Why We Need to Stop Making Faith Look Easier Than It Is

Why We Need to Stop Romanticizing Faith | Christian Mom ThoughtsWhen I was about 10, someone told me that the end of the world would probably come before I graduated from high school. According to this person, the “signs of the times” were all there, and it was pretty likely I would see heaven before I saw 18.

I don’t know if I was more terrified or devastated. I didn’t know what the Bible said about the end of the world, but I guessed it wouldn’t be a happy event. I also dreamed of being an adult someday, and was sad to think that would never come for me.

When I expressed my dismay by saying, “I don’t want that to happen!” I was told, “You don’t need to worry about it. Just trust the Lord.”

While a doomsday prediction was difficult for my developing mind to comprehend, I was no closer to understanding the meaning of a faith where my human fears and concerns were summarily dismissed with a call to “trust the Lord.” What did that even mean? I had no idea. But if I had a penny for all the times I was called to disregard my concerns in favor of a general trust in God, I would be a millionaire.

My experience with end-of-the-world predictions may be relatively unique, but my experience with adults portraying Christianity as a simple belief system that we accept and then live happily ever after with appears to be common.

In doing research for a book proposal I’m working on, I’ve been reading all the data I can find on what is turning 60+% of 20-somethings away from the Christian faith they grew up with. Though I’ve never seen it summarized this way, I believe a common thread is that many young adults grew up surrounded by a romanticized notion of what Christianity is or should be. When day-to-day faith doesn’t stack up to their expectations, they’re crushed by its messy reality and ultimately reject Jesus.

Their stories sound like this…

  • They couldn’t find every desired answer to tough questions about faith. They stopped believing in a religion that couldn’t offer complete intellectual satisfaction. Somehow they missed the messy part of being a Christian that longs for more knowledge of God’s ways, but has to accept that He didn’t tell us all we’d like to know.
  • Something bad happens to them or someone close. They stop believing there can be a good God. Somehow they missed the messy part of Christianity that says we should expect bad things to happen. 
  • Christians they know mess up, leading to grave disappointment. They stop believing Jesus has the power to provide lasting transformation and reject Him entirely. Somehow they missed the messy part of Christianity that acknowledges sanctification does not lead to perfection and sin will always be part of our lives.

Now, I didn’t say the Lord is messy. I said our faith is. We are imperfect people in an imperfect world with imperfect knowledge of God. No one has found perfect faith while searching through all that imperfect rubble. Yet, somehow, all those years of taking children to church and telling them about God has resulted in the expectation that faith looks much cleaner than it is.

How does Christianity get so romanticized?

I believe it happens when…

We dismissively counter people’s genuine concerns or questions with “just trust God” or “just have faith.”

The reality: Biblical faith is never described as an alternative to seeking understanding. On the contrary, elaborate explanations of God’s wisdom are given through Jesus’ parables and the words of New Testament writers. Dismissing our kids’ questions with “just have faith” leads to an expectation that “strong faith” should eliminate the need for deeper understanding.

The result: Feelings of spiritual failure when questions inevitably arise and remain in adulthood.

We over-emphasize the concept of “God’s plan.”

The reality: Of course God has plans. But the specificity of His plans (for the world overall? for your life overall? for your daily life?) and how they work out through our will is not clear. When we suggest that every bad thing can be swiftly remedied by a comfortable reliance on “God’s plan,” we lead our kids to believe that a Christian’s view of life should be simple – life is just a series of events scheduled by God.

The result: Disillusionment with God when bad things happen and are chalked up to “God’s plan”; this is followed by doubt that a God who “planned” such things would exist.

We aren’t transparent with our own doubts and struggles.

The reality: In our quest to present a bullet-proof faith in the midst of a world where Jesus is clearly a target, it’s tempting to minimize our own doubts in favor of portraying an idealized confidence. This unrealistic portrait of faith, however, leads our kids to believe that their own faith isn’t working when it doesn’t stack up to the perceived faith of others.

The result: Belief that doubt is abnormal, which leads to exasperation and eventual abandonment of faith when all doubts cannot be reconciled.

Real faith is far from romantic; it’s messy. As Christian parents, we need to be careful to not make it look easier than it is.

What do you think? Do you see evidence of faith being romanticized?

Are there ways you may be romanticizing faith with your own kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Comments

  1. Excellent points! I do, however, see faith as easy. But that’s just who I am. My life has been far from easy: my dad shot himself when I was 23, my brother died in a car accident when I was 28, I miscarried at 29 and nearly lost my own life, my step-dad who was my hero abandoned my mom three times in the past year and now they’re getting divorced….the list could go on. But my faith is not something I’ve ever questioned or had a hard time with. Instead, these things have deepened it.

