Beyond the Valley: Moving Forward When You’ve Lost Trust in God

It didn’t require a genius to hear the pain in her words; “I’ve lost trust in God.”

If you feel or have felt similarly, you know the broken heart from which that kind of statement comes. And if your first response is, “That’s wrong! You need to start trusting God right now!”, let me invite you to pause and look a bit deeper.

Trust is a funny thing. It’s strong, yet fragile. Objective data go into building trust, but the amount of trust present is much more subjective and emotional. Your logical left brain may “know” all the “right” things, but your nonlinear right brain experiences things completely differently. It’s a reality of our human nature that your right brain wins out almost every time; neurobiologists call it the “master switch” of your brain.

Without trust there can be no meaningful relationship. And many things can break trust. What does that look like when it comes to trust in God? And when it seems you’ve lost trust in God, what do you do next?

What do you Know, and what do you Know?

You “know” stuff about God. That comes from books you’ve read, sermons or other talks you’ve watched or listened to, Bible studies you’ve done, things people have told you. Much of that is probably good and right and true. While Christians not infrequently argue about details of theology and our understanding must continually deepen, the “big rocks” that we know about God intellectually have remained relatively stable for 2000 years.

But we also know things with our right brain, our heart. And that colors our deepest beliefs around God and our ability to trust Him – or not. Perhaps your earthly father was unpredictable, absent, or punishing; your heart will see your heavenly Father similarly. You may have prayed for a spouse or for your broken marriage to be healed, and you’re still single or your marriage is ending. A Christian leader, maybe your own pastor, used spiritual authority to extort sexual favors, enrich themselves financially, or build a destructive authoritarian institution. Or you may have deeply believed God told you something, and it didn’t happen.

Now what?

Start with putting your right brain on pause and noting, perhaps writing down, the logical truths you deeply believe about God. That might include that He sent Jesus to be your Savior, that He loves you, that Jesus is coming back again to take you to Himself for eternity. There will be other details; get specific. Consider, how did you come to believe those things? Are there any of those beliefs that you need to re-evaluate, assumptions you need to question?

And then put your left brain on pause and note, write down, what your heart believes about God. No holding back. God’s best friends in Scripture weren’t afraid to verbalize their doubts, questions, heartaches, etc. Get real and honest. It’s OK.

Changing Your Right Brain

Neurobiologically, your right brain, the subjective emotional part of you, doesn’t change by stuffing more facts into your left brain. That’s just exhausting, and it doesn’t work very well anyway. Instead, your right brain changes by getting new emotional/sensory/experiential input over time.

That’s why Jesus came as Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23).

Think of the early followers of Jesus. They watched Him die. They put His body in a grave and then hid behind locked doors. Their world was completely shattered.

And not many weeks later those very same people were shouting from the housetops, “Jesus is alive!” Their boldness astonished the religious leaders. They were completely unafraid in the face of their own deaths.

How did that happen? It wasn’t by God shouting from on high, “He’s alive.” They believed Jesus was alive because they experienced Him; they saw and heard Him with their physical eyes and ears, ate with Him, touched Him. (See John 21, 1 John 1:1-3). Jesus being with them made them trust Him – who He was, and that He was alive.

But you and I don’t have the opportunity to see and hear Him with our physical eyes and ears today. How do we come to trust that Jesus is alive – and more importantly, that He is with us and for us?

By choosing to enter experiences that can change your brain.

Choosing New Experiences

Here are three of those new experiences that will change you. If you’ve lost trust in God, these may feel risky, but they are very doable – and effective over time.

  1. Be with people. When your soul has been wounded you need the ministry of presence. Risk connecting with a few people who will listen and just be with you. You don’t need anyone trying to fix you with spiritual platitudes or rushing you to feel differently; that’s only more harmful. Seek out a couple people who have walked with God for quite some time and who are gentle, inviting, and exude wisdom. Share your story. Let them see you and carry your heart.
  2. Bring your angst to Jesus. OK, you don’t trust God right now, so you don’t really want to do this. When you’re ready, just do it anyway. Start slowly. If you feel differently about God the Father vs. Jesus, talk to Jesus. Try writing Him a letter, or cry or scream, telling Him the hurt in your heart. Let Him truly see you – the very part of you that doesn’t trust Him. That’s what God’s friends do; they bring their “stuff” to Him.
  3. Be open to new understanding. This isn’t quick; new brain pathways grow slowly, about 2mm a day. When you’re ready to hear some Scripture, consider Hebrews 11:33-38; some faith heroes accomplished amazing “feats of faith” and others experienced the most horrendous things imaginable. Same faith. What did they know that you can learn? When you’re ready to hear what God would say, what’s His perspective on your situation? When your heart is ready to be quiet and listen, ask Him.

Your trust in God can grow again.

And the substance that develops in your soul will be even richer than before.

Your turn: What has happened that has led you to lose trust in God? Which steps discussed here might you take next?

Want more? On this week’s podcast episode I talk with Boz Tchividjian about the impact of clergy sexual abuse, and what to do about it; powerful stuff! Listen or watch here.

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