How To Lose Your Faith (but not really) and Get It Back Again (sorta)

Nineteen years ago, I walked onto campus as a college freshman.

I felt called to music ministry and was preparing to study worship. My guitar was tuned-up and in-hand. My tie-dye was on point.

I wanted to do something awesome for God and, man, I was 110% ready.

I was 17 years old.

I remember what I was wearing the first time I walked into my first class. I remember every word to the songs I played with my (awesome) roommate while other (not as awesome) girls gushed about boys. I remember the geese that chased students around the pond. I remember signing my name on the list for an interview for my first on-campus job. I remember the first time I met the girl who would become my best college friend.

All these early college memories have suddenly come back to me because, next month, I’m traveling back to my Alma mater to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of my degree program.

I’ve only been on campus two or three times since I graduated (in 2004) and going back has always elicited a wave of complicated emotions–from curiosity about what’s going on on campus these days to gratitude for the wonderful people I learned from and alongside while I was there and, always, a real mourning for all I lost in the the process.

I lost my faith at a Christian college.

(Well, not really. I don’t believe people of faith ever really lose their faith. But, I felt like I was losing it.)

It’s a really long story that I won’t recount here (though I’m always willing to share in real life if you’re so inclined to ask).

The short version of the story is this:

I walked onto campus knowing all the answers and I left knowing none.

There was no big moment of spiritual trauma, just a steady accumulation of small spiritual burdens.

It was like (spiritual) “death by a thousand cuts.”

First, it was an important relationship gone sour. Then, it was family problems. Later, it was personal struggles, interpersonal struggles, and disappointment with “church people.” I was confused about the Christian response to culture and politics (9/11 didn’t help). I was fed up with my peers who seemed oblivious to it all. Eventually, it was theological issues. (BIG theological issues.)

Yes, I was struggling with sin. But that wasn’t how it all started and it wasn’t the biggest problem.

The biggest problem was the constant dissonance between who I had believed God to be and what I had believed he’d promised compared to what came to be and what I saw play out in real life.

All the spiritual coping mechanisms I had available were suddenly insufficient to carry me through the complexities of our complicated and confusing world.

I was full of questions and was met with silence.

I struggled in private for a while. I read the Bible and I was urgent in my prayers. On a daily basis, I would go through the motions of school and ministry and then, late at night, cry out in desperation to a God who never answered in turn.

Eventually, I was just flat-out disappointed with God. I felt like he was not living up to his end of the bargain, his promise to answer when I called, to walk with me through the valley, and to give me peace.

I remember one particular moment when I showed up to a late night worship service that, for a year or two, I had enthusiastically led from the stage. I entered through the back door. I stood and closed my eyes and took in the music and the mood and, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sing.

Honestly. I could not sing.

Nothing welled up inside me. I was not moved.

I felt nothing.

Late that night, I drove off campus to an empty parking lot in a forest preserve nearby (where I often went when I needed to get away), got out of my car, crawled down on the ground and wept like a baby.

I worried that I’d reached the point of no return, that it was the beginning of the end and my entire purpose and future and identity in Christ was gone.

It was only my junior year. I had to two more years to survive before graduation.

I slowly faded away.

I stopped saying “yes” to ministry opportunities because I knew I didn’t belong in ministry. I disengaged from deep connections with people at school and at home who I knew would challenge me. I didn’t want to have to lie about how I was doing and I worried that the truth wasn’t welcome. Besides, I felt like there was no answer anyone could give me that I hadn’t already considered and found wanting.

I didn’t ask for help and I didn’t really let anyone in.

Looking back I know that, if I had looked for help, I would have likely found plenty. But, in the depths of a “dark night of the soul,” the church can–ironically–feel hostile and Christians can be infuriating.

I can also see, looking back, that this deep, dark questioning didn’t begin in college. I’d struggled with depression and social anxiety in middle school and then, near the end of high school, I frequently emotionally isolated myself with heavy questions that felt too dangerous to speak out loud.

My college career didn’t totally crash and burn. I had great friends and I still really enjoyed my studies (when I could keep them in my head and out of my heart). There was hiking and bonfires and music. But, I avoided deep spiritual connection anywhere. I just couldn’t connect anymore even if I tried.

