When a Loved One Experiences a Faith Transition
When a loved one goes through a faith crisis showing respect, compassion, and trust in the relationship are key.
Religion is a part of our culture and our identity, both individually and as a society. Sometimes, however, a person experiences a faith crisis (sometimes referred to as a faith transition) and chooses a different path. Studies show that 28% of Americans change their religious preference at least once in their lives, and the number continues to grow. This is an issue that hits the hearts and homes of many in our community, and can unfortunately be a source of great pain, confusion, and potential conflict in families. Here are some strategies to handle a faith transition of a loved one:
1) Respect Their Decision
Someone may grow up in a religious home or community, but ultimately every person must choose his/ her own path, and we as loved ones must respect that decision. This is not a time to preach, but instead to listen to and validate the feelings of a loved one who is transitioning to a different belief system. This can be hard for parents, as they naturally want their children to practice what they know or believe to true. In this case, parents need to discern how much they should get involved based upon the age of the child. For example, a family may have behavior requirements of church attendance as part of family tradition for young children, parents need to realize that each person has to decide their spiritual beliefs. Once a child is grown, it is important for family members to respect their family member’s decision.
It can be particularly painful when a spouse experiences a faith crisis, as the believing husband or wife had completely different expectations about how their lives would evolve. Though this can create uncertainty, it is possible for a couple to successfully navigate a faith transition and remain committed and loyal to one another.
Religious leaders are calling for members of their congregations to show love and respect for those who undergo a faith change. In a recent General Conference address, Dieter Uchtdorf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, “it may break our hearts when [a loved one’s] journey takes them away from the Church we love, but we honor their right to worship… according to the dictates of their own conscience.” Now is the time to practice radical compassion and show respect to those even with whom we disagree.
2) Allow Yourself to Grieve
Faith crises and transitions can be very painful for both sides. If your family member or close friend has decided to take a different path, allow yourself to acknowledge that you are disappointed, even heartbroken. We tend to think of grieving mainly in regards to death, but a faith change is certainly a time to experience a grief.
We also should avoid trying to pinpoint the exact reason why someone chooses to leave. Some may think that identifying the “problem” will help clarify the situation and create more understanding and less pain, but that’s usually not the case. Refrain from judgmental thought patterns such as “he was lazy,” or “she must have sinned” to try to explain the faith transition; instead focus on respecting the person and honoring your own grief.
3) Trust the Connection
Any deep and meaningful relationship will experience hardships that can only be overcome by strong emotional bonds and commitment. A faith crisis may be quite unexpected, but a couple or family can get through it by trusting the connection in their relationship. This can be difficult due to the many social and cultural implications of a strongly faith-based community. For example, questions of baptism, marriage, and communion will certainly affect a family where someone has undergone a faith transition. However, exercising trust in the relationship connection can help everyone. A person’s faith does not need to be the basis of a relationship, and we can love people despite our differences in belief by trusting in the emotional bonds that have developed.
4) Stay Firm in your Faith
A faith transition can be complicated by competing belief systems. Both sides may be using arguments or literature to try to persuade the other to see things their way. This is difficult, as everyone has an inherent desire to be heard and to be valued. However, you don’t need to let a loved one’s faith crisis cause you to have one of your own. Just as you respect the faith choices of a family member or friend , it’s only fair for you to expect the same of them. Stay firm and committed to your beliefs. Seek support from your own faith community Continue to engage in your own religious traditions and practices.