Events in the world have been hard. And, when things get hard, our faith gets tested. So, what does healthy faith look like when it feels like the world is falling apart?
According to Hebrews 11:1 faith is the “the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see” (The Message). No disrespect to the author of Hebrews, but this verse takes a minute to unpack.
This definition of faith brings together two contradictory ideas. First, faith is said to be like a firm foundation. Foundations are solid, often concrete. You can see, feel, and touch a foundation—there’s no question it exists. In fact, every time you walk into a building or enter your home, how often do you think about the foundation under your feet? Rarely, right? You just know it is there. That’s how sure our faith in God can be.
On the other hand, faith is also getting a handle on what you can’t see. Getting a handle on something means to grasp something complicated, puzzling, or uncertain. You try to get a handle on a difficult situation, a challenging personality, or your anger toward someone. When you are trying to get a handle on something, you are often wrestling with it a bit. You aren’t certain of how to proceed, but you know you need to stick with it. Sometimes, that’s also how faith is.
So, the author of Hebrews is telling us two very different things about faith in God:
- Faith in God is a firm foundation. It’s a fact. God is there. We can trust him.
- Faith is also getting a handle on what we can’t see. It’s elusive. God is mysterious. We have to feel our way through to him.
Both are true: faith is a fact, and faith is a work in progress. Faith is a firm foundation, and faith is feeling our way through. When life is going well and things are working, faith tends to be more like that firm foundation we can *almost* take for granted. We understand that these good gifts come from God. The foundation feels solid.
But, what about when things get hard?
What about when you go through situations where you cannot see a clear path through?
What does it mean to get a handle on faith when it feels like the foundation is crumbling underneath you? For example, what does faith look like when you can’t get a handle on:
- an abusive marriage
- a challenging set of issues with a child
- a break in a friendship
- a church community that has hurt you
- a job that you hate, but need to keep for financial security
- isolation as a result of a global pandemic?
How do you get a handle on faith, when you cannot see the way forward?
Many people encourage you to bypass that question all together, instead of facing the uncertainty honestly. This is a form of spiritual bypassing—it’s using spiritual concepts, platitudes, or language to “bypass” or over-spiritualize the real struggles you face. Instead of sticking close by you in the uncertainty of the situation, they might blame you for it, using spiritual language (John 9:1). Instead of helping you ask questions that deepen your walk with Christ, they might minimize your struggle in the name of a superior “faith” (See Job:20, 22.)
Don’t buy it.
Spiritual bypassing might include any of the following examples:
- denying the reality of what is hard (If your faith was stronger, you wouldn’t feel that way.)
- pretending like your challenges don’t exist (You’re fine! You have God!)
- checking out emotionally as you muscle your way through (You just need to pray more!)
- assuming that God will magically fix a complicated situation (God will make it all better!)
Other people do it to us. And, sometimes, we say these things to ourselves. If you’re doing any of those things (I know I have), there’s no shame in it. Magical thinking, denial, pretending, and sticking our head in the sand (or in the TV) are all ways that we cope when we—or the people we love—are facing hard things.
Be gentle with yourself as you cope. You’re doing the best that you can.
However, do not fool yourself. Spiritual bypassing is not the same thing as allowing a hard situation to move you toward an even deeper relationship with God.
Healthy Faith vs. Spiritual Bypassing
So, what does it look like to deepen your faith when you’re facing hard things? How do you get a handle on what you simply cannot figure out, what you cannot see?
Spoiler alert: it’s not always neat and tidy. It doesn’t always look or feel like nice sounding spiritual platitudes. Here are some ways to think about it:
1.) Tell God what is true about God.
Write down things that are true about God, even when it seems like the world is falling apart. For example:
- God is good.
- God is just.
- God loves mercy.
- God loves you.
These are facts that are true. You don’t have to feel like these facts are true. In fact, it is an act of radical faith to tell God what you know to be true, even when you do not feel like they are true. Writing down these facts regularly will help you anchor yourself on what is firm. (It’s the first part of the Hebrews faith equation, remember?) It’s like sticking with a spouse or a child or a friend because you know they are good, even when you don’t feel a lot of love in your heart.
2.) Tell God how you feel honestly.