When I graduated, I was confused and felt spiritually vacant, but I hadn’t given up.

I knew I was not at the end of the road.
I knew that the fog would clear so long as I kept walking.

But how would I keep walking?

I kept walking because God granted me a million small, but significant, gifts in those most difficult years.

The first great gift was that I started dating a childhood friend who was experiencing a similar struggle and we became a refuge for each other for a time. (Our relationship is what brought me to Cincinnati.)

I also discovered life-giving books and music to speak to my experience. Without my own words to explain what was going on within me, I began to depend on the words of those who had gone before me. These writers became some of my greatest allies. They validated my experience and made me feel understood.

Eventually, I started writing. It was like therapy, a way to process and communicate. I poured my heart into my music. My songs became my prayers. And I shared them and people listened. And then I didn’t feel so alone.

I found a way to communicate to God through liturgy in an Anglican church. When my heart and mind were absent from worship, my body and voice were still present. I showed up (sometimes), even though I didn’t feel like it. I received the Eucharist like it mattered. (Because it did.)

Later, when I moved to Cincinnati, I found a Vineyard house church community with Anglican liturgy and monastic rhythms. These new friends welcomed me and didn’t ask too many questions.

These new “church people” let me smoke cigarettes on the front porch and speak freely over dinner. After a time, they asked me to help lead. And I trusted them. So, I did.

These were the things that kept me afloat and kept me hanging on to the promise that God would not abandon me.



It was about five years of silence, about two years in Cincinnati, before I heard God speak to me, really speak to me, again.

“I never left you.”

That was all he said.
But, man, it was everything.



It was about twelve years ago that pieces started to fall back in line for me.

I can’t tell you how it happened. It’s not like I “found my way back to God,” because Christ had never left me and I had not really walked away in the way I’d been told people “walk away from the faith.” But he began to resurrect parts of me that had been dead and silent.

It wasn’t like coming back; it was like coming back to life.

Slowly. Awkwardly. Over time. I felt like I could embrace my faith again. Rather than it casting a shadow on me that was impossible to ignore and impossible to explain, I was willing to call it “mine.”

You can probably guess that I never saw my dreams of Rock Star Worship Leader come to fruition. (And you’d better believe that I’ve thanked God a million times for sparing me from that dream-come-true.)

But what did happen? Where did I end up?

Well, I’m here in Cincinnati. I’m married to an awesome man and we have four awesome kids and life is good. By appearances, my story has come around full-circle and “I got everything I always wanted.”

But, not really.

I compare my faith to the relationship of a married couple who has experienced a separation and then reconciliation. They are still married, happily, but their marriage may never be the same. While there’s no bitterness, there are some deep scars.

After being stripped down and rebuilt again, my faith feels certain and strong and resilient, but different. I still have a lot of unanswered questions. And I don’t know that I’ll get the answers this side of eternity.

I’m learning to cling hard to what I know and be okay with what remains “unsettled.”

What about my dreams of ministry? Well, I really struggle with this one. I wonder often how many of those dreams I had when I was young and alive and on fire were from God and how many were only my own delusions of grandeur.

Among the things I’ve learned about my younger self, two big errors come to mind:

I believed that I was the hero of my faith story.
I thought that God’s will for me should bend to my own.

(I was wrong about both.)

Every time I feel the urge to step up into a place of leadership, I second-guess myself and my intentions. So, I’m honestly not sure how to reconcile my desire to serve the Church and my love for worship and music ministry with my new aversion to all types of “professional” Christianity.

(As you can expect, because I’m married to a bi-vocational pastor, this aversion to professional ministry can get a little complicated.)

For now, thankfully, I believe my primary ministry is mothering my children. So any other professional aspirations are taking a back seat at this point anyway.

For what it’s worth, I have learned to love the Church more than I ever did before, especially the messiest parts of it. And I’m still here. And I’m still showing up. And it’s less of a struggle–and more of a pleasure–every time I do.

I feel really awkward with Christians sometimes, like I don’t know where I fit, but God has given me a soft spot for his people. Especially those who are struggling hard, those who are on the fringes of the Church, those who are asking deep and scary questions about their faith, and (especially) those who can’t shake their skepticism but come around church anyway.

