I recently read Lauren F. Winner's book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. The book came recommended by some respected sources and the topic certainly intrigued me, as one who feels himself in something of a mid-faith crisis. Winner's writing style in the book, a sort of personal reflection/memoir sharing of various vignettes from her life as she confronted this mid-faith crisis, caught me off guard. At first I didn't like it, though as I read further and now as I reflect on it the style grows on me. I cannot suggest a style that would have suited the topic better and perhaps her narrative style engaged me in ways that a more detached or distanced prose would not have done. She didn't leave me with a lot of concise phrases I could recite, although a few did stand out, but she did open up to me what life in the middle, as she calls it, looks like.
Although different circumstances led us to this middle place, I felt like I could relate in many ways to Winner. In the introduction she writes:
“Whether you feel a wrenching anguish or simply a kind of distracted listlessness, the middle looks unfamiliar when you get there. The assumptions and habits that sustained you in your faith life in earlier years no longer seem to hold you. A God who was once close seems somehow farther away, maybe in hiding....This book is about the time when the things you thought you knew about the spiritual life turn out not to suffice for the life you are actually living.”
I find myself in a middle place like the one she describes. I have come to question many of the assumptions and habits that have sustained my faith life over the years. I have lost the sense of certainty that I once had about many things. Sometimes I feel I have more doubts and questions than I have answers. Sometimes I'm tempted to leave the whole thing and go seek a different path.
But like Winner, I'm not ready to abandon it all. I'm not ready to give up on this thing called faith. God may often seem distant and hidden, but I still experience moments when God's presence does actually seem real and near. More than any sense of God's presence though, I hold on to this faith because it still strikes me as the best answer I've found. As Winner says elsewhere in the introduction:
“In those same moments of strained belief, of now knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am better than any story I know.” (emphasis mine)
Why do I keep going to church when I often feel frustrated and out of place there? Why do I continue to pick up my Bible and read it, even though it often passes across my eyes as so much ink on paper? Why do I still attempt to pray when I feel little motivation to do so? Because of all the answers to the life's deepest questions that I have read about or encountered, the Christian one still makes the most sense and still offers the best explanation of any. Perhaps most importantly of all, the Christian message offers hope, hope for me, hope for the world, hope for the future.
At a conference I recently attended, and often these days in the Sunday morning service, I find myself singing the songs as a prayer, more as a statement of what I want to believe than what I can say with certain conviction that I do believe. Some might say that I have lost my faith. I would disagree. I have not abandoned my faith in Jesus Christ. However, I am rediscovering here in a middle place in my life what this faith means and what it looks like in daily life. I will close today with one final citation from Winner, who captures this thought quite expertly.
“On any given morning, I might not be able to list for you the facts I know about God. But I can tell you what I wish to commit myself to, what I want for the foundation of my life, how I want to see. When I stand with the faithful at Holy Comforter and declare that we believe in one God...I am saying, Let this be my scaffolding. Let this be the place I work, struggle, play, rest. I commit myself to this.”