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What is Healthy Faith Vs. Spiritual Bypassing?

faith

Events in the world have been hard. And, when things get hard, our faith gets tested. So, what does healthy faith look like when it feels like the world is falling apart?

According to Hebrews 11:1 faith is the “the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see” (The Message). No disrespect to the author of Hebrews, but this verse takes a minute to unpack.

This definition of faith brings together two contradictory ideas. First, faith is said to be like a firm foundation. Foundations are solid, often concrete. You can see, feel, and touch a foundation—there’s no question it exists. In fact, every time you walk into a building or enter your home, how often do you think about the foundation under your feet? Rarely, right? You just know it is there. That’s how sure our faith in God can be.

On the other hand, faith is also getting a handle on what you can’t see. Getting a handle on something means to grasp something complicated, puzzling, or uncertain. You try to get a handle on a difficult situation, a challenging personality, or your anger toward someone. When you are trying to get a handle on something, you are often wrestling with it a bit. You aren’t certain of how to proceed, but you know you need to stick with it. Sometimes, that’s also how faith is.

So, the author of Hebrews is telling us two very different things about faith in God:

  • Faith in God is a firm foundation. It’s a fact. God is there. We can trust him.
  • Faith is also getting a handle on what we can’t see. It’s elusive. God is mysterious. We have to feel our way through to him.

Both are true: faith is a fact, and faith is a work in progress. Faith is a firm foundation, and faith is feeling our way through. When life is going well and things are working, faith tends to be more like that firm foundation we can *almost* take for granted. We understand that these good gifts come from God. The foundation feels solid.

But, what about when things get hard?

What about when you go through situations where you cannot see a clear path through?

What does it mean to get a handle on faith when it feels like the foundation is crumbling underneath you? For example, what does faith look like when you can’t get a handle on:

  • an abusive marriage
  • a challenging set of issues with a child
  • a break in a friendship
  • a church community that has hurt you
  • a job that you hate, but need to keep for financial security
  • isolation as a result of a global pandemic?

How do you get a handle on faith, when you cannot see the way forward?

Spiritual Bypassing

Many people encourage you to bypass that question all together, instead of facing the uncertainty honestly. This is a form of spiritual bypassing—it’s using spiritual concepts, platitudes, or language to “bypass” or over-spiritualize the real struggles you face. Instead of sticking close by you in the uncertainty of the situation, they might blame you for it, using spiritual language (John 9:1).  Instead of helping you ask questions that deepen your walk with Christ, they might minimize your struggle in the name of a superior “faith” (See Job:20, 22.)

Don’t buy it.

Spiritual bypassing might include any of the following examples:

  • denying the reality of what is hard (If your faith was stronger, you wouldn’t feel that way.)
  • pretending like your challenges don’t exist (You’re fine! You have God!)
  • checking out emotionally as you muscle your way through (You just need to pray more!)
  • assuming that God will magically fix a complicated situation (God will make it all better!)

Other people do it to us. And, sometimes, we say these things to ourselves. If you’re doing any of those things (I know I have), there’s no shame in it. Magical thinking, denial, pretending, and sticking our head in the sand (or in the TV) are all ways that we cope when we—or the people we love—are facing hard things.

Be gentle with yourself as you cope. You’re doing the best that you can.

However, do not fool yourself. Spiritual bypassing is not the same thing as allowing a hard situation to move you toward an even deeper relationship with God.

Healthy Faith vs. Spiritual Bypassing

So, what does it look like to deepen your faith when you’re facing hard things? How do you get a handle on what you simply cannot figure out, what you cannot see?

Spoiler alert: it’s not always neat and tidy. It doesn’t always look or feel like nice sounding spiritual platitudes. Here are some ways to think about it:

1.) Tell God what is true about God.

Write down things that are true about God, even when it seems like the world is falling apart. For example:

  • God is good.
  • God is just.
  • God loves mercy.
  • God loves you.

These are facts that are true. You don’t have to feel like these facts are true. In fact, it is an act of radical faith to tell God what you know to be true, even when you do not feel like they are true. Writing down these facts regularly will help you anchor yourself on what is firm. (It’s the first part of the Hebrews faith equation, remember?) It’s like sticking with a spouse or a child or a friend because you know they are good, even when you don’t feel a lot of love in your heart.

2.) Tell God how you feel honestly.

spiritual bypassing

This step is critical. It needs to be paired with the first one. This step is where you enter into the second part of the faith equation, the part where you are feeling your way through. Tell God how you feel honestly. For example, you can tell God you know he’s good, while also telling him that you’re annoyed with him. (This is also a tactic you can use with your spouse.) You’re honoring what you know to be true about him, while also honoring the reality of what you’re experiencing. God knows anyway. Here are some examples:

God, I know you are good, but I sure cannot see it right now.

God, I know you love me, but this feels so hard. It feels like way more than I can handle.

God, I know you are just, but this situation makes me so angry.

3.) Do what you can.

Faith isn’t sitting around waiting for God to do all the work. It’s taking action to do what you can with his help. If you are fumbling your way through the dark, what is one next step you can take? This step might be as simple as getting out of bed, showing up for work, taking a walk, drinking water, combing your hair, asking for support from a friend, or calling a doctor or therapist. Every single one of these seemingly tiny actions is a radical step of faith. Caring for yourself when you are struggling is a way of saying to God, “My life matters. I am going to do my part to care for the person you made.”

4.) Trust God with the rest.

You don’t have to pretend like you have all the answers in order to have faith. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Faith is doing what you can, and letting go of the rest. It might sound like: “You promise to make all things right, God. I don’t have a clue how you will make good on that.” Then, let go of your need to understand and focus on one small thing you can do to take a next step.

Having faith does not mean sitting passively by and waiting for God to do all the work. Nor does it mean pretending like you have all the answers. It’s an active process of partnering with God as you feel your way through what is hard. It’s staying connected with him—honestly—even as you inch through the dark one step by tiny step. It’s committing to God: “I’m not sure how this is going to work out, but I’m going to take that next step with your help.”

This article originally appeared here.

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Alison Cook, PhD is a counselor, speaker, and the co-author of How to Turn Your Overwhelming Thoughts and Feelings into Your Greatest Allies. For over 20 years, Alison has helped women, ministry leaders, couples, and families learn how to heal painful emotions, develop confidence from the inside out, forge healthy relationships, and fully live out their God-given potential.