Experiencing a Faith Crisis On the Field {an interview}

IMG_5055I 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.

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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!

21 Comments

  1. joni w February 9, 2016

    i relate to this very much so; I have been in the desert of waiting for three years now. I feel very isolated like being on an escalator which has stopped but watching everyone elses escalator is still moving.  I have gone through many changes which i did not initially recognize waiting as a change. At first, i thought i had to physically rest after going to 3 years of community college pursuing a degree and a certificate. My certificate may happen but i did get my degree. i lived in the fantasy land which i thought after school i would get a job right away. Not thinking i would be tired after finishing school and going to two summers in a row with not a break but between terms.

    back to my changes; when i was going to school i had a ministry, church, and school. now i have a new church, no job, no school, no ministry and i feel at times my education was a waste and i have no purpose. I have been looking for permanent work for the last 2 years; I only get temporary jobs and now i get no jobs but i feel out of place. A woman without a country, ministry, purpose, and apparently i have lost myself too.  My understanding that during these waiting periods that God takes people through times of growth and looking for that breakthrough.  They don’t tell you how to what, what roller coaster of emotions you will feel  or how long it lasts because it is different for each person. I am still in the middle i have not read the or prayed a lot like i used and it scares because i don’t how long it will last. All i have to keep on trusting while walk along the unknown that i can’t see.

    1. Amy Young February 10, 2016

      Joni, thank you for sharing part of your story. It certainly sounds like an extended wilderness you’ve been in. We will pray for you! Be gentle to yourself in this season. Cyber love to you!

      1. joni w February 10, 2016

        Thanks Amy my struggle is with a spiritually dry time and not hearing from God.

        1. Amy Young February 10, 2016

          This sounds a bit like a dark night of the soul. You haven’t moved, but God (for no clear reason) has. Have you heard of Parker Palmer? He wrote about his experience. If you haven’t heard of him, I can dig through a pile I have and get you some more information :).

          1. joni w February 10, 2016

            no i haven’t but i have read about the dark night of the soul in a book called the soul at rest speaks of st johns dark night.

    2. Amy Young February 10, 2016

      I’ll be honest, I haven’t listened to this … but I’m going to. I’m at the library so the thing I’m thinking of is at home. But here is a podcast interviewing him and two others (I LOVE on being.org)  http://www.onbeing.org/program/soul-depression/224

      and here is a link to a transcript if you’re not able to listen to it: http://www.onbeing.org/program/soul-depression/transcript/1332

       

      And John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping has a GREAT chapter on the dark night of the soul.

      1. Joni February 11, 2016

        I’m definitely in the dark night of the soul nothing goes right or feels right. Where nobody tells what your suppose to do. Nothing you do can help, just have to wait for it and everyone has to do the time.

      2. Shelly February 21, 2016

        I have listened to this interview, and it is good. Well worth the time.

  2. Emily February 9, 2016

    Oh this is me. We just moved to our assignment, but this started even before that, probably a year ago. I realized last week that for about 6 months the only emotions I’ve had are anger, (surfacey) happiness, and sadness. Nothing nuanced, mostly numb. My prayers are perfunctory and I read the bible but only out of habit. Last week though I went to a concert and felt, for the first time in so long – hope.

    I’m not sure what to do yet. There aren’t very many Christian counselors around here and I’m not sure we could afford one anyway. But I want to grow and get better.

    1. Caitlin Lieder February 10, 2016

      Hi Emily, I’m so sorry you’re going through this and I hope you can find peace and hope in Jesus in this time. If you can’t find a counselor, maybe even finding a friend to talk to with whom you can be honest and open with would be a good option. I think the key is to not become isolated and not share with anyone. It’s a difficult journey and I pray you will find someone and be strengthened.

    2. Amy Young February 10, 2016

      Emily, as yucky as it is, thank you for articulating so brutifully (Glennon Melton’s term for  brutal + beautiful) for us. If you are interested in a counselor who does Skype meetings with folks who live overseas, leave a comment and I’ll privately contact you 🙂

      1. LaRae February 12, 2016

        Amy, I am someone who needs a counselor. Please PM me. Thanks.

  3. Julie in Germany February 10, 2016

    Caitlin, I live in Germany too (husband working a regular job + invested in our church as well) and have heard the “small town story” from various people. (Germany seems to have no end of tiny towns!) Praying for you today, that God would continue to grow you and encourage you! Thankful for what He has done already. And proud of you, for seeking to live for Jesus in this needy country! Julie

    1. Caitlin Lieder February 10, 2016

      Thank you, Julie! What encouragement!

