The Heartbreak of Watching Friends Walk Away From Faith

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jillianchan asked a question:

As someone in ministry, have you seen many people fall from faith? If you have, how do you handle it?

Hey dear friend: I’ve been through this too many times to count. It’s happening now, too. It’s always heartbreaking and always a punch in the stomach. To be truthful, I still grieve for so many friends who went their own way and chose self-destruction. I still lose sleep over it. It’s something you don’t really get over, and something I pray about every day.

I’ve blamed myself; I’ve blamed God; I’ve blamed bad influences; I’ve blamed the church. In the end, I know I can’t persuade anyone to stay faithful. It’s their choice and their autonomy.  I must respect that. As God respects our free will, so must we.

The only thing I can do is stay in touch. I text or call or email, at least a couple times per week. It’s difficult, you know. I feel like I’m being annoying or that I’m wasting my time (and theirs). I feel bitterness and disappointment and helplessness. But I want them to know: I’m still here for you. I’m staying. I don’t care if I look like an idiot. If it means my life, I’ll keep loving on you.

One thing I had to let go was a Savior Complex. I’m not the hero of anyone’s story. It’s not that I’m “better” or “further ahead” than anyone else. I would be pretentious to think that the right combination of words will “win” anyone. I would be presumptuous to think I’m the stable voice of reason while they’re “trapped in licentious prodigal living.”

Everyone must discover for themselves what is truly life. Some (like me) take the long road to get there. If I convinced someone back into faith, then they can be convinced right out of it. My argument would only be an external apparatus that imprisons them out of behavioral obligation or maybe because they don’t want to let me down: but it wouldn’t be real internal change. I’ve tried that and it never works; it ends up more disastrous than their current choices. Unless this person is hurting themselves at an unbearably dangerous level, I have to let the whole thing play out or else their change will never become a true part of them.

I believe grace is the only way to rescue a wayward life. Grace is what melted my heart and tenderized my pride. It revoked my selfishness and killed the taste for my old life. When I look back over the years on my dearest friends, who never lectured me nor harangued me, I think of their patience and persistence and I can hardly believe they stayed.

It’s only this unbelievable, endless second-chance that could ever break the stubborn, self-centered person towards the greatest love of the universe. And I was shown such grace because the friends who stayed had a God who stayed, too. And so I stay, relentlessly and recklessly, and I embarrass myself to destitution so they may see the riches of Christ. Not perfectly, but passionately: we can.

– J.S.

8 thoughts on “The Heartbreak of Watching Friends Walk Away From Faith

  1. I have had a few question faith, but didn’t walk away, they are stronger than ever now with the love of Christ.


  2. Since Christians are compared, Biblically, to sheep, it seems a natural characteristic to find one’s self, at times, wandering away (as sheep naturally do). Yet, the burden is not on the sheep, but on the Shepherd, or the appointed shepherds. The question remains, How much are the shepherds willing to sacrifice to “bear the burdens” of the sheep? The point is, there is always hope, so though one appears to have “fallen away from the faith”, the shepherds NEVER give up in the task of ushering the straying sheep back into the fold, especially knowing the eternal response of approval for such actions.


    1. Yes, I’m reminded of when Jesus talked about leaving the 99 for 1. The entire 100 is important, but the 1 is just as important as if he or she was the only one who ever existed. A tough truth in practice, but it was never going to be easy.


  3. Right on, about the anguish and avoiding trying to “save” our friends. We, at the moment, are in the middle of a big one. Our small group chose to study false doctrine, again, and when we pointed it out they let us walk out instead of thinking it through. We can’t just go back, but we can’t just stay away. Staying touch with a “group” is a tricky one. So we have decided to look for another group for now, because we crave spiritual companionship. We have to leave the whole mess to God, and stay alert to discern whatever God will call us to, or to do.


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