There is a process by which passing through the wall requires an emptying of the baggage that you have tried to bring along on the journey but which God desires to peel away.
One of the most impactful books I have read in my 21 years of ministry is The Critical Journey by Hagberg & Guelich (You can find more about Janet Hagberg here). In their book they discuss the varying stages of the journey of faith. They point to 6 possible stages of faith that people go through. I say “possible” because the authors make it clear that not everyone makes it to stage 6. Here’s a brief synopsis, and then I’ll get to the point:
- Stage 1 – Recognition of God, where people come to faith and begin the journey
- Stage 2 – Life of Discipleship, a time of learning and growing as beliefs are established
- Stage 3 – Productive Life, the “doing” phase of working for God (also combining stage 2 and 3 leads to a zealous faith)
- Stage 4 – Journey Inward, a personal stage where crisis of faith can lead to questions and searching
- W A L L
- Stage 5 – Journey Outward, a sense of fulfillment in looking beyond self, allowing God to direct the journey
- Stage 6 – Life of Love, we reflect and represent God to the world while losing ourselves for others
I’m aware that I have just majorly oversimplified the book, and I’ve likely not done justice to their incredible work, but I wanted to cut to the chase. There is a Wall that separates Stage 4 from the final two stages. This is a time for exploration, grappling, and some letting go. There is a lot of question-asking and struggle. It can feel like a dark place, and yet in the darkness there is some glimmer of hope that indeed there is more than previously experienced.
I compare the Wall to going through airport security. TSA tells you to empty your pockets and walk through the X-ray machine, but you forgot to take off your belt. So you pass back through, but you had change jingling in your pocket. There is a process by which passing through the wall requires an emptying of the baggage that you have tried to bring along on the journey but which God desires to peel away. Where surety had been the companion in the first 3 stages, this passing through the wall requires humility and openness and a process of leaving things behind.
Think back to your time in Stage 1 when everything was new and exciting, Stage 2 when you were absorbing all of the “necessary” information like a sponge, and Stage 3 when you served, witnessed, and talked nonstop about God. Those were the good old days when you “knew what you knew” and that’s all that mattered—until life happened.
Crisis. Hardship. Struggle. Doubt.
Maybe faith wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and maybe this wasn’t all you thought it was cracked up to be. And so your reaction was one of three things. 1) Push forward through the Wall, 2) go back to what you knew before b/c that’s all there must be, or 3) check out completely and find another path in life. Maybe you’ve seen all of those reactions—heck maybe you’ve HAD all of those reactions! The repetition of Stage 1-2-3-1-2-3 can be maddening as you seek to know more and do more to find that fulfillment.
“Maybe I haven’t found that sense of peace b/c I haven’t learned enough or done enough.” Or, maybe, it’s time to put down your briefcase of knowledge, and shed your attitude of “right-ness” and take a long hard look at the Wall.
The fulfillment in faith that we all seek is beyond the Wall in Stage 5 and 6, yet few ever successfully take on, and move through, the Wall. The Wall can’t be scaled in a group, with all sorts of people cheering you on, because honestly most people don’t know what’s beyond the Wall. So instead they infer that your questions and seeking are a sign that you’re backsliding. They try to tell you there isn’t anything more than the cycle of “learning and doing.” They heckle or deter or question you. And the Wall looms before you.
There IS more beyond that Wall. There is a deeper faith journey to be found. Stage 4 and the Wall is actually where the real work begins, with a companion who has traveled that path before, and with the Spirit of God as your guide.
Spiritual Direction is a tremendous opportunity to walk with a companion as you seek to move through the Wall. It isn’t easy, or quick, like so many curriculum or workshops claim. It’s hard, but so very worth it.
There is more beyond the Wall—you just have to decide to keep going. Let’s set up a Spiritual Direction session and begin grappling with the Wall together.