    Again, though, this is just me. I know that this isn’t the way everyone feels, but I do dislike when others tell me how hard faith is supposed to be and why don’t I just admit it. I also understand that, as bloggers, we don’t write all-inclusive posts, and it can be hard to have the balance of what we’re trying to say come through. If I’m misjudging, please forgive me. I’m just trying to give a shout-out for those of us that may not struggle in this area.

    I also believe that much of the reason kids fall away as adults is part of what you’re saying: they are taught that the Gospel’s message is that God loves you and has great plans for you and that’s that. When, in reality, the true Gospel begins with the bad news that we are in trouble. A holy God has been wronged, and we are the ones who did it. We’re destined for hell and damnation….YET!!

    That holy God is a loving God, and in His mercy He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. But He did this not ultimately for us, but for His glory. We are loved beyond understanding, but when we are taught that life is about us, we begin to get selfish when it doesn’t turn out how we want. When we are taught that our lives are about Him and showing forth His glory, we learn to accept the bad. As Job said, “Shall I accept only good from His hand??”

    The faithful life is messy, but I’ve never seen faith itself as messy. Rather it is my lifeline and I cannot fathom how people survive the messiness of life without fthe calming assurance of faith in Jesus and it’s peace that surpasses understanding.

  2. Hi Jodi! Thanks for your comment and honesty about your own faith journey. I’m so sorry to hear about the tragedies you’ve had to endure.

    To be clear, I’m definitely not suggesting you need to admit anything about your own faith that isn’t true. I do think that faith comes more easily to some people than others. But I would suggest that regardless of how easy faith comes to you, it’s critical to not suggest it should be easy for others. Ease of faith does not equal simple faith. So I guess there are two themes going on here…one is how easy or difficult we personally find faith and one is how simply or thoroughly we present the Gospel. They are different things, but also very related. In my experience, people who find faith easy TEND to present the Gospel as a simple thing that requires little thought – “God loves you and has great plans for you and that’s that” as you said perfectly. The data is very clear that 60-90% of 20-somethings who were raised in Christian homes are turning away from faith (number depends on the study)…and when you really dig into the details, you can see an undercurrent that they lacked a rigorous spiritual training at home or at church. I think that is for one of two reasons – 1) the Christians around them found faith easy and presented the Gospel so simply that it created an overly simple faith for their kids (which later got crushed) or 2) the Christians around them found faith difficult but weren’t transparent in their own journeys, so they just kept toting their kids to church in the hope that the kids would find a faith they didn’t have. The category I’m not listing here is people who find faith easy personally but do NOT simplify the Gospel – who understand it and pursue it deeply. It sounds like you are one of those people. I hope that clarifies what I’m saying. The problem is in the simplification of the Gospel (as you pointed out very well), and my point here is that the simplification often comes from people making faith look easier than it is.

    • I appreciate you taking the time to respond!
      You have indeed clarified what you were saying! One great book on this subject (I know you have a lot of suggestions, but bear with one more, please!:) is The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler.
      Thanks again!

  3. David Crain says:

    I have never understood “God’s plan”. I think it is an attempt to rationalize unjust human suffering in a God centered universe. But, if God has a plan, what then is free will?

    • Jennifer says:

      David–you may enjoy RC Sproul’s book Chosen By God. He talks about how it’s possible to reconcile free will with God’s will.

    • David, The way I best understand our free will and God’s plans is, in the short version, that God doesn’t force His Will on anyone, but He calls us to join Him in His best plans for us. He works His plans out through our obedience, but we can choose not to obey or to rebel or to ignore Him. (Look at Joshua 7, how the Israelites didn’t inquire of God when they went to battle Ai. They reaped those consequences because they didn’t ask God first. It wasn’t God’s plan for them. But He would have guided them to the best path if they had sought Him in prayer as they did at other times.)
      If we disobey or rebel or fail to seek Him, we reap consequences that He didn’t want for us in the first place and may have to eventually face discipline, because He loves us and is trying to turn us back to Him. He promises to still take our mistakes (and all things) and turn them into something good for those who love Him. But this doesn’t mean that everything that happens was planned by Him; He just promises that He can use it somehow. But as far as His best plans for us, we have to be abiding in Him and obedient to Him if we want to be following Him on that path.
      I fear that the ideas that “God does whatever He plans” and “Everything happens for a reason” make us not take seriously God’s abundant calls to be obedient and to follow Him and walk in the Spirit. Because we think that He’ll just do whatever He wants, regardless of what we do, and we’ll always be on the path He wants for us. But this is much too simplistic and misleading because He does allow us to choose against Him. And to reap the consequences that He wanted to spare us from. He calls and guides, but it’s our responsibility to seek, listen, and obey.
      In response to this post and the idea of messy faith, I think that it can come easily to some to rest in God’s love and care and really hard to others, depending on our pasts and personality. But what shouldn’t be easy for any of us – because it is messy – is living a life based on our faith. Because we are in the middle of a spiritual battle, all the time. If we are floating through life and not facing any spiritual assaults or harrassment, then it may be that the enemy isn’t threatented by our faith and our walk with God. We are not a threat to him, so he leaves us alone.
      But if we are truly seeking to live a powerful and effective life for Christ and His kingdom, we will come up against evil and opposition. And this makes it essential to run to and abide in God daily, to put on our spiritual armor daily. I think what most young people are disillusioned about is that the life of a Chistian is boring and safe and simplistic. But in reality, if we are engaged in the spiritual battles and living for God’s glory and kingdom, it will mean “war” and clinging desperately to God. Maybe if young people saw older Christians living with passion and fervor, abiding in God daily and living out convictions and engaged in “battle”, they would see that there is more to the Christian life than “Just trust God and everything will be alright.” Just my thoughts, for whatever they are worth.