My experience tells me that every one of us is carrying some sort of deep burden, either a burden caused by their own sin or by the sin of another or by the sins of the world. Some people carry them all at once. (Lord, have mercy.) Christians do the world a severe disservice by pretending otherwise. And I have no interest in pretending.

To that end, one recurrent theme along my journey is discovering the beauty and necessity of lament. I’ve learned to stop theologizing the sadness away and let my sorrow–sorrow for my sin, for our broken world, for its injustices, for our imperfect condition–become an integral part of my worship and work. I have learned to embrace the need for justice and mercy, both for myself and for our world. And I’m working to embody it in my vocation and my relationships.

My hope is that my faith someday embodies the kind of incarnational ministry that extends the real, living, near, and active love, mercy, and justice of Jesus to a hurting world and helps make the Church a place of peace and companionship along the journey to restoration.

Other than that, I’m not sure what comes next…

…except for teaching 5th grade Latin, tending to a son who needs to potty-train, and avoiding my 15 year college class reunion.

How I Almost Became a Rockstar Worship Leader (but didn’t)


How many times in your life have you been completely derailed from your intended path? Not the kind of derailing that drops you neatly off at your plan B, but the kind that pulls you off the track, spins you around, and leaves you stranded with no clear path in sight?

I was in college when it happened to me.

At the young age of 18, I was already certain of the path laid out before me and it involved a career in music ministry. Namely, it was me on stage at some big, fancy church, guitar in-hand, leading people in worship. To those unfamiliar with the world of Christian worship, the very notion of a music ministry career might seem odd. But, to me, it was everything. My faith was pretty mature for someone of my age and I had a pretty solid theological understanding of worship, so that was a good start. I loved singing. I loved church. (I loved singing in church.) I had just recently started playing the guitar and had dabbled in song-writing. I believed I had been given a set of skills that could be used to serve, not just attend church. Put it all together and a life working in ministry was the perfect fit. So perfect, in fact, that when I left home for college, it was to complete a degree in Worship Arts. (Yes, they have college degrees for that.)

And here I am, folks. The proud owner of a BA in Worship Arts. But, that career in music ministry? It’s nowhere to be found.

I’ll spare you the sordid details of the four years between the decision to pursue a career in music ministry and the decision to absolutely not pursue a career in music ministry, mostly for the sake of space. (I’d be happy to speak one-on-one, of course.) Instead, I’ll offer a quick walk through the journey that took me from almost- “rockstar worship leader” to, well, whatever I am today.

We begin.

First, I realized that working with and for Christians is really hard. Not hard because they are any worse than non-Christians but because they are so seldom better than non-Christians. I learned this quickly as a student at a Christian university. I’m sure my friends engaged in full-time ministry can attest to working with/for wonderful people, so this is obviously not true in all places and in all circumstances. But, for me, the reality of a lifetime surrounded by and working with Christians started to look a little disappointing. I wanted ministry work to be full of encouragement, drama-free and supportive. But people are people, after all, and even the prettiest people can look ugly sometimes. Right or wrong, I was a little shell-shocked when I realized that signing on for a life working in churches did not guarantee a peaceful work environment.

Also, after a year or two deeply embedded in what I’d call “contemporary worship culture,” I started to develop some serious issues with the music I was hearing and playing. Sure, it was fun to play. But what was it actually communicating about the nature of God and our relationship to him? I hadn’t really discovered “new hymns” yet and even though I was reading a lot of Robert Webber and completely bought into the concept of liturgical renewal and “ancient-future” faith, I hadn’t seen a lot of it in action. At least not by my peers. And at least not in a musical language that made any sense to me.

I was also struggling personally. My faith had always had a certain heaviness to it. And then, about mid-way through college, I entered a really difficult season of my faith. At the time, none of the options set before me seemed to speak to what I was experiencing, at least not with the depth I longed for. I actually got to the point where I had to completely disengage from leading because the words themselves seemed disingenuous, like lies. I felt like a fraud.

