We all have beliefs, ideas that we hold to be true and that matter deeply to us. I have beliefs and you have beliefs. Like me, you have beliefs that underlie the way you live, relate to other people, the decisions you make, and how you understand whatever is happening in the world around us.
And just as we all have beliefs, we can also have our beliefs challenged at times. Sometimes we experience such a significant challenge to our beliefs that we find ourselves disoriented. Maybe our beliefs begin to shift or change in light of something new we learn or something we experience.
Even though I am a Christian, not everything I believe has remained static for the last three or four decades. Our beliefs don’t all remain precisely the same for our entire lives. Some beliefs deepen, others we discard.
I’ve been reading A.J. Swoboda’s new book After Doubt, and in it he talks about the different stages of faith or the spiritual journey. He describes them as construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. While reading his description of the spiritual journey, I realized that I saw myself. I thought to myself, “That’s how it was for me!”
Over the next few posts, I am going to talk about these three stages of faith. Of course, the spiritual journey isn’t neat and tidy or easily quantifiable. To divide it into 3 “stages” is somewhat artificial. At the same time, it is a helpful template to understand our experience of faith and belief.
So, the first stage is this: construction. Or think of it as receiving the building blocks of faith.
In my case, I was raised as a Roman Catholic. And in a lot of ways I assumed the beliefs of a Catholic without ever really thinking through those beliefs. I was taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer, so I prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I was taught the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, so I accepted that understanding of the Eucharist. Etc., etc. For years, it never occurred to me to think about or practice my faith any differently.
After all, this was the faith of my Mom and all of my extended family. Being Catholic and being a Melanson went hand in hand. Church was part of our spiritual DNA. In an important sense, I was born Catholic. But it means that for the first several years of my life, I accepted uncritically the faith and spiritual practices that were given to me. I was receiving the building blocks of faith.
Not that I didn’t have or ask questions, but any questions I had during this stage were almost always about how things within the Catholic tradition worked, like “Why don’t priests marry?” “Why do we do things this way?”
And there’s nothing wrong with this stage. Everyone goes through it; everyone has to go through it. While each person born into a religious tradition eventually has to make the decision to own their faith (or not), initially we need to learn the ropes, take the first few steps with the help and example of people already on the journey. Our faith has to begin somewhere, usually because of someone.
It makes me think of 2 Timothy 1:5. The apostle Paul is writing Timothy, and says this: “I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.”
Timothy, then, grew up with a believing grandmother and mother–and they are the ones who spiritually nurtured Paul’s protege and planted the seeds of faith. Those early years gave Timothy the building blocks of faith. He would have to grow and mature as a believer, but this is how it began for him. And so it is with every person of faith.
As a Dad (not to mention a pastor!), I often think about how I might be failing or succeeding in instilling faith into my children. I want them to become people of strong, personal faith. And I sometimes get these little glimpses that tell me much of what they believe they only believe because I and my wife believe it. To some extent, they’re a little more like parrots than songbirds. They are repeating what they’ve heard, not singing their own tune. They are receiving the building blocks of faith.
Honestly, there are times when I have to remind myself of where I was at their age. Because you have these worries as a parent. Am I doing a good job at teaching and modeling what it means to be a Christian? Or do I simply assume I am? Somewhere in the back of my brain there are insistent questions: “What if they reject what I’ve tried to teach them?” “What if they walk away from God and from the church?”
And the truth is, they might. At least for a time. That is, faith cannot always remain inherited faith. As the saying goes, “God has no grandchildren.” Whenever a person is raised in a Christian home, there comes a time when they have to make their faith their own. That will be as true for my kids as it was for me.
Although we all receive the building blocks of faith, religious or otherwise, each of us has to do something with those blocks. The spiritual journey of coming to hold our beliefs begins with construction.
Take a moment right now and think about your core beliefs. How did you come to believe those things? If, like me, you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that he is the Son of God, where did you get that belief? How did you receive the building blocks of faith? Who passed those building blocks on to you?
Or to put it another way: how did your journey of faith begin?
Next time we’ll take a look at what is called deconstruction.