Many of us experience paradigm shifts in our faith. Sometimes these paradigm shifts are a result of shedding off the faith structure we were given as children and adopting a new one, sometimes they’re a mid-life paradigm shift as we realize we’re quite different from the younger version of ourselves, and sometimes they just come out of the blue… triggered by who-knows-what.
It seems that so many of you have experienced (or are in the midst of) a similar shift to what I have had. One of the most common e-mails I get from readers is something to the effect of: “I’m starting to experience what you experienced– how do I get through this?“
This is a tough question to answer, because not all paradigm shifts are the same. Some have shifts that take them away from faith, while others have shifts that push them deeper into faith. Mine was the latter, and that’s quite honestly the type of shift I hope to trigger in others. For me, my paradigm shift was realizing that Jesus was the missing link in my Christian religion. When I decided to actually follow him instead of simply worshiping him, it led me on a crazy journey of tension, grace, and radical living.
Everything changed. This is perhaps one of the areas where the preachers from Christian summer camp got things half-right. I remember come-to-Jesus campfire sermons where we were promised that “accepting Jesus into your heart” would result in a life that looked radically different than before. Honestly, I never found that paying Jesus mental assent changed anything.
It seems too often in American Christianity that Jesus can be “accepted” and then neatly placed on the mantle of our beliefs, blending in nicely with everything else we have. Jesus becomes a nice addition, but not someone who flips tables over to invite us into a new way of living. However, I have also learned that “following” Jesus instead of “accepting him into your heart” actually does result in a radical new life… it results in a paradigm shift that keeps on shifting the further you explore this radical new way of living and loving.
But, paradigm shifts are scary. As I write about in my upcoming book, Undiluted, my transition was one that eventually thew me into a crisis of faith. I realized that I was about to graduate a highly respected seminary, but that I didn’t have a clue what I believed anymore. All I knew was that I wanted to follow the teachings of Jesus– everything else was up for debate.
And so, I just started following Jesus and let the shift happen.
I’m so glad I did.
As I reflect back, there are some things I accidentally did well, and some things that I could have done better during my transition. I’ve boiled them down to 5 pieces of advice that I think will help you safely navigate a paradigm shift in your Christian faith:
1. Find safe space.
You’re going to need to do a lot of processing in order to figure this out, and you’ll need to find safe space (community) where you can do that. Thankfully, in my shift, I was able to make some friends who loved Jesus but didn’t care that I was still figuring things out. These friends gave me space to breathe, process, question, doubt, wrestle, and rediscover. You’ll need this too. Understood, it can be hard to find in-person community sometimes, so at least find a safe place online where you can get to know some people and wrestle with your faith. There are plenty of folks/groups out there, so plug into one and have some mutual exploration.
2. Give yourself permission to set boundaries with people.
Not everyone will need to do this, but if it comes up you’ll need to give yourself permission to set healthy boundaries with some people. If you are moving in the opposite direction of a far right or far left paradigm/community towards a more reasonable center, there’s a good chance it’s going to freak out the others. Instead of respecting your process they might be hounding, badgering, or otherwise making the situation worse. In these cases, it is okay to set healthy boundaries with some people. It might be as simple as hiding certain people from your Facebook newsfeed, or might mean that you’ll need to have a difficult conversation with some who won’t respect your need for space. You’ll never have safe space to process if you don’t set boundaries with people.
3. Embrace your time in no-mans-land.
Think this is as easy as trading one paradigm for another? Nope. This isn’t a situation of “I used to like apples but now I prefer oranges.” Instead, when you have a paradigm shift in within the Christian faith, it is more like: “I think I’ve misunderstood the beauty and complexity of apples. I am now going to begin a journey to discover a new and better way of understanding, appreciating, and enjoying apples“.
It’s not as easy as changing one thing for another. This is a process of shedding an old paradigm without having a new one to replace it with… yet. You’re going to need to be okay for a season of not having this all figured out (well, you never have it figured out- that’s the secret). This is one of those things where the sooner you embrace the tension of the unknown, the sooner you can begin working to get out of this stage of the paradigm shift and onto a place with more solid footing.
You’re not going to magically wake up today understanding what you didn’t yesterday. The only way you’re going to get from no-mans-land to somewhere you can plant your feet and press forward in life, is if you read. Now, if your paradigm shift is within the Christian faith, first and foremost the best thing you can read (over and over again) are the Gospels– because this is the part of the Bible where you’ll rediscover Jesus– and that’s who this movement was always supposed to be about. Jesus actually claims that his words carry “more weight” than anything previous in the Bible, so go to his words– and dive in deep to what he teaches. Beyond that, I would highly suggest Shane Claiborne. Be sure to read Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? and then read The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. And of course, in August I hope you’ll read Undiluted: Rediscovering The Radical Message of Jesus by yours truly.
Reading is going to be key because new knowledge is how you discover a new paradigm. No one can do the work for you, so get reading.
5. Just do it.
Okay, so a lame/overused slogan– but seriously– just do it. Just start doing the things you see Jesus doing. Start loving the way you see Jesus love. Mimic him in every way you can, and everything else will fall into place. This entire “Christian religion” was originally a simple invitation to follow and be like Jesus– so just start doing it. Once you start loving radically, giving generously, embracing the outsider and all of the other crazy stuff Jesus does, you’re going to discover a new life that you won’t want to turn back from. This Jesus stuff, minus some of the cultural baggage often assigned to it, is life-giving beyond anything you can imagine. Just start doing it and you’ll see what I mean.
This is how I not only survived my paradigm shift, but came out on the other side with a faith that was more practical, relevant, and alive than anything I had ever imagined. Give these 5 keys a shot, and see where they take you!