I love how this interview came to be. On our Instagram account, a sister reached out wondering if she could talk to someone who had experienced a crisis of faith on the field and come through it. We reached out to her and put the call out on Facebook. Caitlin, living and serving in another part of the world responded that she was such a person. As I got to know Caitlin a bit more, I knew that her story could be a beacon of hope for a subject that is almost impossible to talk about when you’re in the midst of it: being in ministry and having a crisis of faith. Caitlin did not hesitate to share her story. If you’re having a crisis of faith, may God use this.
Caitlin, thank you for sharing part of your story with us. Could you give us a snapshot of your faith before you moved overseas?
My parents died in a tragic car accident when I was 14, so I was forced to face the meaning of life and death at an early age. I became a Christian that summer and never looked back; I took my faith seriously and always had a deep sense that God was very near. I graduated from seminary with my undergrad in May of 2006, and my husband and I moved to Germany two months later, filled with faith and hope and excitement. At that point, my faith had already been tested, and I had come out strong.
Knowing that every faith crisis is unique to them, what did your faith crisis look like? Were there events that precipitated it? Or did it seem to come out of nowhere to you?
Like anyone’s, my faith had seasons of strength and seasons of struggle, but it wasn’t until two and a half years ago when we moved back to Germany (we spent five years in England after our initial move to Germany) that things came to a head. I had a 6-month old, 2-year old, 4-year old, and 5-year old, and we moved to a small village where we knew no one and had no family close by. Our church is far away, and we don’t know any believers near us. I sent my 5-year old to kindergarten for half days and stayed home with the other three while my husband worked long hours. I was utterly alone. Exhaustion started to set in. Isolation was taking over my heart.
Slowly, I started believing that I had no purpose in the world. My life didn’t matter. What was I doing in the countryside in a small village in Germany? No women took me up on my offers to hang out. I was rejected and hurt. Where was God? Did He truly send me here? My prayers seemed to bounce off the wall into the air of emptiness. I lost the deep sense of God’s nearness that I always had. I wondered if He was. If He existed.
Some days I looked into the sky and had to say out loud to myself that a God does exist because the earth exists. I had to try to convince myself that He was and is. But I lost total sight that He cared for me and that He is sovereign. My crisis came gradually, creeping so slowly I didn’t realize it was happening.
Having a faith crisis is confusing and scary, but I can only image some of the unique twists it takes on the field . . . when your whole life and livelihood are related to your faith. How did being overseas and in full time ministry factor into your thinking about your crisis?
I’m not officially in full-time ministry or supported by an organization. My husband and I are helping with a church plant, but he also works full-time. This means that he works a secular job and on top of that, he and I do as much as possible in the church.
As time passed, I became paralyzed in my despair and felt I had no one with whom to discuss these feelings and thoughts. I felt I couldn’t even talk to my husband; he was gone so much, and I was so tired. Exhausted. I was scared to tell anyone how I was feeling anyway because of fear of how they would view our family.
What would they think of my husband, who is in leadership and pastors’ college? Aren’t we supposed to be examples of Christ? Aren’t we supposed to show others what it means to have a strong faith and love for the Lord? Being overseas magnified the crisis because I had to deal with so many challenges on an everyday basis—learning how to cook and shop in another country, trying to figure out how to do the kindergarten thing with my daughter, learning the language, culture, etc. All of the pressures of adjusting to a new culture made my trusting that there is a God who cared for me that much harder.
Who did you share your crisis with and how did they respond? In particular, what impact did this have on your marriage and parenting (answering their questions about God and praying with them)?
I don’t think that anyone still knows the depth of my crisis. I only shared with my husband about my darkest thoughts last year, when I started coming out of it. One evening, I was talking to my sister on the phone. I mentioned something about not knowing my purpose in life and imagining if anyone would care if I weren’t around anymore. After time and prayer, she came back to me and recommended that I speak with a counselor from her church. I agreed and that began the healing process. The counselor Skyped with me twice a week in the beginning, then once a week, and now once a month or so.
Our marriage during this time was just cruising along; it was not thriving. My husband just thought that I was really tired—I didn’t allow him to know the depths of my despair. He was tired himself and focused on so much during that time of transition that he didn’t have eyes for what I was experiencing. We were never stuck in a deep hole, but we were not doing well.
As for our children, it is God’s grace that they were so young. I still read to them from the Bible every day because it was part of our routine and they asked for it. How could I say no?! In fact, I think that is partly what helped me keep my head above water—I couldn’t read the Bible for myself, but as I read to them, my heart would warm and soften. My parenting was affected in the sense that my heart felt stressed, and I became more angry, whereas before I didn’t struggle with anger of this magnitude. I just couldn’t handle all the pressures of parenting little ones in a new country, and I would explode in frustration.
What helped you during and as you came through your faith crisis?
The biggest help for me was the counseling. My counselor listened to me and never judged; I really needed that kindness and safety. I was a crumbled pillar of faith, and my counselor never condemned me! She walked me through the lies I was believing, and we discussed everything. I think a big part of getting through a crisis like this when you’re isolated from your country and community is to talk to someone about it. Our sessions became a priority, so my husband made sure he was home on the evenings I talked to her so that he could care for the children and I would be available to Skype; it was a major sacrifice because of all his responsibilities, but we recognized that it was a necessary and good sacrifice.
During this time, I also had difficulty praying. I had no words, no belief. I listened to a particular worship album every day, almost constantly. It was Beneath the Canopy by Village Church Music, and I highly recommend it. Listening to music strengthened me to get through each day and each hour as I fell over and over again into my pit of despair.
How are you different now because of your faith crisis?
I’ve never gone through a crisis of this nature before. I think coming out on the other side, I have more compassion for people in general but also for Christians and specifically for women who are leaders in faith. I read my Bible with more fervency now, and my longing after Jesus is stronger. Going through the dark valley of disbelief as I did, I understand the depths of His grace deeper, and the depths He goes to bring us before Him. But only better. I have a long way to go! I also know this won’t be the last time I struggle. I often have feelings swell up inside me of doubt and struggle, but now I’ve learned to combat these lies by reading Scripture, asking for prayer, and bringing these lies out into the open with someone I trust. I understand now what it means for God to pursue us in the midst of our darkest moments, never letting go but walking with us in the valley. Even when I doubted His very existence, His love for me never wavered; His hold on me never lessened. How could I be the same after experiencing that kind of love?
Caitlin, thank you for sharing a piece of your story with us today. I hope that in the future we’ll get to know other parts as well!
What response does this stir in your soul? If you want to reply anonymously, know that is always a welcome option!