Disorienting Faith

March 6, 2015

I was moved by the voice of a dear friend, someone I love so deeply, as he spoke into the phone miles away from me. “It’s disorienting,” he said.

“It’s disorienting to be given the news I was given this week.”

I nodded, though he couldn’t see, of course. The trouble with phone calls is that they are still a step away from the flesh and bone encounters, meeting in times of struggle. But that’s all we had, so I listened and nodded, knowing well the words being spoken.

Disorienting.

I preached this Lent on the way in which we often feel over our heads. That the stuff we think we have figured out, the stuff we signed on for thinking it would go one way, suddenly shifts and we realize that we didn’t have anything figured out at all. That we were and are over our heads. The sure footing we once knew is ripped away and we free fall, or simply slide, downwards. The natural tendency is to grasp at anything and everything to slow the fall. And we experience that familiar place of disorientation. 

I sometimes find myself at odd with my evangelical heritage because of this. Because my life is more often than not disoriented, but on a Sunday morning I only hear songs of people who are somehow magically always oriented in the same direction. One time long ago when I was a young teen, a leader asked us to draw out our spiritual lives in a line- where were the high points, where the low points and what direction was it going. The intention was to draw a line upward and to the right. But I couldn’t. And I still couldn’t to this day. Instead my line was a veritable mess of circles and tracing back and zigzags and swoops. I don’t suppose I have ever lived a very oriented spiritual life, except for my desire to love Jesus. But for me, it seems learning to love Jesus only invites more circles and tracing back and swoops. The old saying, “The more you know the more you know you don’t know.” Yes. That is so true for me when it comes to moving through life learning faith and love and grace. The more I know the more I know I don’t know. I think we need more songs of disorientation. I think we need more sermons that speak to disorientation. I think we need more spiritual practices that tend to the disorientation of our experience. Because I think that’s more honest. And I think it is formative.

The formative reality is disorientation is important. It’s important because it’s exactly the stuff God uses to reorient our lives. I can’t say for sure if every instance of disorientation is God’s design or if it is just how life works and God steps in to redeem it- and it doesn’t matter which it is in the grand scheme of things. But I can say that the disorientation serves a purpose.

My Mennonite friends have taught a few things. One of the first they taught me was this: Nothing is lost to God. Nothing is wasted. Nothing.

I learned this during my own time of disorientation when I walked into their meeting for the first time, sweaty-palm-nervous and pulling inward as I tend to do in situations of anxiety. Sitting around the table with these kind faces and wondering why in the world they let a Covenanter like me stay, I heard this truth put to music, sung through the strings of a guitar and the voice of a weathered soul charged with caring for pastor in his region: Nothing is lost on the breath of God, nothing is lost forever…

These friends had no idea how disoriented I was on that day. How much I was struggling to recover from all that happened in the time before, from a church experience that was painful, from an authority figure who had lost boundaries, from devastating losses in my body and life. My season of disorientation- the Dark Night of the Soul- was hyper painful and still hung around like a rotting corpse on the day I walked into this meeting.

In many ways, the line of that song reminded  me of the psalmist’s pain when he screams at God, “How long? Will you forget me forever?” It carried the loss of Rachel weeping in Ramah. It gathered up the shards of Job’s painful story. It caressed the years of agony for Abraham and Sarah. It wove through the prison cell of Joseph. It touched the weeping Jesus at the edge of Jerusalem. Nothing is lost on the breath of God, nothing is lost forever.

Even the disorienting times.

Even the times when years have slipped by with no change in job status, in relationship status, in social status. Even in the times when arms are empty and cupboards are bare and the soul feels wrung out like torn rag. Even when children are sick and we lose years of their lives. Even when the doctor says the dreaded words you did not want to hear. Even when the weight of all that seems lost sits heavy on the heart. Nothing is lost on the breath of God. Do we dare have faith to believe that?

Disorientation is one of the means we have to speak to God about a world that is disoriented. About lives that are not what they are supposed to be. About experiences that stem from the brokenness of our souls. To speak honestly, as my friend does, about the surreal disorienting nature of seasons in our lives requires courage. Especially in a place were speaking that honesty is not always welcome- and sometimes it is not welcome among God’s own people, sadly enough.

But there are gifts in disorientation. Gifts of honesty. Gifts of hope that grounds itself in the absurdity of a mysterious God. Gifts of companionship with a Jesus who knows intimately the pain of disorientation. And gifts of reorientation. Of rebirthing something in our lives that comes through pain and struggle and dark into a new place of clarity, of trust, of growth.

When we are disoriented, it can be hard to believe that God indeed stands equally beside us in suffering and utterly beyond us, seeing bigger than we see, knowing which direction leads us farther up and further in. It drives me crazy that he doesn’t always let us in on what he sees. Perhaps the vision is too grand for us to bear all at once, and so he graciously only gives us tidbits at a time. But regardless, it’s a radical trust to place ourselves in a hands of a God who plays his cards close to his chest and asks us to trust that he’s in the process of growing something new.

So when my friend said these words, I nodded. Because I know what he means. I know that often my days can feel tumbled about with no clue which way is up. I know that the confusion of these seasons is exactly the rich soil God needs to plant something new. And I believe that for my friend as much as I believe that myself. To believe that even in the tumble of disorientation, nothing is lost. Nothing is lost. Nothing is lost to God.

2 Responses to “Disorienting Faith”

  1. Stephanie Thompson said

    Thank you for so eloquently stating what many followers of Christ feel during certain seasons in life. As a result of experiences with my daughter’s Bi-polar disorder and my son’s medical issues, I now do a workshop for parents who feel “disoriented.”

    3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Cor. 1:3-5.

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