A Survival Guide for the Rollercoaster of Faith

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Bethany Suckrow -Rollercoaster of Faith3

I’m pushing carrots around my plate with my fork, lost in thought after a long and heavy day, when my husband asks, “Do you want to go to church this Sunday?”

I snap out of my dark reverie in surprise.

“Why? Do you?”

“Yes?” It comes out more question than answer.

I don’t respond right away.

We’ve been doing this dance for a couple of years now. I’m usually the one to ask if he wants to go to church, and he’s usually the one to say, No.

Of course, I’m usually the one to veto a church once we’ve visited it, and he’s usually the one to say he wouldn’t mind going back again. The last time we went to church together was Easter. After that, I went with friends a couple of times and those visits ended in tears. He stayed home, puttering around in the basement or gardening. Podcasts and pancakes became my Sunday morning ritual, instead of church. And then after that, the election happened … and, well, my faith has felt like a free-fall of despair.

I steal a glance at him. He’s pushing carrots around his plate, too.

“Yeah, okay. But where?” and before I can say “because you know where I won’t—,” he blurts “St. Ann’s.”

Okay, here we go.

A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE ROLLERCOASTER OF FAITH

Step 1: Get on the rollercoaster. Believe everything they tell you.

Step 2: Buckle in tightly and enjoy the slow climb up the first big hill. Tell yourself very firmly that you’ll never be one of those Christians who loses her faith.

Step 3: Descend. Survive an awful heartbreak, but just barely. A death or some other tragedy of life that drops your heart through your stomach faster than you can scream, until your entire world is upside down and nothing feels real.

Step 4: Cling tightly to the tiny aluminum bar in front of you and hope you don’t die. Whatever is there, really, that’s left to believe. The goodness of humanity. The force of love to triumph over evil. All truth is God’s truth, so something somewhere along the way will save you. It’s the only thing between you and certain death.

Step five5: Keep clinging. This is faith, after all, not an actual rollercoaster where everyone gets off safe and alive. This is life.

_________________

Okay fine, I’ll go back to church, but these are my stipulations:

  1. If the pastor tells us to align ourselves with our government in order to be real Christians, we RUN DON’T WALK to the exits.
  1. If the pastor conducts business as usual, some six-week sermon series, God has a plan for your life but don’t look too closely at the news headlines or think too hard about the refugees being turned away at our country’s borders or worry too much about sick people losing their healthcare or immigrants being ripped from their families or more black bodies lying dead in the street move along nothing to see here, RUN DON’T WALK to the exits.

_________________

Have I lost my faith? Is that what’s happening right now? I check my pulse, I pinch my heart, I tap on the walls of my soul to make sure it’s real and I’m not dreaming, I haven’t lost my mind, everything is fine. I can snap out of this.

I stand in church on Sunday morning. Singing, or at least, trying to sing. My voice is wobbly and off key, it’s been a while since I’ve done this and I don’t know the words to this hymn because I’m a born-by-the-blood Baptist trying rather poorly to pass for Episcopalian. Apparently we sang different songs, just to cement our self-righteousness.

Darn it, I never know when to cross myself at the right time.

It occurs to me while we’re standing in church that I’ve got an exit strategy, but right now I don’t have a stick-around strategy.

  1. If the pastor preaches with the liturgical calendar and still uses it to illuminate the ways in which we can participate in creating a more just, loving, peaceful community we … stick around?
  1. If the church is actually using its resources to participate in creating a more just, loving, peaceful community … STAY.

_________________

I’m clinging very tightly to what faith I have left, very aware that it’s not much, but it’s all that’s holding me in. I believe in the goodness of humanity. I believe in the force of love to triumph over evil. I believe that a group of people committed to creating a more just, loving, peaceful world can change a community, and maybe the world. I believe in churches with open doors for the vulnerable. I believe in God, I’m just never sure when and where I’ll meet God on this vast, endless, exhilarating, terrifying rollercoaster.

And some days, I believe in myself, my capacity for hope and forgiveness and perseverance and my ability to reach beyond my own hurts and fears, toward something bigger.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and earnestly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name.
Amen.

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Bethany Suckrow
I’m a writer and blogger at at bethanysuckrow.com, where I shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. I am currently working on my first book, a memoir about losing my mother to cancer. My musician-husband, Matt, and I live in transition as we move our life from the Chicago suburbs to Nashville.
Bethany Suckrow
Bethany Suckrow

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  • Helene Burns

    Bethany… thanks for so vulnerably sharing your fears, your hopes and your dreams here today. I love that you and your husband keep rising and that you allow God work in your lives in this way even when it’s really hard. May you always find the grace you need and the strength to keep pushing through. As a pastor in a church that is far from perfect, especially because I am part of it, it gives me hope to read your words and to believe that we can be a community that brings refuge and love in the midst of very troubling times in our world. xo

    • Thank you so much, Helene. These days it is no small thing to lead a faith community that brings refuge and love. Never doubt that your work matters and people are desperate for it. xoxo.

      • Helene Burns

        Thanks Bethany xo

  • Thank you for sharing your struggle. There have been times in my faith walk when I have felt as if church was the stumbling block rather than the support I was hoping for, but your words end in such a good place. The only way for us to “delight in [His} will and walk in [His] ways” in community is if we avail ourselves of liberal doses of forgiveness and grace and then offer the same to everyone else.

  • Whew. Such a rollercoaster! Thank you for sharing this – vulnerability in the deepest sense of the word. Church is so complicated in the best circumstances, but finding a new one? It’s a whole different level of complexity. Prayers for you both as you search and rest and find community.

  • Lizzie Goldsmith

    Thank you for sharing. I’m in a very similar place, but have often pretended (even to myself) that I’m not in that place. Thank you for your honesty, it helps me be honest too.

    • It’s easier to pretend we’re not there sometimes, isn’t it, Lizzie? I think especially right now, admitting that church is not a place we want to be means upsetting someone else who wants us to stay. It can be such a lonely path. Glad we can connect here together. <3

  • sandyhay

    It’s been years since I went to an Episcopal church. Yet when I started to read the prayer, I closed my eyes and remembered it all…and the depth of those words that can wash over us so we may delight in his will and walk in his ways.

    • I’m just learning the words, as a newer Episcopalian, and they are such a balm. That line, “we have sinned against you… by what we have done, and what we have left undone” is so humbling. Thanks for commenting, Sandy.

  • So love your honesty, Bethany.

  • We’re moving soon, and my husband and I have talked a lot about worrying if we’ll find a place to worship that doesn’t make us crazy/angry. I LOVE your ideas for a stick-around strategy. We’ll be using that. Thank you. And, oh man, clinging–so much clinging. White-knuckling it over here, too.

  • Robin Baldwin

    I am so with you on this faith rollercoaster! Thanks for sharing what I’ve been struggling with for some time (even before the election).