Whether we are religious-minded people or not, we all have faith in certain beliefs that we have been taught (or have developed on our own).
This might include things like faith in our country, faith in the goodness of people in people in our lives, faith that our political system or political party has our best interests at heart, faith in our economic system, faith that working hard and doing good will bring reward, as well as any more traditionally religious beliefs we might hold about the existence and goodness of the Divine. (To name just a few.)
These beliefs form the bedrock foundation of our lives, even when we aren't fully conscious of them. They weave themselves into our baseline expectations of how life works.
Most of us inevitably face a time, however, when those beliefs are challenged, and that foundation begins to crumble underneath us.
Sometimes this happens as a result of some other trauma or heartbreak we have experienced that flies in the face of these beliefs we hold so dear. Other times, the testing of our beliefs may seem to appear out of nowhere, but may lead to relationship strains and other challenges as shared beliefs are questioned.
The shattered pieces of these beliefs that were once part of our foundation can become sharp, jagged edges that cut us deeply whenever we venture close, and yet refusing to examine and deal with them leaves us trying to build a life of shaky ground.
How do we deal with these moments when our faith is shattered? How do we put our faith back together again when the beliefs that formed it are no longer things that we can believe?
Make space for the grief
Losing some aspect of our faith (of any kind) is a big loss that comes with deep grief. Unfortunately, this is an invisible loss to most people around us, without traditions or ceremonies to mark the loss.
At the same time, those closest to you may not be able to handle your questioning of your faith because it challenges their own foundational beliefs in uncomfortable ways.
Between the two, this kind of loss can lead to a sense of isolation that makes it even harder to grieve the loss we have faced.
Intentionally naming and making space for our grief, even if we are unable to share it with others, is an important step. We must go through the grief process itself before there is space for healing.
Name the shattered belief
When our faith is shattered in some way, we often experience it as if everything has crumbled at once since it is our foundation that is crumbling.
But this makes it very hard to deal with because it seems as if there is nothing left that is solid enough to rebuild on.
It's much more helpful when we can take the time to find and name the specific belief that is being challenged. Yes, the outcome of the challenge to that particular belief may impact others we hold, but it's not necessary to deal with them all at once.
For example, the experience of some trauma or heartbreak may cause us to questions aspects of our religious faith. This may lead us to question whether God exists at all, which is an all-encompassing challenge to every part of our religious faith foundation, and therefore much harder to process.
It is often more helpful to find the specific belief in our faith that situation is challenging and focus on that (at least to start). That might mean questioning a belief that being a follower of your religious tradition will protect you from bad things happening, or that obeying the rules of your religion will keep you from harm, or that your religious leaders can do no harm.
Finding the root of the question narrows the scope to something that is easier to deal with. If a changed belief there leads to questioning other beliefs, we can deal with each one in turn without needing to face them all at once.
Find other questioners
Because this kind of loss is often an isolating one, finding others who are asking (or who have asked) similar questions can make this feel less lonely.
It's not even necessary that these be people you know in person. I have often found the best help from books (or blogs) written by those who have experienced similar doubts or questions because it allows me to enjoy their "company" on the journey from a distance without having to argue over where I might not agree with them.
You might also find other questioners in online forums or groups in addition to local groups or organizations.
No matter where you find them, the reassurance that you are not alone with your questions or doubts can make this process much easier to navigate.
Ask lots of questions
The crumbling of foundational beliefs is so painful and disorienting that it is easy to grasp at the first thing we find to replace the belief that has shattered, but this can set us up for a future round of shattering if we have not chosen well.
Taking the time to ask lots of questions (of ourselves as much or more than of others) and explore many options helps ensure that whatever we choose to do with our shattered faith serves us well.
In addition, the longer we can allow ourselves to sit in a place of unknowing and uncertainty, the more we train ourselves to hold other beliefs more loosely, so that future times of doubt and questioning will be easier to navigate.
Rebuild with nuance and openness
The most shattering experiences for me have come with the breaking down of those beliefs that I held most tightly and absolutely because there was absolutely no room for subtle shifts in my worldview.
As I've rebuilt my faith (more than once), I've learned to hold my new beliefs more loosely and with greater nuance to ensure that there is space for growth and shifting understanding without it destroying anything.
After the uncertainty and instability of having your foundation challenged, it's tempting to want to grab for another absolute and cling tightly to it. It feels like a way to make ourselves safe, but it often sets us up for a new shattering at some time in the future.
Our kintsugi gold will more often be found in rebuilding a faith that has room to breathe, grow, and shift (even in unexpected ways) because it will ultimately prove to be stronger and more stable for having been tested and having space for change.
Questions to ponder
In what ways has your faith been shattered? Is there any place in your foundational belief system that currently feels broken?
As you have dealt with times of shattered faith in the past, what things have proven most helpful for you? What suggestions would you add to my list above?
What kintsugi gold has come out of previous experiences of broken faith for you? How have those times strengthened your faith or changed the nature of your faith?
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