      • Oh, and if anyone is interested in my own personal struggle through understanding God’s Will and the conclusions that I came to (I am no expert in this area, though), feel free to check out sweetlybrokengirl.blogspot.com. Go to Appendix I: Chapter 20B: Your Will be Done! In this book, I wrote all about my journey with God from “simple faith” to a “hard-earned, passionate, cling-desperately-to-God” kind of faith. And it didn’t come easily for me, as I had to work through a lot of damage done to my self-esteem and ability to trust because of my parent’s divorces. But I have become passionate about living transparently before others so that they might find God’s truth and healing for themselves, in the midst of painful, messy lives.
        Natasha, I totally agree with all you’ve said here and pray that God guides your book. You are sounding wake-up calls that the church desperately needs to hear. God bless you! And I hope you don’t mind me adding my website here. I’m not trying to drum up business, because I don’t get paid from my website. I just want to help others and I can see that you do, too. Yours seems to be one of the few websites where you show a genuine desire to help and love others, not to just hear yourself talk or teach. Thank you for your beautiful heart and ministry.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Natasha, you might look at Voddie Bauchum’s books Family Shepard and Family Driven Faith for more on why young adults are turning from the faith. Or listen to some of Kevin Swanson’s talks on the subject. You also might like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis products (The Answer Books in particular) for a resource on some of Christianity’s tough questions.

    I do think some people tend to gloss over the tough issues; my own mother is like that. BUT, the tough questions don’t bother her, so it never occurred to her to even ask them. Faith comes easy to her. I’ve asked the questions, but I look for answers on my own and I can be satisfied if I don’t know ALL the answers. I don’t think anyone can know all the answers!

    I personally think young adults are leaving the faith because parents are culturally Christian, but it has little to do with their every days lives. Kids don’t feel like they can ask their parents the tough questions because there is no spiritual connection between the parents and the children. Parents are so obsessed with their kids excelling at sports, extracurricular activities, school, etc that there is no time for discipleship or it’s delegated to youth leaders who are little more than babies in the faith as well. To me, that is so backward of what God intends, and because it isn’t right to put their very faith at the back of the line so to speak, we are seeing the results of that in kids leaving the faith of their parents.

    • Hi Jenn, Thanks! I’ve been powering through tons of books on this topic for researching my proposal – I’ve been through Family Driven Faith, You Lost Me, Revolutionary Parenting, Sticky Faith, Already Gone (which is Ken Ham), Mark Holmen’s books and others. I didn’t mean to imply though that my theory as to the overarching reason kids are leaving faith is what this particular post is about. I think this is one of many branches of the problem. It was just the one I wrote about today. :) I enjoyed Ken Ham’s Already Gone but I disagreed with his conclusion that this whole problem gets solved by convincing everyone that Genesis creation is literal. His analysis was great, but that conclusion was really off base for me.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of cultural Christians. That’s a great topic for another post. When you grow up as a cultural Christian, your faith is too light weight to stand on its own later. Families need to provide a rigorous spiritual training, which, as you well said, begins at home. I completely agree.

  5. This is a great post and I think outlines very relevant problems with how Christianity is portrayed by many. Quite frankly, we want to seem all together and confident to our kids, but we cna do damage as you outline. Very insightful, thanks for taking the time to write it. You hit on excellent topics in your posts! Jen

  6. Faith is not easy. Even those in Old Testament times struggled with questions and doubts. I do agree with your first commenter that faith grows deeper through tragedy and God never promises a life free from trouble. Perhaps I’m too simple minded, but I suppose I am learning through this parenting journey that I can’t possibly control everything with regard to my children. I can read the Bible with them and have deep, meaningful discussions about what we read and our own personal experiences in relation to a particular passage. I can teach my children about hope. I can take them to church every Sunday and see to it that they attend Sunday school. I can take them to VBS each summer to expose them to even more joyful faith related events. I can raise them to understand what their dad and I believe. But when it comes down to them making those final faith choices, they really NEED to come from them…from their heart. I appreciate your passion and research on this topic. I guess I just try not to question God’s word too much. Through my own trials He has shown me reason to have faith. Therefore, I raise my children up in the ways of The Lord and trust God to develop their faith as He sees fit…just as He did for me…a girl who grew up without faith in any form. By the way…when I was 18 my mother told me my children would be living in the end times…LOL. I was not happy with her for telling me that. So I can relate with your opening to this post. Excited for your book proposal! :)

