Are your difficult conversations stuck on repeat?
Do you feel like you are getting nowhere with your loved ones and friends?
If so, consider changing up the questions you keep asking.
I often have the privilege of working with clients who are experiencing a faith crisis or faith transition. I also work closely with families, parents, and couples who have had a family member, child, or spouse make the decision to transition from a previously held faith tradition. I consider this work to be some of the most tender and meaningful work I do because when there is a willingness to choose love, practice respect, and surrender one’s ego (meaning letting go of what you want for someone and honoring their choices as truly only theirs to make) there is an opportunity for relationships to not only be saved but strengthened.
The most commonly asked question of someone who leaves a faith tradition is “why?” It seems like a simple enough question - but it is anything but simple. The reasons it is asked and how it is answered can be as complicated and unique as those both asking and answering the question. Usually these conversations go nowhere, people become naturally defensive, feelings are hurt, and relationships are strained.
Explaining to a believer why someone no longer believes is a delicate dance and vice-versa.
The times I have seen it be done successfully is when the person asking the question is truly ready to LISTEN, while following up with love and respect of the differences expressed. Most of us haven’t practiced that level of maturity, especially when discussing what we hold as sacred. So, if our goal is to love others and save and strengthen relationships can we try to change the questions we are asking?
It’s worth a try. Here are some examples of how to change up our conversations regarding faith differences:
How can I support you in spiritually thriving, even though that might look differently than before?
Honoring our differences, what can I do to show you I love and support you?
What is important for me to know about your faith journey/experience so I can demonstrate more empathy?
How can we safely talk about what we still mutually believe in so I know where our common ground is? (Examples being: kindness, love, the importance of family etc.)
What verbal reassurance or behaviors do you need from me to know our friendship isn’t contingent on your religious affiliation?
What more can I be doing to show my love and respect for you?
Can you see how these questions have the ability to change the outcome of a conversation while strengthening connection? So ask yourself, what conversations am I continuously struggling with and how can I reframe the questions for a different outcome?
If you're struggling with your own faith transition or the faith transition of a loved one, feel free to reach out to Symmetry Solutions. We have providers able to support you as you foster and achieve your wellness goals.
Sara Hughes-Zabawa, LMSW has extensive experience working with trauma survivors, depression & anxiety, LGBT+ individuals and their families, and faith transitions. She is also a yoga instructor and uses mindfulness training to support clients in cultivating self-care practices.