Losing the Faith of our Childhood

In so many areas of our life, we appreciate that children and adults have different capacities for understanding, that children cannot understand things in ways adults can. As we grow, our understanding becomes more nuanced, more sophisticated.

We don’t always have that appreciation when it comes to our faith. As we mature, we have to lose the faith of our childhood and replace it with an adult faith. (I say have to, recognizing that there are some people who neve take this step.)

Part of growing into an adult faith is appreciating that God isn’t always about feeling good, or even feeling reassured.

In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton writes:

How many people are there in the world of today who have “lost their faith” along with the vain hopes and illusions of their childhood? What they called “faith” was just one among all the other illusions. They placed all their hope in a certain sense of spiritual peace, of comfort, of interior equilibrium, of self-respect. Then when they began to struggle with the real difficulties and burdens of mature life, when they became aware of their own weakness, they lost their peace, they let go of their precious self-respect, and it became impossible for them to “believe.” That is to say it became impossible for them to comfort themselves, to reassure themselves, with the images and concepts they found reassuring in childhood.

Place no hope in the feeling of assurance, of spiritual comfort. You may well have to get along without this. Place no hope in the inspirational preachers of Christian sunshine, who are able to pick you up and set you back on your feet and make you feel good for three or four days-until you fold up and collapse into despair.

We needn’t lose our faith when things get rough. But we do need to find out how to have faith in the midst of a world that is not all sunshine, and that does have moments of despair. That is difficult for children, but it is part of the task of developing a mature faith.