  4. Erika February 10, 2016

    Hi! It’s like a breath of fresh air to read this. (Sad, isn’t it?) I, too, am coming off of (still in?) a period of dryness unlike I have never experienced before.  When we went to our country of ministry I was pregnant with #4.  So ensued 3 years of desperate loneliness, loss of sense of self, and purpose. Oh my. I feel like I tried to mention to people I was spiritually anorexic, my soul was dying, I was disappearing.  I think in general responses were underwhelming. Meals got delivered, and pats with promises of prayer were offered, or sometimes people would say “That’s normal”. Nice things. But sadly, not impacting things. I did develop a few friendships, but they would end up leaving the country. (High turnover in our area.) And now we are on home assignment. Who does the M tell that they aren’t sure they believe in God anymore? Who does the M tell that they are overwhelmingly angry at God and their fellow man? That it certainly seemed when I landed in Thailand, God didn’t?  I am still trying to find the people I can be truly honest with. I think it’s hard to overcome the shame of being so needy and negative and doubty (that’s totally a word). I’d love to have some ministry beyond offering only my brokenness to God and fellow man… I’d love to be honest, and have it be heard, and understood, and have someone say “Me TOO! Let’s have a coffee and be friends!” Man, I ache for that. But, I think God is slowly rebuilding me. I hope for something bigger. I believe in restoration. I love it. I love God for it. So, I hope I too can be a restored piece for His collection. This is ALL over the place. I just wanted to add a hearty ME TOO! and mention that I’d love to hear from more women on the topic. Please oh please let me not be the only one who isn’t all FINE yet. We need more stories like this. They don’t even need to be people who are all fixed yet. That’s ok.  Ok… truly all over the place. yikes…

    1. Amy Young February 10, 2016

      Erika, you know all over the place is our specialty, don’t you?! It is.

      Your description of “spiritual anorexia” captures me. I hand’t thought of it in those terms before, but it’s one I will use again and I think your description is so helpful.

      I’m going to not say too much here and pray that there will be a chorus of “ME TOO.” Not that I want lots of people to be struggling, just that I KNOW you are not the only one. Thank you for popping your hand in the air and saying, “I’m here. This is me.”

    2. Melissa February 10, 2016

      Erika,

      For what it’s worth ME TOO!  We moved to Nicaragua and found out 3 days later baby number 4 was on his way, and let me tell you, that first year was HARD!!  I think if I hadn’t had my Mom to talk to, I might have ended up in the spiritual doubt place.  I think I never got that far, but more overwhelmed by the hard that just kept coming.  The second year was better as I really do live in a warm and loving culture and have been able to find friends and even hire help (seriously not just a luxury when your house is basically a porch).  I feel so much less isolated.  Now that #5 is on his way and the hot dusty season is setting in I feel the fear of going to that dark, angry, can’t-I-please-just-go-back-to-the-comfortably-and-easy place… but I do have better support in place and am praying it won’t go so far south.  I do think it’d be lovely to have some kind of support group in lou of ‘going for coffee’ too!  And honestly, I know it’s so hard being a busy Mama and living in a ‘glass house’ as a foreigner, but it’s also been the best ministry for me too as people see me loving my kids (imperfectly!!!) and in sparks meaningful conversations.  I do pray He’s able to use the hard.  It can be beautiful, but still the easy isn’t anywhere nearby.

    3. Kristen February 11, 2016

      Me too!  Thanks so much for being so real–I often feel like the only one experiencing a faith crisis on the field, and yes, it’s hard to figure out who to share these things with.  I’m encouraged just to know I’m not alone 🙂  Here’s to a year of restoration for us who feel so broken.

    4. LaRae February 12, 2016

      Me too. I don’t even know how to express it, but I love that my heart can connect with what you have written and others here. Its helps to know I’m not alone.

  5. Cecily February 24, 2016

    Thanks for this.  I realized this week that I pretty much stopped praying six months ago.  I know the reason why–unanswered prayer.  But, thanks be to God, I finally cried out to God and just said, “I don’t get it!  I don’t know where you are.  I don’t understand why you hide.  And I know I am in trouble.  I don’t know where to find you, but I know that you know where to find me.  Please come.”  And then I was reading the Sermon on the Mount, and it was as though the Spirit breathed life into my dying self.  The Good News Translation says, “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor, the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!” (Mt. 5:3)  Finally I realized that I was not exempt from the Kingdom because I couldn’t figure stuff out.  The Kingdom of heaven was for the likes of me in my spiritual poverty and I can wait on the King who knows where to find me.

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