[THE SPIRITUAL LIFE] Dropping the Faith When Role Models Slip

When spiritual leaders let us down, it's hard to maintain the faith

Imagine you've landed the job of your dreams. The CEO of your company is someone who has inspired you for years and is the sole reason you even pursued your current career path. Lucky you--you now get to work directly under her leadership! Things could not be better for you: you're growing in your career and you work for a person and a company that you really believe in and love. Then, all hell breaks loose. One morning, you find out that the company is shutting down immediately, its assets are being frozen by the Feds and your hero, the most ideal boss of all time has been arrested for fraud and embezzlement. You're hurt. You're confused. Yes, you feel betrayed and deceived. And yes, you will absolutely pick yourself up and go get yourself another job ASAP--because your life depends on it.

Funny. When it comes to our spiritual life, we hardly ever bounce back so quickly.  But why don't we? When we find out that Rev. Whatshecalled is really a no-good dirty dog, laying it low and spreading it wide, why don't we pick ourselves up and go get ourselves another place of worship ASAP like our spiritual lives depend on it? 

Far too often, it seems, we make it someone else's responsibility to take care of our own spiritual lives, whether it be a spiritual leader, a parent, or a mentor.  We go to church when mama is looking, or daddy is in town or only when Pastor so-and-so is preaching. Soon, a single person or group of people are the sole respirators keeping us spiritually alive. So, when they fail, or move, or change their minds, or die--which, of course, they inevitably will--then our faith dies right along with them. A senseless tragedy. Especially when this kind of spiritual death is completely avoidable. 

So here are three ways to ensure you won't drop your faith just because a role model slips:

1) Own your faith. The first thing we must know and accept about our own spiritual life is that it is our own spiritual life. We absolutely cannot make someone else responsible for feeding it and keeping it alive and well. Be accountable for the faith you choose to practice by actually practicing it and taking an active role in preserving it. Whether by personal prayer, personal and small-group study of your spiritual text, spiritual counseling, or all of the above, make it your business to know all that you can about your own faith and how it's supposed to impact and transform your life.  That way, you'll not only be better able to recognize when a spiritual leader or group of people is not acting in line with your faith, you'll also have such a personal stake in your own faith that those who are coloring outside the faith won't be able to shake yours. 

Though it can be disappointing and painful to be let down by someone we admire and respect, we must fully understand that our full faith and trust is in God alone.

2) Accept the Human Condition. People suck. And people can also be surprisingly awesome. We saw testaments to both of these things last week in Boston. Indeed, there is the potential for unspeakable evil and incredible good in every last single one of us. When we acknowledge and accept that about ourselves, it will be exponentially easier to accept that in others. That way when they break our hearts, it won't break our faith. Though it can be disappointing and painful to be let down by someone we admire and respect, we must fully understand that our full faith and trust is in God alone. He is the one who promised to never fail us, whereas people--including ourselves--fail everyday that ends in "y." Tell 'em that it's human nature. Love people anyway; allow them to be fully human--even leaders who are called to a higher standard.

3) Protect your faith. The more you take ownership of your faith, the more it will become your top priority.  You'll understand that your spiritual health is your physical lifeline and you'll do whatever it takes to continue to grow in your faith and produce a life that reflects your faith.  That means, though you can love your role model or leader who makes mistakes, you'll understand that when being under that person's leadership is becoming a hindrance to your faith, you'll leave that place and that leader behind and immediately seek out another place and other people where your spiritual life can blossom.  And you'll also be better able to have a fresh start in a new place of worship because you won't be carrying around the bitterness in your heart from the hurt caused by the people in your spiritual past. You'll have learned to divorce a failing people from your faith in an unfailing God so that when people fall they won't take your faith down with them.

Brooke Obie writes the award-winning Christian blog DistrictDiva.com. Follow her @BrookeObie