Yesterday marked six months. Six months since I saw my son’s life pull away from us like a wave, then wash back two minutes later. Six months since I realized children can just … die. You can give them the very best of who you are, you can feed them fruits and vegetables and curtail their media and make sure they go to bed on time, and still they can wander away and just die. As my friend said so eloquently, my life stood on a razor’s edge that day. No matter what happens – and we had the best possible outcome – you can never go back.
It’s been six months since I’ve disconnected from faith.
That may be the weirdest statement I’ve ever made. It’s not that I don’t believe. I do. It isn’t that I’m angry at God, or that I think He doesn’t care. He brought my baby back from the dead, for goodness’ sake. I’m not feeling cynical, or frustrated, or disregarded, or any of the number of issues that can lead us to feel far from God. None of that applies right now. It’s just that I can’t connect. I listen to the songs I used to sing, the words I used to pray, and I marvel at how real they once felt. I listen to the Gospel readings and wonder mildly if it could possibly be true. This faith that once defined my life now feels like a book I once read until I memorized whole scenes, but now I can’t remember why I loved it so.
My husband calls it going dark. It’s pretty common, right? Many of the saints served God most of their lives from a place of spiritual silence. In our culture, this is the moment in which many people walk away from faith. We all choose how we respond, of course, but certainly the experience of disconnecting is common. And some people love it. They feel liberated, free at last from a religion they believe stifled and bound them. Some dig deep for their sin, hoping to discover what they’ve done to turn out the lights and flip the switch again. And some keep going, keep serving, keep showing up anyway. They keep doing the last thing they heard from God.
What I didn’t know six months and one day ago is that going dark can be connected to brain chemistry. When you experience something traumatic, the blood flow concentrates toward the part of your brain that keeps you alive. Recovering from such an event includes retraining your brain, convincing your mind (in a number of ways) you’re going to survive and it’s okay to do things like be creative and have spiritual experiences again. While I no longer am panicked all the time, it has taken the creative and spiritual part of my brain much longer to wake up than I would have anticipated. Writing is painfully slow, focusing is harder than it should be, and it feels as though God has left the scene entirely. Yes – going dark is the best way to describe it.
Some people love this place, but I absolutely hate it. I’ve built my life on a belief in love and mercy and serving something bigger than myself. If you take away that framework, my life makes no sense. I don’t want a new life. I don’t want to be liberated from religion. I want to be in this for the long haul, committed and convinced selfless love is the higher way.
It’s been six months since I disconnected from faith, but I’m not walking away. I’m not giving up. I’m praying anyway, because I need God to be real and I know I once believed it mattered to pray. I’m sharing the story and teaching of Jesus, because regardless of what is happening in my brain and heart, it is still the truth. I’m still sitting down and writing, no matter how painfully slow the process may be. I’m still putting one spiritual foot in front of the other, day after day after day.
I hate this place. But for the first time I think I see it for what it is. This is the meaning of faith. It’s the real thing. My 20’s were marked by a spiritual lavishness. I had one spiritual experience after another, I “heard” (in my heart) from God nearly every day. I served out of my spiritual excess. But here, in the dark, I am serving out of a spiritual poverty. I’ve become the poor old woman, throwing my last coin in the plate and hoping beyond hope God comes through. In my 20’s I didn’t need that desperate hope, I had every spiritual evidence I needed to trust God. But now – well, hope is all I’ve got. And I think that ridiculous hope honors God just as much – maybe more – as my zeal once did.
It’s been six months since I started down a road I never even knew existed, a road I would never have chosen on my own. But maybe this isn’t a road away from God at all. Maybe it’s the path toward him. And maybe we all have to spend some time walking in the dark.