"I'm not sure I believe this stuff any more."
Chilling words, from anyone. All the more so when you hear them from your husband or wife.
You may hear them across the dinner table, or in an ER waiting room. They may come out in a choked sob, or be delivered with a grim frankness. And you will feel that your world has just changed, because it has.
A spouse's loss of faith is deadly serious. Recall Jesus' words...wherever two or more are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them.
For most people, faith is a struggle at times. We face things in life that we don't understand, that we can't square with a God that loves us, and we're battered through the media by a secular world that would like nothing more than to undercut any hope we have in the Eternal.
But sitting on the sofa with the person you love more than anyone in the world, and hearing that their faith has eroded, that faith that was the centerpiece of your wedding vows...it's a body blow.
Why does it happen? Inexplicable tragedy is the "popular" answer - how could God allow it, either on a personal level, or in the world at large. But more common is disillusionment - Christians who hide behind their "not perfect, just forgiven" bumper stickers to justify sin in their lives, PBS documentaries trumpeting evolution and discounting the existence of a soul, and very often that cold, 3 AM feeling that there's really nobody out there.
What to do?
- Be supportive - loss of faith isn't a choice, and it's not a decision which has been reached through rational analysis. It's more like a traumatic amputation in an accident, and your spouse doesn't want to be there.
- Ask, but don't pry - some people will be only too happy to talk about what went wrong. Others - mainly but not always husbands - prefer to keep their own counsel.
- Be consistent - continue to exercise your own faith, now more than ever. If your mate is willing to continue going to church to keep you company, by all means, go. If he or she refuses to attend, you have to judge the situation carefully. If you continue to go, you risk alienation which can add personal resentment to the mix - your spouse can feel terribly alone. (Refusal to go to church may actually be a good sign, as it can indicate anger with God...which means continued involvement with the Almighty.)
- Live your witness - you probably do this anyway, but more than ever, your life has to be carefully considered in all of its aspects. If your mate's faith has been shaken you have to be very, very sure that you're living right. One of the major reasons for loss of faith is seeing self-proclaimed Christians who don't live by what they pretend. That means making sure you forgive, in word and deed, those who wrong you...that you don't talk badly about someone behind their back, ever...that you don't sneak a look at pornography, or glance down the front of a woman's blouse. Practice what you preach.
- Pray without fail - the bulk of your prayers have to be directed at your spouse, for him or her to find faith and trust in God again. Don't nag them to pray with you - but pray while they sleep, while you're watching television together, while she's at work or he's doing the dishes. Norman Vincent Peale once described "shooting prayer arrows" at people - and described in several of his books how well it worked.
- DON'T PUSH! - this is very, very important. Most people, when pushed, push back.
- Don't make impossible suggestions - telling someone whose faith is gone to ask Jesus for help is like asking someone who juts lost a hand to clap. They can't do it. They just can't!
- Be open to religious exploration - many who quit Christianity will turn to Eastern religion, usually Buddhism. Don't knock it - it means that there's still a connection to the divine, still a yearning for something beyond this life. Someone who follows this path will probably do a lot of reading, which is a very good thing - much popular Buddhist literature is very focused on the transcendent, and can help make the perception that God's existence is far-fetched fade away. True, it's not Christian. But it is a search for meaning, and this is the time to trust God to work as He will, with whatever tools He chooses.
- Fan the flame, but don't blow it out - when you see movement back to Jesus, celebrate in your heart, but don't jump in and make a big deal of it. You're dealing with a fragile flower here...or maybe better, a broken bone, just healing.
And remember, you promised to be there for better, or for worse.
Walk the walk. Even if you have to carry your mate's heart in your arms.