Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Faith: Hitting the Wall, and Gaining Focus

I am forty. I turn forty-one next week. I am now old enough to have been through more than one "critical journey" in life and in faith. I know there are more to come.

In the meantime, increasing numbers of adults in my life share their own struggles with vocation and faith. Does their work matter? What are they supposed to be doing with their life? Do you they really believe? What do they believe? Do they believe in God?

If these are questions in your life, I hope this short post is helpful.

Sometimes, I think adults are caught by surprise by these kinds of questions. We regularly ask young people,

What do you want to do with your life?

With adults, especially parents and professionals and older adults, we assume,

They are already doing what they want with their life.

But are they? 

First, there is the wall

From my admittedly limited perspective, I think there are two parts of the vocation and faith journey with which adults especially struggle. The first one Janet Hagberg calls "the wall." I'll come back to this concept shortly, but if you look at the table of contents (to the right) from her wonderful little book The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith you'll notice that adults are most likely to hit a wall precisely in their middle life, after some early stages of discipleship and the beginning of a productive life, but before the really deep stages of faith grounded in love and rich spiritual formation.

Many adult faithfuls, having spent some years raising children, developing a marriage, establishing a career, are at the inward journey point, and they start asking, What am I called to do? What does all this mean? Who is God in all of this?

And all of these questions are, surprisingly, intertwined. What we want to do with our life is tied in to what we believe about God, and how to make meaning out of our daily lives and existence.

As a pastor, this is the faith journey that always catches me by surprise, even though it shouldn't. These are the people who were deeply involved in church leadership, serving on council, teaching bible studies, and more, and suddenly they drop out, fade away. They do so because they are on a different journey, a journey inward. They have questions. They feel stuck.

As churches, we are not always as equipped as we could be to minister to and with adults in this stage of the life of faith. And it is such a critical stage!

Then, precisely at this point, they/we hit the wall. Hagberg, in naming the wall, intends it just like the wall you hear marathoners talk about (I hit my first true wall at mile 22 of the KoŇ°ice Marathon of Peace in Slovakia in the fall of 1999--I will never forget it... I had to run with leg cramps the last four miles, but I did it).

Having run along just fine for twenty miles, suddenly mile twenty-one seems impossible. Yet there are still five miles to go.

This wall is the dark night of the soul. One of the most interesting (and scary) parts of this stage is that it is actually quite a bit like the first stage of the journey of faith, discovering God in the first place. The 22nd mile feels like the first mile all over again.

It is interesting, but people experiencing a wall moment sometimes seem to be precisely in the stage of those adults who are discovering faith for the first time. These two stages share a lot in common.

Those new to the faith, especially adult converts, those who are baptized and come into a new faith community as adults, experience the very beginning of their faith journey kind of like the wall. Their feelings of being new, neophytes, makes them feel much like the place adults in mid-life feel when they suddenly don't know why they are doing what they are doing.

In this sense, those new to the faith and those in a kind of mid-life faith crisis have much to offer each other, or at least their comparable inward journeys can be reassuring to each other. Part of being in the mid-life crisis has to do with feeling young all over again, even when you are not. So the time feels shorter, but the urgency of the journey is renewed and heightened.

And it is reassuring, if not necessarily helpful, to know that most churches are much better equipped to deal with the needs of people at many other stages in the critical journey of faith than this stage.

So second, there is the question of focus

Adults in mid-life are ready to focus their living. They have tried out many different journeys. They have interned, studied, been mentored, gained a wide variety of experiences. They are now ready to discern more clearly God's unique and focused call on their lives. In mid-life, we start evaluating our past, looking to it, then evaluating our present resources, in order to clarify our future.

We think there may be clues to what God is calling us into, the new journeys ahead of us, but we don't always feel equipped to read the clues from the past, or evaluate present resources. We are also afraid of the change focus might bring, because by mid-life, many of us are stuck in a moment that seems difficult to get out of.

Periodically, I use a retreat resource for adults who desire to focus their living called, not unsurprisingly,   Focused Living. I probably will invite a group of adults in our congregation to attend a two weekend retreat on focused living in the spring of 2014. It's a spectacular time, charting past significant God-moments in our lives with post-it notes and posters, seeking to outline and develop a personal mission statement, values, mentoring structure, and more. In fact, it's not unlike what Bruce Feiler describes in his The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More, when he describes developing a family mission statement.

A lot of adults have been through strategic planning processes at their church or at work, but have not done this difficult and rewarding work in relation to their own life. Yet it may be one of the best ways to get the focus we need to help us journey through the wall and into the peak experiences of the later stages of faith. God's great hope for us is to take us in and through this journey to outward movement in mission and significance.

None of these are silver bullets. If anything, I am simply describing the truth of the adult journey of faith and vocation, in the hopes that maybe, just hearing that this is a shared journey and struggle by so many, you as a reader might be reassured, and have hope. You are not alone. And there are likely tools and people to go with you on this journey.


  1. Anonymous3:09 PM

    Clint, thanks so much for acknowledging this struggle. I still can't believe I'm 37 years old--I have to stop and do the math every time just to make sure that's really how old I am. It has just been within the past year or so that I have mustered the courage and strength to face questions of what I'm about. I want so much to be purposeful, to make a difference in the world. Why has it taken me so long to figure out what the heck I'm doing?!!! I'm just glad I'm not the only one who is wrestling with these questions.

  2. A gift for you from the wilderness.
    The true Gospel is now delivered to you Rev 12:6 as a witness Matt 24:14.
    Our heavenly Father will NOT put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins. Sin doesn't scare God! He created it Isa 45:7 to teach us all the knowledge of good and evil Gen 3:22 for our eternal placement in his coming kingdom. Throwing a child of his into a hell fire has never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer7:31, Jer 19:5. Anyone preaching a hell fire for any child of God has been deceived into teaching lies. The whole world has been believing in a god of hate murder and revenge (The devil Rev 12:9). The true word of God John 1:1 is now delivered Rev 12:5 here

    God chose a woman Rev 12 to be the prophet like unto Moses Num 12:3 and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17. Those professing themselves to be Christians would be wise to hear all Acts 3:23 BEFORE making any judgment. The proof of what I tell you is in the hearing.

    Prove ALL things 1 Thes 5:21. Satan has deceived the whole world Rev 12:9 until now.

  3. Join the club.

    I'm 56 and still haven't got it figured out.

    Taking it day by day. Suffering along with everyone else, to one degree or another. Enjoying the occasional victory, small as they may be, and trusting that Christ is there with me, in all of it. And that He will raise me from the dead and give me new life when I need it.