Hitting The Wall

Doubt, uncertainty, the “dark night of the soul,” finding yourself in unknown territory where the faith you’ve always known doesn’t seem to be working, hitting the wall…

Nobody wants to be there. And when we find ourselves there, we wish we could just cancel it, wipe it off the books entirely.

But hitting the wall is a necessary part of our growth and development.

In Brian Zahnd’s new book Water to Wine, he describes developmental psychologist James Fowler’s insights on the matter (I will paraphrase):

There are stages of spiritual development in a series, from zero to six.

For example, Stage Two is like the faith of school children, a stage where metaphors are often literalized and a strong belief in the just reciprocity of the universe is held dear. At this stage of faith, the idea is that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, that’s the rule.

Fowler describes Stage Five as the capacity to acknowledge paradox and to see God in all of life.

Fowler’s final stage is characterized by compassion and the view that all people are image-bearers of God, that we belong to one another. This is the mature stage where the spiritual journey breaks out of the paradigm of “us versus them.”

Now here’s the kicker: at around Stage Four, there’s a wall. Some call it a crisis of faith or the dark night of the soul. The bottom line – you find yourself in a place where you haven’t been before and all the old answers aren’t helping.

It’s only when we make it through the wall that we enter into a fuller, richer, more mature faith.

I was reflecting on the 23rd Psalm this week. It starts out well…

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Interestingly, when you think about it, it’s a lot like a parent with a small child. He takes me here and there, makes me lie down for nap time, etc.

Then the drama enters…

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

You could call that valley of the shadow of death hitting the wall. Or the dark night of the soul. Or a crisis of faith. It’s unknown territory. It’s scary. