There are a lot of things written these days about millennials and faith, about what we do and don’t believe, are and are not drawn to.
I don’t know your story, but mine doesn’t really look like the statistics and research studies that percolate around the Internet every few days. Mine looks like stumbling. Mine looks like not believing one day and believing the next.
I entered college a moderately liberal Southern Baptist; I left a moderately conservative Anglican. The kinds of questions I found myself asking didn’t quite have a place in the denomination of my youth, and those questions would not leave me alone. They sat with me, ate lunch with me, met every counter-question with a new perspective.
I get a lot of questions from people making similar journeys, who seem too often to be told that there’s a particular way to go about questioning your faith. The usual ways didn’t really do much for me other than make me fiercely insecure about my beliefs. Here’s a little bit of what did help, what did work, what gave me the courage to keep asking, keep wondering and keep being bested by God.
You Probably Aren’t Questioning Everything.
The truth is, even when you may be questioning the very definition of the word truth, you likely aren’t questioning every fundamental part of your being or the world around you.
In the midst of questioning fundamental parts of what you believe, spend some time affirming the parts that you are still sure of. That may be the love of God, the love of your parents, the love of your friends, the commitment you have to watching every new episode of Veep—in the midst of all the sudden and new, it’s good to take a moment to remember that some things are still consistent.
Maybe you don’t believe the same things about the Bible anymore, but you still believe that the Bible says something important about who we are and how we relate to God. Lean in to that, keep studying Scripture, even when the questions crop up. Maybe you don’t find the form of prayer that you grew up with to be connecting anymore. Look into liturgy, prayer books, hymns of the Orthodox church or the Puritan. Notice that what you question more often than not is the form of something, not the good of something.
I meet a lot of people in my inbox who have suddenly decided, seemingly overnight, that they believe in women’s ordination, that Genesis 1-11 are true myth, and that Christ is really present in Communion. Usually, they want to know what they should do next, because it seems like huge changes, and they find it hard to keep up.
It’s tempting—especially in college when friend groups tend to have collective epiphanies seemingly one after the other—to feel pressured to change your mind about a lot of things really quickly. It happens that way for some people, but it might not happen that way for you. So go slow. Recognize that you have questions about a diversity of issues that relate to your faith. Spend some time praying about which one of those feels the most pressing, and then pursue some wisdom about that for a while. Read, pray, meet with pastors and priests and spiritual directors.
I don’t think God faults us for the slow work of our sanctification. Learning new things about God, discovering the wideness of God, the diversity of God, these are part of the journey of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
Give yourself permission to be as patient with yourself as God is. If the Old Testament teaches us anything, it’s that God is abundant in patience.
Cling to the Good, Challenge the Questionable, Lament the Bad.
In the journey out of one faith tradition into a new one, there’s a lot of tension and return in the process. You leave some things for a season to come back to them later, others you leave for good or pick up for the first time. In the rhythm of the journey, take time to affirm to yourself what is and has been good: what you left, what you bring with you, what you come into.
While you cling to the good, challenge the questionable. Challenge the presuppositions you lived under, the speculations you used to make about God or the Bible or the Church. Ask hard questions of your tradition, but also yourself. Questions are not inherently combative or disruptive to unity. Questions demand a kind of excellence to our unity: it takes seriously the intimacy we are all to have with God, expecting our unity to be found not in our sameness of answer but our rootedness in Jesus.
And, when it is true for you to do so, lament the bad. Lament what was lacking in the tradition you emerged from, what is still in need of change. The gravity and frequency of this lament will vary. You may lament one thing a year out, another five years out, and may circle back and realize one thing or the other wasn’t so bad, but you couldn’t see it at the time.
Walking out of a tradition, no matter how gracefully, is still a kind of leaving. That leaving is odd in the ways it finds you. Though it may seem silly, one of the things I miss the most deeply about being Southern Baptist is the inherent hospitality. Someone dies and you make a casserole. It’s simply what you do. Anglicans aren’t always so mindful of that.
Pray for Those You’ve Left.
Again, the significance of this may vary. If you’ve walked out of abuse, the prayers are the fierce kind, for those who are still trapped and in need of rescue. (And do pair prayer with action in that case.)
But for many of us, these prayers are more for them and for ourselves to feel more deeply the bond of being Christian over being X or Y denomination. Family ties, cultural norms and a whole host of things can be wrapped up in that, but in the end we are all knit together in Jesus. Pray to keep mindful of that, in thought, word and deed, above all.
Preston Yancey is a lifelong Texan-raised Southern Baptist who now makes his home within the Anglican tradition. He is a blogger, painter and author of Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again. Visit prestonyancey.com to learn more.