Episode 80: Supporting Someone in a Faith Crisis with Darla PierreNov 28, 2022
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I would dare say that all of us know and love someone who is in now, or has gone through, a crisis of faith. Watching someone we love struggle can be very difficult. Mostly because we feel helpless. We aren't quite sure what to do or how to help them.
Should we ask questions and risk offending them? Are we supposed to offer help and resources? Or should we just leave them alone and let them walk their path as we hope and pray for the best? Truth is, there isn't one way to help everyone. It really is hard to know which course of action to take. However, one thing I know we can do, if we are to improve how we handle it, is to learn from other's experiences.
I recently sat down with Darla Pierre. She is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and has experienced her own faith crisis. Over the last few years she faced trials she never expected. As a mother of eight she found herself in a difficult marriage while also parenting her children as they struggled with their mental health and one who felt unwelcome in the church as a member of the LGBTQ community. All of these experiences left her in a personal crisis as her faith unraveled and she questioned her own membership in the church. In her own words Darla shared,
"I took time to sit in every seat around the table. I sat in the seat of my daughter for a little while. What does it feel like to be raised in the church and then to have these feelings and these experiences...Then I started meeting her friends who had similar stories or even more intense stories. I started sitting in their seats. I went around the table and I got so curious about what they're perspective was. What their journey was. What they're seeing and feeling. And through the whole process I am pushing back and pushing back...almost like I was trying to figure out where I fit in this. I all of a sudden got really uncomfortable. And I just had to figure out where I fit. I even sat in the seat of do I leave this church? Do I leave what I've known my whole life?"
As one can imagine. This was very difficult for Darla. She was raised in the church and had been doing all the "things." She faithfully attended church. Her children were involved with the youth and primary. They studied the scriptures and memorized the family proclamation. She watched General Conference every six months and heeded the counsel of the prophets. She held callings and strived to do everything she had been taught to do. Yet there she was, in a crisis. One she sat in for years. There were many things that Darla did that helped her get back to wanting to be a member of the church but I want to share with you two things her friend did to support and love her through it all.
Held Space For Her
When Darla shared her thoughts and concerns with her friend she was met with a gracious effort to let her be. She was not pushed to do certain things or berated for what she expressed. Her friend simply allowed her to sit in her space and process it. Her friend did not jump into a panic with overzealous efforts to "fix" Darla's situation.
When someone comes to us with their doubts and concerns regarding their faith it can be easy to jump into action. As women in the church that is what we do. When we hear of a sister having a baby or surgery we have a meal sign up sheet circulating before day's end. When a sister is struggling with their mental health their ministering sisters make a plan to help her with her children, laundry, or invite her to go for a walk or girls night out. We take action when someone is in need, we minister to them.
However, in the case of a faith crisis it can be said that less is more. Teaching and preaching, even though done in good intent, can be replaced with compassionate listening and understanding. Darla's sweet friend let her know that her concerns were valid and left space for Darla to speak, vent, and be heard.
Asked In Love
Throughout this difficult time in Darla's life she continued to share her journey with her friend and although she left space for Darla, she did ask questions. As shown above, listening is crucial when accompanying someone on their faith journey but asking sincere questions can also be helpful as we seek to understand them. As Darla put it,
"She asked a lot of questions. Which actually helped me a lot with trying to figure out where I was at. But she asked them in love. She asked them in full trust. She trusted that I wasn't trying to make a big mess out of this. I wasn't intentionally trying to put the church in a bad light. I was literally, genuinely questioning."
When someone we love is struggling to find their faith and their path is littered with doubt asking them the right questions in a loving manner will help them see that we want to understand. Sincere questions, as in Darla's case, can help them navigate their journey and figure out how they feel. Genuine curiosity for someone's journey helps them feel that they matter. That their thoughts and concerns matter. Not asking questions can leave people feeling judged and isolated.
Truth is, even though we try our best, show compassion, and ask sincere questions, people will still leave the church. They will get up from their seat and walk away. In these moments let us remember that they are still our fiends and family. We can continue to spend time with them, love them, and enjoy their good influence in our lives.
Though Darla spent a few years moving seat to seat around the table seeking to understand where she fit she did eventually find a seat that worked for her. She found a place that she felt comfortable in. A seat that allowed her to be true to herself, her journey, and her faith.
"As I came back around I didn't end up back in my original seat. I actually found MY seat I think I was always supposed to be in. I think I was always supposed to land there. This seat, I love. It's intentional faith. I don't go to church anymore so that somebody can feed me. I go there so that I can connect with my Heavenly Father, and with my Savior, and renew my covenants. Whatever else happens there, good or bad whatever, I'm gonna go. This is where I feel the most, the deepest connection with my Savior and my Heavenly Father."
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