The myth of toll-free faith

A toll-free number has been launched in the United States to help people who are seeking a way out of religion and into a God-less life. Spiritual crisis, but you don’t want God to be involved in the solution? Call the so-called “secular” help line. Spiritual crisis, because you think God was a part of the problem? Talk to someone from Recovering from Religion, they are here and willing to help. Experiencing a bout of doubt? By the Christmas holidays, when spiritual doubt apparently runs rampant, the organization hopes to have forty counselors waiting behind phones to offer you something easier than a faith-based solution.

When people of faith seek alternate routes out of a spiritual crisis, they have often reached a point of desperation after the traditional routes appear to have stopped working. We pray and putter around in the hope that our pleas for help are being heard. But we’re not sure they are. We’re not even sure we’re praying correctly. Can we ask for things we don’t really need? Should we be saying, “your will, not mine, Lord?” What’s the protocol? Perhaps the jargon we pick up along the way? “Help mefind favor, Lord. Let it all be to your glory.” If we say it like that, will we get an answer?

Because you know what, God, I don’t even deserve to be helped. I don’t read the Bible every morning. I don’t even pray sitting down, except before meals when I’m trying to get my kids to close their mouths and fold their hands. My prayer takes place in emergency mode: while I’m leaning over to pick up toys (“help me not to scream, now, Jesus”), scouring a crowd for my child (“please help me to find her, let her be safe”), or after having pushed send while running down the stairs because they’re all waiting on me to eat (“thank you, thank you, thank you…and please let it go to print”).

When I picked up a devotional book written by a mother of young children who described her faith as a “spiritual desert,” I was like, phew, it’s not just me. My children are always with me, so I don’t go to a home group or a Bible study. I go to a church service that is suited for them. I suffice with children’s talks, not sermons, and church songs that make me sit down and stand up a million times in five minutes, or wave my hands around in the air imitating Pharaohs, whales and butterflies. Kids are often a glimpse into the Christian life that God would have us emulate. But most of the time, this is still not enough. Most of the time, I am in a place where I have to work really hard to maintain any ongoing sense of faith. It’s a matter of course before I find myself in the desert, with no direct line to the man in the sky.

After a time there, it is tempting to wonder if God is all in my head. Doubt is bound to crop up at some point while we do our best to keep believing. It’s okay to admit that. Faith is not a cakewalk. It is easier to call a hotline and talk to someone eager to help you find a less challenging alternative. People are a tangible, immediate alternative. I admit it, I have used them. I have channeled my unanswered prayers into status updates on Facebook: so gratifying, because chances are good that one of my two-hundred-and fifty-one friends will “like” my misguided post or offer consolation, distracting me from the need to simply address God and wait. Once, I used an online prayer forum to send my anonymous request out into the virtual, clerical yonder. It felt like an indirect link to God, sort of. It was a plea for help directed toward a vague destination, a lot like real prayer, but visible (on the screen), physical (typed by my fingertips), and read by the webmaster, at least. I was clearly desperate.

I am sitting out the current wilderness period by asking quiet questions – “You’re there, right? Are you there? Hello?” – and by following a very low-maintenance formula, like I did last Sunday morning. My family went to church. I stayed home, alone, and listened to contemporary worship music. After a few hours, I felt a lot better than I did when I had first woken up. I felt less alone, without needing to know exactly how God is active in my life, without needing proof that he is helping me with the things I have asked him for.

But let’s face it, honey, this faith thing ain’t easy. I am going to keep admitting that I am not sure I am doing faith right, something I struggle to maintain in the face of everything else to which I constantly give more priority. Recovering from Religion, I won’t need your hotline for this. Last Sunday, I didn’t even need the church from which you’d like to plan my escape. I’ve got God, and I can admit this to him.

© 2013 Anastasia Hacopian

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