“Stay in the boat” – E. Ballard, on faith crisis  “Sit down, you’re rocking the boat.” Guys & Dolls

If there’s one topic that never gets old in the ‘nacle[1] it’s faith crisis.  A few months back, I started to follow a Vietnamese Buddhist group on Facebook because they post quotes I like.  Over the weekend, a group member posted the following, expressing his faith crisis.

“I am really having a hard time with the faith. Just very unsure what I believe anymore after being in Dharmsala and then returning here. 2014 was just filled with hardships for me. Leaving me homeless, penniless, and sick. I struggle with severe medical and mental issues, and even after being in Dharmsala, I don’t know how the buddah viewed mental illness.

For all the things I thought buddhism was, and what it meant to me, being surrounded by it, I at at times felt like I was at peace, and at times, so depressed, so sad, so angry. I was floored when someone I had read, when he met me, wasn’t warm towards me. I thought monks and lamas would be filled with love, and I felt like he didn’t like me. It crushed me. It’s been a year I’m home, and now I am starting to think it didn’t exist at all, this idea.

India was strange. The ideas can be so beautiful, but yet the people did the worst things. I just saw the story of buddah the PBS special, and it just seems like in India, that they embellish the truth, to tell a story, if it’s true I don’t know. My faith is now really spotty. My only release to deal with the anxiety I felt, now not there. I wish we had people to talk to here. I read what he wrote, and now I just think, is nirvana just simply being nice and happiness? What are we trying to really obtain here? How do you obtain this, and be a usual person?

I had more grace, happiness, and peace before I ever found the Dharma, so what happened? Sorry for sharing here, just really feeling extremely lost.”

White washed Buddha

Sound familiar?  Maybe it will be easier to see parallels if I use my Google Translate to go from Buddhist to Mormon:

“I am really having a hard time with the faith. Just very unsure what I believe anymore after going to Utah. 2014 was just filled with stressful situations. I struggle with depression / ADHD / anxiety, and even after being in Utah, I don’t know how the church views that.  If the gospel is the plan of happiness, does feeling sad mean I’m unworthy?

For all the things I thought Mormonism was, and what it meant to me, being surrounded by it, I at at times felt like I was at peace, and at times, so depressed, so sad, so angry. I was floored when I ran into a GA at Cafe Rio who seemed too busy and impersonal to even smile back at me. I thought the Brethren would be filled with love, and I felt like he didn’t like me or anyone else. It crushed me. It’s been a year I’m home, and now I am starting to think it didn’t exist at all, this idea I had of Mormonism.

Utah was strange. The gospel can be so beautiful, but yet the people did the worst things. I just saw the story of Joseph Smith and the PBS special on the Mormons, and it just seems like in Sunday School that they embellish the truth, to tell a story, if it’s true I don’t know. My faith is now really spotty. My only release to deal with the anxiety I felt was on Sundays and now that comfort is not there. I wish we had people to talk to here. I read the scriptures, and now I just think, is the purpose of life just simply being nice and finding my own happiness? What are we trying to really obtain here? How do you stay and be a normal person?

I had more grace, happiness, and peace before all this, so what happened? Sorry for sharing here, just really feeling extremely lost.”

Even if that behavior is mine.

Some observations on commonalities:

  • Leaders not living up to expectations, particularly being seen as hypocritical for not living the values of the faith; underlying this, a sense of personal rejection from leaders.
  • The experience of being surrounded by a majority of believers while feeling like an outsider
  • Feeling like stress or depression or other issues are incompatible with spirituality or religion
  • Feelings of personal inadequacy
  • Seeing white-washed dogma as suddenly not credible
  • Dealing with changed perspective on things that used to be of comfort

It’s comforting to know that, but it’s also disquieting.  Faith crisis is a human experience, not uniquely Mormon.  And it’s a normal part of growing up, questioning who we are, what we believe, how we want to live our lives, and noticing how we differ from those around us including those who have been put in authority over us.  And yet, when we are in its throes, too much focus on the outward problems (hypocrisy of others, white washing, flawed perspectives, rejection) can stall one’s journey as much as ignorance.

Consider these inward questions for the Buddhist whose paragraph we read:

  • What is a healthy expectation for leaders?  Why does it matter to you what leaders think of you or how others behave? Does their behavior invalidate the code of ethics you believe in?  If not, what do you believe?  What should your code of ethics be?
  • Why do you feel a need to belong?  What can you do to create more community despite what others may do?  In what ways are you creating distance?
  • How can you address the causes of depression or stress and restore yourself to a healthier position?  What is your stress telling you?  What is its real source?
  • Do your feelings of inadequacy stem from idealized perceptions of others?  What is the source of that perspective?  Is it realistic?  What are you unable to see?
  • Why did you believe what you now find not credible?  What about it do you still believe?  What about your new perspective lacks credibility?
  • How can you create well being from within regardless of where you are?  Why was it comforting before?  What can you learn from being uncomfortable?

Discuss.

[1] Or if it does get old, it certainly never dies.