Reflections on a crisis of belief

One major purpose of me starting this blog was to be able to honestly share different aspects of my spiritual journey and perspective with supports as well as the students I will be working with. There is one particular event that happened just after my freshman year, that, in retrospect, perhaps represented the first stirrings of a calling in my heart to one day enter the ministry. And although it was definitely not a very pleasant experience at the time, I now think that God used that difficult season to shape me profoundly. What happened was that summer between my freshman and sophomore years at Vanderbilt I suffered through a major crisis of belief, my own personal “dark night of the soul”.


To this day I am not sure what brought on this spiritual crisis, but it was a very frightening experience—indeed, one of the most difficult periods in my life. I find it hard now to explain precisely the range of emotions I wrestled with. I don’t know that I ever stopped believing in God—but I would go to church, pray, and read the Bible, just as I had always done, and nothing seemed to happen. This period spiritual dryness extended for weeks, and eventually a couple of months. It prompted me to have to come to grips with all sorts of doubts. Had I accepted all the tenets of my faith in the past simply because this was what my parents had taught me, and because I had been raised in a Christian home? How could I know for sure that the Bible was really true and reliable? And most alarming of all—how was I going to get through this, and how long might it last?? I remember too that in addition to the fear, feeling immense guilt, and being afraid for some time to share any of these doubts or misgivings with others. It seemed that I had let my family, my pastor, and my church down—in short everyone who had given so much of their lives to disciple me into a mature Christian.

Eventually, through the grace of God I began to emerge from this time of darkness. It was very much like recuperating after major surgery, or a long illness. Little by little, I felt things returning to normal. I sensed once more that my understanding of God and my relationship with Christ, as well as the inner emotions I experienced upon praying, worshiping, or reading the Bible were in harmony. Some credit must be given to two pastors whom I was able to share some doubts with; William Vanderbloemen then at Memorial Presbyterian in Montgomery, and my longtime spiritual mentor, Jay Wolf at FBC Montgomery. Oddly enough, although I can’t recall the full details of my conversations on those occasions, I suspect I mostly just asked them some questions about the Bible, and better understanding the nature of God. I probably did not reveal the true depth of the spiritual despair I had been trying to work through for the past several months. And yet God graciously worked through both William and Jay, and in response to my own prayers and pleas to bring me into His light again after this extended period of darkness.

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Looking back now more than a decade later, I can clearly see that one of my main problems was that I was not actively involved in a campus ministry at the time. Because I did not have such a fellowship of my peers available to me, I didn’t have fellow college students who I could have shared some of my doubts and struggles with. I went through this gut-wrenching crisis of belief essentially in isolation—which is the worst possible way to deal with our spiritual problems. As my pastor Jay Wolf often says, “we need Jesus and we need each other.” These words are never more true than during times of crisis—which is often unfortunately when we naturally try to turn away from others out of embarrassment, fear, and hurt. What’s really amazing in retrospect is that I have talked to so many other people over the last ten years, including members of my own family who also reported going through a similar season of spiritual turmoil when they were in their early to mid-twenties. The secular world has even noticed this phenomenon, to the extent that the term “quarterlife crisis” has been coined to describe a period of self-doubt and questioning that young adults may experience from late adolescence through age 25. The one overwhelming emotion that I remember feeling repeatedly during my season of doubt was a sense of being alone—and a unique fear, ridiculous though it may now seem—that I was the first, or only person to have such questions in my heart. One of the most important aspects of being in Christian community is the solidarity it can provide for us at every stage of life. We then can learn firsthand from the experiences of others—and recognize along with the writer of Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun.” Whatever valleys we have to walk through in life, and whatever form our particular “dark night of the soul” may take, we can find great comfort in knowing that other Christians have gone through similar trials, and have emerged stronger by the grace of God!!! But we only see this clearly when we are intentional about making the time to find Christian community.

The chance to lead and facilitate the development of such Christian community on a college campus, and possibly help a young man or woman who’s burdened with some of the same doubts I once labored with, is one of the great motivations I have for pursuing college ministry. And thus I now believe that frightening and disorienting though it was at the time, God used that period of spiritual bleakness to plant a seed in me that one day would sprout into a calling to ministry. So I am now preparing to answer that call, to help others navigate through their spiritual challenges during the uniquely turbulent, yet joyful time that one’s college years represent.


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