How do I help a friend who’s lost her faith? I recently posted four hard questions from a blog reader and asked for your input. I will share your answers along with my thoughts below.
Before you can help her (or him; let’s say “her”), you need to know that even though she may feel like her faith is gone, her Saviour is not. For example: the air you breathe on a windy day is visible by what it does to the flags that snap overhead but it is quite invisible on a still day. On both days, the oxygen content is the same.
What the spiritually dry Christian interprets as “lost” faith is often dormant faith. Faith that feels dead, looks dead, doesn’t move. It isn’t dead. It’s just inactive, ineffective and under-utilized. The wind of faith is temporarily stilled. What gets lost isn’t Jesus, it’s the what-Jesus-does-when-He’s-active-in-you.
The most important thing you can do for a friend who feels like (or insists) she’s lost her faith is give her hope. Hope that her faith is not dead. And neither is God. Hope that the God she once knew is still there, even though she may never have the same relationship with Him again. Hope that there is a way out of dryness. Hope that everything she is going through will have purpose and meaning. Any or all of the above will be beneficial.
Let’s take a look at the four hard questions because these are questions you need answered if you want to help a friend who says her faith is gone. Blog reader’s input is in italics.
1) How do we provide a safe place for those in a spiritual desert?
- Begin with honesty and sharing when you were dry. The best place to start is with transparency about your own struggles with doubt or dryness. Eighty percent of believers experience at least one period of dryness so we can assume you’ve had yours! Admit it! Immediately you will have built a bridge of understanding; you’ve been there too and you get it.
- Go first–share honestly about present struggles not only “once forever ago.” In my experience, the reason I kept silent for years was because no one ever admitted to being in a season of dryness “right now.” It was always, “been there, done that, all better!” If you are open about your own “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” right-now moments, it will open a door for honest communication.
- Listen with discernment. I jump to solving all too often [and this can] make the person sharing [their dryness] feel like a problem to be solved instead of a person who wants to feel understood. Spiritual dryness is not the result of one small incident. It is the result of long, slow spiritual drift caused by 10,000 pricks of sorrow, loss, betrayal, fear, pain, insult, missed opportunity, demotion, rejection, jealousy, anxiety, abuse, and more that weigh on your soul, eventually resulting in separation from God. If you listen with discernment you can identify some roots and give gentle direction, sympathy, and comfort.
Let’s say you have not been spiritually dry, then pay careful attention because a season of wilderness may be in your future. Let your dry friend know that you can learn from each other as you walk through this together.
2) How do we encourage those who feel lost and alone?
- If you have ever felt lost or alone, share it with them…and hopefully they open up. We encourage them by demonstrating they are neither lost nor alone. Spend time with them but not with the intention of repairing the brokenness. Just be friends. Take in a movie, a coffee, a walk, some food, a road trip…hang out!
- Take time to listen. Relate. Pray. All good.
- Connect them with other believers who will walk with, not fix. Invite them to life-giving or restorative opportunities but do so in a way they don’t feel pressured. I mentioned to several friends that I was planning on attending a Freedom Session bible study. Some of them signed up too. We are journeying to wholeness together!
3) How then do I help others who are in spiritual wilderness?
- Listen to where they are so you know how to pray. Not just know HOW to pray, but know that you CAN pray. This might be your first indication that your friend needs your prayers. I don’t pray for all my friends on a regular basis but if one of them indicates spiritual dryness or loss of faith I begin to pray with focused purpose.
- Sometimes they aren’t done with the wilderness, sometimes they’re complaining but still comfortable. Sometimes they’re not ready to reach for help. Oh this is SO discerning! When I first began to come out of wilderness (instead of head deeper into it) I started to be honest with people. Looking back now I don’t think I really wanted to pay the price to come out yet because I was still so terribly afraid of God–I wasn’t ready to give Him access to my life and will. I was mostly just complaining. Thankfully, people gave me grace, space, friendship and prayer and they walked with me as I stumbled Godward.
- Do not be silent, but admit to self, God, and another person where you are and God will give you words and ways to help others through your testimony. The message here is that God will not waste YOUR wilderness. He will help you use your story to encourage and bring hope to others.
4) What can we do to allow for transparency without any judgement?
- When someone is sharing, do not interrupt, do not give advice, just honor them with eye contact and a good listening ear. If you have not been through a season of dryness, be quick to listen and sloooowww to speak. I did not ever think “wilderness” would happen to me and prior to experiencing it, my advice would not have been much help. There will likely be other issues that contributed to your friend’s spiritual drift, be sensitive to the process and pray for wisdom.
- Ask God for a heart of compassion and to see yourself in the same place if not for the grace of God. Honestly it could be you. Or me–it WAS me!
- Connect them with other believers who are full of grace and truth. Your friend may have drifted away from Christian community. If they are willing, invite them in to small circles of caring.
- Allow them to share their experience without explaining away the struggle. Do not minimize or overlook the spiritual and emotional wrestling that is undoubtedly a part of your friend’s wilderness season. Swallow those glib answers and perfect Scriptures. They’ve heard them and possibly memorized them already! Just listen.
- If you are in a position of leadership (this includes parents, grandparents, mentors, and friends), teach people how to do “authenticity with all, transparency with some, and intimacy with a few.” Not everyone has the discernment for details!
Thank you for your input via social media and real talk. I pray some of these answers will help you help someone else who is looking for hope in the midst of their sandstorm of unbelief.