I wonder how you would describe your faith and friendship with God at the moment. And I wonder how this compares with a few years ago. Are things different?
Maybe you experience sadness that faith and your walk with God has lost some of the shine and positivity. Maybe there's a satisfaction that there's a growing peace and joy with God. Maybe you find it hard to see any change and you feel you are just plodding. Maybe you feel you are clinging on by your finger tips!
Each one of those statements has described me at some point since I made the decision to be a friend and follower of Jesus as a teenager. I can look back and see there have been different seasons of faith.
Sometimes I think we can feel the season we are in will never change and we don't know how to get out of it (Particularly scary if the season feels dark, hopeless, and God feels remote). Other times we don't want to season to end (especially if faith and life with God feels great and vibrant). And often the season we are in leads to questions we find it hard to answer. Let me give you some real-life examples of questions:
- 'I feel angry at God. How do I pray?'
- 'How do I nurture faith in my child when I am struggling with faith at the moment?'
- 'The Christian community I'm involved in feels like it's in a really positive place, but how will we cope when the buzz and good stuff stops?.'
- 'I'm busy doing a lot of stuff for God and for church. How do I make sure that spending time with God doesn't simply turn into another job?'
Maclaren's Four Seasons of Faith
And for me, the insights gleaned from Brian Maclaren's writings have given me a guide to making sense of these seasons. They helped me find a way to pray & be a follower of Jesus, a hope for the changing seasons and a kindness towards myself and others in our different seasons.
Let me give you a brief summary of the four seasons:
The season of simplicity comes when you first become a friend of Jesus, but also at other times when you return to the basics & the essentials. There's often a confidence and clarity in this season, with a buzz of God's aliveness & relevance. Prayers are prayed boldly and answers are spotted. The Bible comes alive. And it can feels great to be part of a Christian community and to have strong leaders. It's a season of awakening to God, and we reach out to him in happiness. And although it can be tempting to think this is the best season, if we remain in it, then we can become stagnant.
3 words of prayer that connect with this season are 'Here' (e.g. 'Here I am Lord, and here you are.'), 'Thanks' (e.g. 'Thanks for all this stuff that I don't deserve and that comes from you), and 'O!' (e.g. O, you are awesome, and magnificent, and have created so much beauty)
The season of complexity comes when you get the itch to dig deeper or you encounter struggles you want to tackle. There's a desire to learn how to be effective for God and with a goal of being able to a say 'I know how...' There's a sense that there answers to the questions, and many of the questions are 'how' questions: how do navigate romance and college, how do I handle new work opportunities, how do I raise children, how do I address health setbacks or new freedoms, how do are prepare well for death. It's a season where self-reflection, acknowledgement of limitations and empathy for others are vital practices.
3 words of prayer that are helpful expressions in this season are 'Sorry!' (e.g. Sorry that we're not following your ways and that we're breaking your heart), 'Help!' (e.g. 'Help!', I recognise my limitations, I can't do this on my own) and 'Please!' 'This situation needs you, these people are hurting, please come and make a difference.)
The season of perplexity if the season of surviving. It comes when there are no solutions, no answers and no consolation in sight. Prayers have not been answered. Justice is nowhere in sight. You have a sense of being alone. Even God seems to have abandoned you. It's a long, hard season. Yet in the angst there is also beauty with the courage of endurance, the companionship of the disillusioned and the strength of ruthless honesty. In the act of not-giving-up there is faith.
3 words of prayer that can help us when surviving are 'When?' (e.g. 'When will you act and when will I emerge from the pain?), 'No!' (e.g. 'Dear God, no, I don't like it and I don't want to go through with it.) and 'Why?' (e.g. 'Why have you abandoned me?')
The season of harmony is the season of spiritual deepening that embraces humility. It comes through pain, and after pain. It doesn't dismiss the pain of the perplexity season, but instead it is able to hold both the pain & not-knowing with a trust in the goodness of God. It weaves together simplicity, complexity and perplexity, humbly holding them all before God in trust, recognising there is much we cannot know. There is a deep delight in Harmony that is secure in knowing there is bond that cannot be broken, and it does not depend on us. And far from feeling we have finally arrived when we are in the season of Harmony, we begin to see that arrival is not the point. There is more growing to do.
3 Words that resonate in this season are 'Behold!' (e.g 'Behold ... ), 'Yes!' (e.g. Yes Lord, I surrender myself to your way, even though I don't see where it's going) and [...] (the silence of sitting and resting with God)
And so we step into Simplicity once more, but at a deeper level with greater maturity, for we are growing, and we are growing up as friend and followers of Jesus. I've found myself re-entering Simplicity when recovering from an operation, and recently when I was on leave. And I know soon it will be time for the season to move to a Complexity for a time.
A final word:
Sometimes the seasons are long (months or years), sometimes they are short (days or weeks). I don't think they can be rushed through, but there are practices that help you travel with God in them (like the 3 words of prayer.) I've learnt that changing seasons are part of being a friend and follower of Jesus, no matter what age we are. So we don't need to fear, we don't need to despair, we don't need to be hard on ourselves or others. We need to grow with Jesus. It's healthy.
*Brian Maclaren's book 'Naked Spirituality: A Life With God in Twelve Simple Words' has been particularly helpful in learning about the seasons of faith. You can find it second hand for about £3 from various online providers.