    • Hi Rosann – I don’t think that’s simple minded at all; it’s the truth! We can’t possibly control everything with regard to our children. Therein lies the calling of a Christian parent, I think – we are called to actively train them in spiritual matters, while knowing that the results of those efforts are in God’s hands. It’s a fine balance. I think there are a lot of parents who have thrown up their own hands while placing everything squarely in God’s hands, and the results of that lack of spiritual training in the family are showing up in the data of all the 20-somethings leaving faith. So, to be sure, I’m not suggesting that we keep pressing and pressing on our kids because we’ll get to a point of controlling the outcome. I am suggesting that we need to help our kids to really navigate their difficult questions, with those questions being as much a part of their spiritual development as anything else. An amazing book on this is “Think” by John Piper. Thank you for sharing, and for your encouragement! :)

  7. I think that the polarization of our country’s population, has left a huge chasm for people to fall into. The people who are “playing church”, haven’t done the next generation any favors. Scripture speaks about man wanting to hear doctrine that tickles our ears, or makes us feel good. What you are talking about is the result of God’s word being bent to make those who hear it feel good. Name it and claim it, prosperity, these and other false doctrines that, when they don’t work for you, leave you confused, and looking for something else that satisfies those desires that have been left unfulfilled. We as Christians have failed to stand up for the true gospel, and yes, I am guilty of it too. We are now faced with being the minority, in a formerly Christian nation, that is becoming less and less tolerant of our views. This is because of a watered down, skewed version of the gospel that has been perpetrated upon our society.

    • Really well said, Greg – I agree completely. When I hear about the prosperity doctrine, it makes me want to jump out of my seat! Christianity is so watered down today that you end up with values separated from the underlying beliefs, and people think being a good person equals being a Christian. When that happens, it’s easy to dismiss the belief system that generated those values in the first place. All the “hard” stuff gets tossed aside. Thank you for sharing this!

  8. What a wonderfully convicting post! It’s the transparency aspect that gets me. People ask me how I’m doing in regards to ‘x” and I tell them I’m doing fine–that the Lord is in control. But I don’t tell them about the tears, the prayers, the nights on my knees or the doubt. Faith IS hard. Thank you for this.

    • Christian Married Mom – Thank you so much for your comment! Transparency is so hard sometimes, but I have to think that God can use the authenticity that comes with transparency even more than the sometimes thin veneer of confidence.

  9. Heather says:

    Some powerful responses to a powerful post. I can relate to so many of the responses (David’s question above has always plagued me in my Christian walk–I’m going to read Sproul’s book recommended above.) I think the reality is that faith is easy when life is going along swimmingly and as expected. It’s when life gets confusing, difficult, or tragic (as in many of our experiences) that our faith gets rocked. It takes some Christian maturity and fortitude (or maybe it’s just complete surrender and trust in God) to fully understand that you can’t base your faith in God on how awesome (or terrible) your life is going. I agree that we as Christian parents (and Christians in general) have to be completely transparent and share our struggles and imperfections with our children so they understand that our God is faithful and will pull us through whatever this world brings. Incidentally, I also identify with the opening of this post. My mother regularly talked about the ‘end-times’ while I was growing up and it’s really refreshing to hear that I’m not the only one who was less than excited about the news :) . Even while I was pregnant with my first child, my mother often talked (and still does) about how all the predictions made in Revelations are upon us. Back then it made me feel guilty (which made me feel angry!) that all the talk about the “Rapture” did not give me cause to celebrate–I wanted to enjoy my baby, afterall! I wanted to see her grow up! Now that my ‘baby’ is nearly thirteen, I reflect on that time and think that my mother could have tempered her zeal with a little sensitivity, right? :) Not a mistake I will make myself with my children…

    • Hi Heather, Thank you so much for sharing. It looks like there are a few of us who had to fear impending rapture. :) I remember hearing that the mark on Gorbachev’s head was the mark of the beast! Maybe it was just the time period when we grew up. lol

      I think you hit the nail on the head about Christian maturity. If we’re not maturing ourselves, by constantly seeking to grow both our hearts and our minds, we can’t hope to really spiritually train our kids. We’re left only with weak answers that open the door for them to look elsewhere for truth. By sharing our struggles, we’re not giving them a weak faith, we’re opening the door for discussion about strong faith in the midst of difficult questions or circumstances.

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