How to deal with spiritual disappointment


It’s happened more times than I care to count. On a day when I desperately need to feel connected to the holy, to hear a word from God, to feel connected to the mystery, I drag myself out of bed and into something resembling nicer clothes. With fear and a lot of hope I get myself to a church and I file into a pew. My need makes me nervous, but it also makes me brave. A desperate brave, but a form of bravery all the same.

I sit and I wait. And invariably I am let down. A preacher delivers a lifeless (or even worse an offensive) sermon. People in the congregation are standoffish. Everyone seems to be going through the motions. I stumble back out onto the street feeling worse than I did when I walked in. Wondering, once again, why I so often feel disconnected from God.

Over the years I’ve heard from a lot of people wondering how to deal with spiritual disappointment. The question comes from those who have been kicked out of their churches, those who can’t find an affirming church near them, and those who have remained in their church but find that more often than not they aren’t getting their needs met.

They are desperate to hear the Gospel, the Good News, that will meet them where they are and give them a bit of hope to hold on to and too often they leave services feeling empty and alone. The desire to feel connected to the holy isn’t a selfish one. I would argue that it’s a primal need. We all long to be connected to the mystery of life, the universe, the community of our fellow human beings. For many of us we seek this connection in churches or other faith communities. But what happens when we feel consistently disappointed spiritually? What happens when the services leave us cold, or even worse, when they leave us wounded? How do we deal?

Over the years I have bounced from tradition to tradition. I have taken my faith apart completely and built it up again. I have had times of spiritual dryness and times of spiritual fire. I am well acquainted with spiritual disappointment. I don’t have a sure fire solution, but I do have one main thought:

You have to learn to feed yourself.

You have to learn to meet your own spiritual needs, outside of established communities. You have to find ways to learn what you need to know, to connect to the holy, to have rituals that feed you apart from the church.

It sucks and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that, as marginalized people, we also have to do the heavy lifting in order to keep our faith in tact. I wish I had a different answer for you, but I don’t. The truth is that in a world where you are marginalized you have to do your own work. No one will do it for you and the only way to keep your faith from collapsing completely or from stagnating where it is right now is to do the work yourself.

What does that look like? Seek out books that will feed and grow your faith. Build times of prayer and quiet into your daily routine. Seek out other people to connect with (whether online or in person). Listen to music that speaks to your spirit and makes your soul soar. Try out different faith communities and keep trying until you find one that you can invest in. Serve other people by volunteering places, doing nice things for your neighbors, or giving money away. You have to work our your faith and find ways to keep growing.

Ideally we’d all be able to walk into any church on any weekend and be spiritually fed. We’d be able to hear a word from God and feel connected to the holy. But since that’s not reality, we have to put in the work. That’s the only way to keep ourselves from getting worn down by spiritual disappointment.

It’s hard, but the work is worth it.

This article was published by Fr. Shannon Kearns