deeply when I was uncomfortable, and who didn’t judge me for having these doubts. They pulled me back when I drifted too far, and helped me create the environment for me to figure things out safely.
So even if you’re not feeling so hot about your church group, no matter how much you want to cut everyone off, it’s good to remain vulnerable to at least one close church friend to guide you through your storms (Hebrews 10:25).
WHEN YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH SELF-CONDEMNATION …
During this season, I just wanted to quickly figure out all my doubts and feelings so that I could move on. But it didn’t help that people told me, “You aren’t the Raphael I knew three months ago. What happened to that zeal and fire for God?” I often beat myself up after hearing such statements, adding self-condemnation to my woes.
But I’ve learnt that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. It’s human to have a low moment – Moses’ moment lasted 40 years (Acts 7:30)! We all need some time to wrestle with our faith; seasons where we emerge stronger, with a greater dependence on God.
Whenever you fall into sin, know that there’s such grace and forgiveness available to you (Romans 3:23-24). Read Psalm 51, written by David after his fall into the sin of adultery, but acknowledging that God renews and restores.
To leaders and friends, I hope you see the heart behind this article. I’m not looking to promote any kind of watered-down faith, but hoping that we all learn to be brutally honest about our relationship with God and the struggles we face, so that we can address the issues plainly and honestly.
To those who are in a similar place, know that you aren’t the only one. There’s many who have had the same doubts, but just don’t talk openly about it.
Hang in there. You may have changed, or those around you may have, but Jesus never changes. He’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He still loves you no matter what season you’re in. When you feel distant from your church, your religion, and your community, know that Jesus is the constant amid the storm.