Help Thou Mine Unbelief
Recently, I went to BYU Education Week and attended several classes that apply to mixed-faith families. I learned and re-learned so much that I wanted to share some of my impressions with you.
Dr. Scott Braithwaite is a professor at BYU and a psychologist. He taught a class titled “Help Thou Mine Unbelief – Supporting those we love through a faith crisis”. I thought the title fit me perfectly. As my husband and children were questioning their beliefs, I had to re-examine my own beliefs. Things that had seemed so simple at one time, suddenly seemed more complex. Through my spouse’s eyes, I could see some flaws, inconsistencies, oversimplifications. I found that I had many unanswered questions with the way I had previously believed. For a while I felt anxious, like I had lost my footing.
Stages of faith
Dr. Braithwaite addressed this common story by describing a model of faith and belief. This concept, developed by James Fowler, is called the “Stages of Faith”. The 6 stages of faith explain how so many people can see faith in different ways.
Faith stages 3-5 are usually the stages involved in a faith crisis and resolution.
Stage 3 level of faith; your faith community provides answers to your faith questions. Faith is simple and usually conforms to your community.
Stage 4 comes when things all of the sudden don’t seem that simple. There may be a personal or global event, crisis, or disaster that throws our beliefs into question.
Stage 5 is acknowledgement and acceptance that we don’t have all the answers. In fact we may never have the answers, while making peace with uncertainty.
When people move through these stages of faith, some find peace by rediscovering their faith. Others may find peace by leaving their faith or continuing their search elsewhere.
Lessons from Hawaii
One of my favorite activities in Hawaii is playing in the surf, however it wasn’t always a favorite activity. Initially, I would wade out where I felt comfortable, with the sand underneath my feet. The problem was that the larger waves would knock me over and push me up onto the beach. Then I would gulp ocean water and get covered in sand. I hated that!
Eventually, I learned to wade out just a little further. I waded just past being able to touch the bottom. Letting myself relax and simply bob up and down with the waves was the secret. I let the waves gently push me back and forth. I gave up control and enjoyed the surf. That weightless feeling of gently drifting with the waves.
Help Thou Mine Unbelief
This reminds me of finding my faith, even when others around me were losing theirs. It seemed like I eventually surrendered control and handed it over to God. I also watched how other faithful followers were navigating the same thing. Ultimately I came around to an even firmer faith. A faith that relies less on myself and more on the Grace of God. I was able to simply feel the waves and enjoy my faith.
Dr. Braithwaite suggested that this is where we can help our loved ones through their faith crises. Not by providing them with answers to their questions, but by loving, listening, supporting and accepting them. Helping in this way while they learn to accept that life isn’t simple. It turns out that we may never have all the answers.
This is a hard concept for spouses and parents to accept. We want to believe that there is a formula we can follow that will “fix” our doubting loved ones. Unfortunately, there just isn’t one.
Mixed-Faith Conversation Starters
One way to better understand what a non-believing spouse is thinking is to talk about important topics. Last year my husband and I captured a list of the questions. Questions for each of us to answer as he was leaving the church. Talking with each other and understanding the responses was helpful for both of us. We called this list “LDS Mixed-Faith Conversation Starters“.
This is where I can help. As a life coach, I work with women who have loved ones leaving the church. I can help you find answers to your questions. Some questions you didn’t even have before members of your family started questioning their faith. I can help you find your footing and the peace that can bring into your life. Occasionally we just hope that someone can “Help Thou Mine Unbelief”.