One’s “faith journey,” in today’s world, manifests very differently amongst all people. While faith in a Divine being may seem to hold varying levels of importance to different individuals, such a journey can be characterized by life experience, but ultimately must be dominated by Truth. “Stages of Faith,” by James Fowler, is a novel that outlines a theory of potential progression through life in regard to his or her faith, which each one of us can, to a certain degree, at least, recognize ourselves in. My parents decided to baptize me in a Lutheran church before I was one year old, and thus “called to one hope, one Lord, one faith” (Ephesians 4:4-5). My parents served as loyal, compassionate, and selfless caregivers throughout my childhood, or “primal faith stage” according to Fowler. Moving into my early childhood, my parents would say that I was an independent, while outgoing and compassionate, child, professing at the age of six that I wanted to be an actress, but later that I would be a minister one day, characterizing my movement from Fowler’s “mythic-literal” to “synthetic-conventional” stage. Finally, the onset of an eating disorder in my early teens led to a “blip” in the focus I had on my relationship with God. The journey did not end here, though, as I believe my Lord Jesus Christ overcame this eating disorder in me, and it is only by His Truth that I am saved. This leads me to the life in and through the Holy Spirit that I now lead, which I know is unfinished.
I was born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, on October 17, 1997, to loving parents and an older sister. When I was three years old, my parents gave birth to another girl, and thus we were a dynamic group of three sisters. Growing up as the second child of three girls, I was constantly surrounded by toys like Barbies, Polly Pockets, and Cabbage Patch Dolls, our two loving parents keeping us in line. Constant companions, my sisters and I loved to play together, always inventing new and elaborate games. Knit together with an early understanding of the Gospel of Christ, as we were all baptized by water months after we were born, I was an outgoing and well-versed kid, also experiencing an example of the love of Christ in my family. My parents taught me and my two sisters the Lord’s Prayer; we attended church on a mostly-weekly basis; and we prayed before dinner every evening, which we communed over together as an entire family without fail for my entire childhood life. As my grandfather– Opa– was a Lutheran minister, who has lived in Kitchener my entire life and been integral to my growing up, along with his wife and my grandmother– Oma, I was blessed with a family practicing Christianity. My opa was a major role model in my life from a very young age. I am told stories of when I was barely one year old, over dinner at my grandparents’ cottage, wanting desperately to impress my opa, and proclaiming “Opa, watch ‘ten!’”, and then proceeding to count to ten. I can hear my opa’s loud and vibrant and smiling “Bravo!”, clapping and cheering and entertaining my young ego. I can look back and see God at work through these loving authority figures, shaping my understanding of my need for Him. Thus, through a variety of experiences even before my verbal and mobile years, I was introduced to Christian Truth.
My interest in acting and performing started when I was six years old. I was set for many years on pursuing a career in drama, and, as she witnessed this desire grow, my mom decided to enroll me in drama classes. My interest in acting characterized the next four years of my life quite prominently, as, in terms of my “faith stage” according to Fowler I moved from the mythic-literal to synthetic-conventional stage. Still attending church, Sunday School, and conversing with Opa, I believed in God and believed that He heard my prayers and loved me. I was nine years old, though, when this relationship with God became not just something I thought about, but engaged in. The pastor at church was preaching about Jesus calling each one of us, and that we were all members of one Body for one Purpose. I took in these words and my experience with the Holy Spirit was very real. We sang a hymn called “We Are Called,” and for the first time, I was not singing words on a page, but I was worshipping my God. I believe that the Holy Spirit used the words my pastor spoke, based on the Bible, to instruct and me to Him, and to understanding my purpose in Him. I began to understand that, if Jesus Christ suffered death on the cross for my sins, then that was True, period. I was free from sin, because of Jesus! My heart yearned to serve Him, and I began to wonder… what is the “serving-God job?” I decided that I wanted to be a pastor one day, taking on, as conducive with Fowler’s third stage of development, the “beliefs and observances that symbolize belonging” (149).
The transition from elementary school to middle school was a big and somewhat scary one for me. I began to think more about what other people thought of me, and paid closer attention to other kids’ opinions. Eighth grade was the first time that I binged– “night ate.” I awoke restlessly from sleep at something like three o’clock in the morning, tiptoed to my kitchen, and grabbed handfuls of food, so quickly and with no sense of control over my actions. I ate cake and cookies and untoasted bread with my hands; I stuffed myself to the point of numbness, and then cried myself to sleep. This binging at night became a multiple-times-weekly pattern; I was not in any way restricting my eating throughout the day, but was seeking out a source of comfort in secret at night. As this became an addiction, planning these binges became my focus; and I slowly lost sight of God’s presence in my life. I did not seek help until a year and a half later, when I told my mom about the secret binges. Her instinct was loving, and to tell me simply that it was okay to be struggling. She enrolled me in counselling, and I began seeing a therapist. Cognitive behavioural therapy, and just simply talking through my problems, was so helpful, even when I did not see immediate results. But, after just six months of therapy, I was no longer bingeing, and stopped seeing my councillor. Over time, the struggle manifested again as I transitioned through high school. First a period of bingeing and purging led to severe restriction of my food. I ate as little as possible, with intense rules and regulations around my diet, for months before entering outpatient care at the loving force of my parents. I struggled through the outpatient program for a year before I was discharged, and food still held its imaginary sense of control over my life. Each day was constructed around eating what my mind contrived to be the “ideal” diet. I believe that I was here stuck in “stage three,” not moving forward in my faith because I was fixed on a “personal myth” (Fowler 173) that I identified with. Still, I had never lost touch with the part of me that wanted to be a pastor, and I entered Wilfrid Laurier University for Christian Studies, following in Opa’s footsteps. It was there that I met a few Christian girls, who I now call some of my closest friends and roommates, and my boyfriend, Johnny. I witnessed God work through all of these people to lead me to an actual surrender to Him, asking Him in prayer to be Lord of my life. This did not rid my life of food rules, but looking to the Lord certainly caused discomfort anguish for the consumed way I was living. Johnny’s constant love, companionship, and prayer, as well as the love of many friends, were additional to my family’s care, and ultimately led to my surrendering the food rules; literally ripping up magazines I had kept that detailed the rules. I had lived in fear of being without those rules for so long, but understanding the Truth of freedom in Christ, that my life is meant for joy and exaltation of a mighty God, and not for abidance to arbitrary regulations, set me free. I thus identify with Fowler’s fourth stage of “individuative-reflective” faith, having “the capacity for critical reflection on identity (self), and outlook (ideology)” (Fowler 182).
While every human in existence has a different set of experiences on this earth, characterized by many different factors including our upbringing, culture, and living situation, what unifies us is our purpose. I was introduced to this purpose when I was born, and grew to understand it as important. A period of idolizing a regulated way of living that was outside of this purpose of freedom to exalt Christ had me stagnant in my relationship with God. Ultimately, it has been the Truth of the living God that has allowed me to remain growing in my faith; in a manner altogether reflective, ideological, and, most importantly, free.
Fowler, James W. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981. Print.