This step is critical. It needs to be paired with the first one. This step is where you enter into the second part of the faith equation, the part where you are feeling your way through. Tell God how you feel honestly. For example, you can tell God you know he’s good, while also telling him that you’re annoyed with him. (This is also a tactic you can use with your spouse.) You’re honoring what you know to be true about him, while also honoring the reality of what you’re experiencing. God knows anyway. Here are some examples:
God, I know you are good, but I sure cannot see it right now.
God, I know you love me, but this feels so hard. It feels like way more than I can handle.
God, I know you are just, but this situation makes me so angry.
3.) Do what you can.
Faith isn’t sitting around waiting for God to do all the work. It’s taking action to do what you can with his help. If you are fumbling your way through the dark, what is one next step you can take? This step might be as simple as getting out of bed, showing up for work, taking a walk, drinking water, combing your hair, asking for support from a friend, or calling a doctor or therapist. Every single one of these seemingly tiny actions is a radical step of faith. Caring for yourself when you are struggling is a way of saying to God, “My life matters. I am going to do my part to care for the person you made.”
4.) Trust God with the rest.
You don’t have to pretend like you have all the answers in order to have faith. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Faith is doing what you can, and letting go of the rest. It might sound like: “You promise to make all things right, God. I don’t have a clue how you will make good on that.” Then, let go of your need to understand and focus on one small thing you can do to take a next step.
Having faith does not mean sitting passively by and waiting for God to do all the work. Nor does it mean pretending like you have all the answers. It’s an active process of partnering with God as you feel your way through what is hard. It’s staying connected with him—honestly—even as you inch through the dark one step by tiny step. It’s committing to God: “I’m not sure how this is going to work out, but I’m going to take that next step with your help.”
For Further Reading:
The Danger of Bypassing Your Emotions
The Hidden Reason Why Negative Emotions are Helpful
Beautiful post! Just what I needed first thing this morning.
Alison Cook says
Thank you, Charity. Grateful it met you well!
Theresa Croft says
I found your book…from a post you made on Instagram.
Your steps so closely align what Holy Spirit gave me to teach my Kingdom Academy but ADD so much more “meant”.
I personally am walking out what you teach as I have terrible heart pain with two children who have chosen the way of the world and shutting out me and my husband. Raising them up i the word and now seeing them choose the World has brought deep cuts to my heart.
But I’m walking through your book Alison and your posts.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
PS Might not be the right place to say this…but I’d be so honored if you could be a guest on my podcast. 🙂
The Kingdom Mentor Podcast
My God!! Thank by so much for such clarity.
Alison Cook says
Glad it helped provide clarity, Mary.
Perfect timing great explanation.
The feeling the way through is painful.
Alison Cook says
Yes, it can be. It’s hard to feel our way through uncertainty. And yet, as we continue to look for daily bread crumbs (manna), we grow in faith and we learn more about what we’re made of, what we need, and how to tend to ourselves. 🙏🏻
What if it is a difficult marriage for youngest who now has ptsd. The marriage has recovered by Gods grace but the pain of son can be unbearable.
Seeing him in pain he is a young adult now
“Be gentle with yourself as you cope. You’re doing the best that you can.”
These words truly stood out to me.
The steps you recommended are so helpful. I don’t feel as confused, lost or alone in my struggle anymore.
Thank you, Alison.
Alison Cook says
So grateful this was helpful, Jill. Sending love and prayers your way this morning.
Mary Lynn Tassotto says
Trusting God has been a challenge for me, but I’m getting better at letting Him be God and not trying to control situations. This statement really resonated with me:
” let go of your need to understand and focus on one small thing you can do to take a next step. ”
Thanks for this helpful reminder!
Alison Cook says
Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m so grateful this helped.
Gerald Landis says
I found the term
spiritual bypass today.
The way the blog
writer who wasnot a christian seems different than your definition.
God bless 🙏 you
Beth RitterPerry says
It is so amazing to me how God will drop nuggets of knowledge and love and grace upon us at the most appropriate times! I am one of those folks with a zillion windows open, and this window for this article has been open for longer than I am willing to admit. While shutting windows I began reading and it is EXACTLY what I needed to hear today. It is WILD how God is so patient and loving and doesn’t try to push more information on us than we are emotionally willing or able to digest at any given time. Thank you so much Dr. Cook!