Last week I discussed being broken. Last year (May 5, 2022), I wrote about how we grow through seasons of faith. In that blog, I also give a link to a brief description of the six phases of faith development, which approximate the journey most of us take throughout our lives.
Now, I would like to think more deeply about this fourth stage of faith development which has been called “the wall,” “the dark night of the soul,” or the “breaking” stage by numerous authors. It appears to me that this stage is often misunderstood because we all go through difficult or very challenging times in our lives. When in such seasons, it is easy to ascribe these events as constituting this fourth stage in our faith development. Let me suggest one caution and three factors that help us know when we are in the process of the fourth stage and not just facing difficult struggles.
Caution: every part of maturing faith comes through struggles.
Ironically, in the fourth stage, our faith falters, which is not necessarily true of many of our struggles. In many situations, our faith grows because we mature through difficult times. It is during tough situations that we learn to trust God more deeply. So it stands to reason that God allows challenging times into our lives for our faith to mature. Paul states it this way:
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.Romans 5.3-5
James says it this way:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James 1.3-5
Not only does God allow us to face situations beyond our capacity to cause us to grow, but also gives us the wisdom to help others grow in their faith. Again, Paul gives the reason for challenging times:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.2 Corinthians 1.3-6
By the way, Paul is referring to literally facing death and depression as his troubles here, so this is very significant suffering. So the first reason we can’t assume we are going through the wall when we seriously struggle in life is because struggles are a normal part of every stage of our growth. We grow through tough times.
1. The ABSOLUTE bedrock of our faith is questioned deeply and resolved ultimately.
When we are in the fourth stage of faith development, we question the foundation of our faith. Often this comes in the form of giving up the notion that we can earn God’s approval. Up to this point, we fully acknowledge that salvation is by grace, but our inner spiritual journey is often still rooted in doing things which please God. These are things like serving others, spending time studying the Bible, praying, worshipping, journaling, and whatever else your spiritual tradition highlighted.
These are great disciplines for developing deeper faith, but gradually they become the foundation of our faith rather than the practices that lead to the foundation of our faith, which is the totally undeserved love of God. During the fourth stage, we question our faith so deeply and become so disillusioned with our faith that we finally accept that God loves us so deeply and so intimately that we are freed up to respond to his love no longer by obedience but by desire.
There is a deep abiding faith that results that is no longer swayed by circumstances or events. The byproduct of this faith journey is that we are also freed up from feeling the need to please others through our conformity to their expectations of our faith journey. In other words, we are growing in the ways and directions we desire before our Lord, not in the ways others think we should.
2. The BASIS of our call or reason for living is settled resolutely.
When we process the fourth stage of faith development, we realize that our life will be lived as a fulfillment of our call, not by the many pursuits which occupied our lives up to that point. Pastors, they no longer are concerned about maximizing their gifts but become secure in understanding their call as a way of life. There is peace that typifies people who know why they are on this earth, and the rest of their lives are lived in this unswerving freedom.
Those who have had other careers (other than pastors), begin to think of their lives in terms of what they want to fill their lives with during their remaining days. They sense a call beyond fulfilling a role for the company that pays their wages. They begin to understand their call in a new and fresh way.
For all are called, regardless of who pays our wages or whether we have Rev. or Dr. before our names. And for the first time in this fourth stage, we begin to understand our call as so much more than a role we fulfill. We often rethink our call, and it looks much different after this stage than it did leading into this stage.
3. The CORE identity of who we are is concretely answered
I would suggest as we come to terms with the Absolute certainty of grace and the Basis of our calling or reason for living, then our Core identity of who we are is a natural result. This person really can say, as Paul does in Philippians 1.23, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The absolute bedrock of his faith was resolved, his calling was settled, and his identity was secure. So it didn’t matter whether he lived or died. He was ready to live for Christ.
I find it interesting that he didn’t start at this place in his faith. Read about his adventures of faith in chapters Acts 9-11 and the rest of Acts. He ended up at this point in his faith development by the time he wrote his letter to the Philippians which was within a few years of his death. When he wrote this letter, he had been growing in his faith for about 30 to 35 years! So many people want the faith of Paul, but they don’t want to go through what he went through to get there. Suffice it to say, he had gone through the fourth stage of faith development before he wrote this letter, and it expresses these three principles in this letter.
My prayer is that you grow through all the struggles in your life, and when you get to the point of questioning your faith, your call, and your identity, you will know you are in good company. If you do the work that the apostle Paul did, and millions of followers of Christ since have done, you too will end up here.
I need some help…I have been working with Northpoint Church in Alpharetta, GA, on an instrument to assess one’s spiritual health on 4 scales and 19 subscales across all six of these stages. As you would expect, it is complex, but we are doing a lot of work to simplify the process. However, we need about 150 more people to take this instrument to help us do so. If you would help us by taking this instrument, I would greatly appreciate it. Here is the link where Reece Mashaw explains the process via video:
Send it to as many people as you can to help us get across this deadline.