I valued honesty so much in life and in ministry that I couldn’t be a part of a culture where worship and truth seemed mutually exclusive. And it became clear that, if I couldn’t be honest in worship, I had no place leading God’s people in worship. I had never been good at faking it. The Church does not deal kindly with people like me–people who have a hard time keeping their mouth shut. And because I hadn’t quite figured out the appropriate venue or the appropriate way to address both my personal and ideological issues, I chose to simply step down and disengage from being a “public Christian” entirely.

Sometime around then, it became obvious that I also had no business being a celebrity–even a small-time, church-sized celebrity. I had no interest in having my face printed on the cover of a worship cd or my name appearing before the phrase “worship concert.” Even if my heart was in the right place–which, let’s be honest, could I promise that?–I couldn’t guarantee that the people worshiping with me were not, in fact, worshiping me or the music or the feeling they got when the bass drum kicked in on the second verse. Walking into the spotlight felt more and more like feeding Christian culture’s addiction to the “cult of personality” and the worship of super-Christians.

So, where do you go when you’re 3/4 of the way through a degree in Worship Arts, but you have absolutely no intention of continuing on into a career in ministry?

Well, I finished my degree, for starters.

I spent my last year focused on what I knew and loved about the history of worship and the Church, rather than what I found objectionable about contemporary worship culture. I wrote my senior thesis about, basically, the vapid nature of contemporary worship expressions and how they are insufficient for meeting our need for depth and honesty in worship. One of the implications of this insufficiency is that there is and will be a strong, post-Evangelical presence in the 21st Century Church, one that more closely resembles historic, Biblical expressions of worship and liturgy. (My paper was not nearly as articulate as that, as far as I can remember. But that’s basically what it said.)

After I graduated, I considered moving on to Graduate school to study the theology of worship even further, but I was still struggling so deeply in my personal faith that it just didn’t seem like a reasonable option. So, I found something else to do for a little while, to clear my head and let my heart and faith repair. I followed a boyfriend 300 miles to Cincinnati, Ohio and joined AmeriCorps, committing the next two years to full-time community service.

I starting writing more music, music that was decidedly not intended to be used as worship music (at least not in any corporate setting). It helped me heal a bit and reason aloud through my confusion at the complete derailment of my life. It provided the medium for honest expression that I couldn’t seem to find while working in an official ministry capacity. And it brought me together with many, many more people who had experienced the same thing as me.

I found safe places to worship. The first was an Anglican church in Wheaton, IL where I could be more-or-less anonymous, augmented by a Bible study with a small group of trusted friends when I couldn’t motivate myself to get to church on Sundays. When I moved to Cincinnati, it was a vibrant house church network where I was absolutely not anonymous, but I was welcomed–loud mouth and all–without any strings attached. These two places helped me rebuild my concept of worship and Christian community.

And, in small places and small ways, I started to dip my feet back into the world of ministry. I ended up married to an ordained Pastor, so that forced the issue a bit. But, even before that, I took small opportunities to help lead and administrate worship for God’s people when invited. I try to be always a step back, always a little hesitant, but willing to help when it seems prudent.

I explored the new frontiers of contemporary worship music, music that borrows more closely from Biblical expressions and Psalms, speaks more clearly about the nature of God, and leaves out the subjective “me and Jesus” talk that was so prominent in the worship music written when I was an adolescent. I learned to immerse myself in this music. These are the songs I wish I knew back when I was young and felt alone and without a voice in my struggles. I have also learned to give credence to various expressions of personal worship, when used in their proper context, even if they don’t satisfy my particular need.

And, in this current season of my life, I am trying to allow myself the enjoyment of reminiscing about that sweet time in my life when worship was less complicated and came more naturally from my heart. And to allow other folks–including rockstar worship leaders–to enjoy their ministry and worship lives without projecting my own personal baggage on them.


“Fear and trembling” are two words that come to mind when I consider my future role in the Church and how my gifts and skills can and will be used for ministry. I have no idea what the future holds and whether or not I’ll be derailed again and tossed into a different path. My husband and I are poised and ready to jump whenever the next step is evident. And I’m sure that what I’ve learned about myself, my own wavering faith and intentions, and the value of honesty in worship and community will help define my role. But I’m still so very unclear about what that role may be.

Safe bet: the future doesn’t involve me being a rock star.
Those days are, thankfully, long-gone for me.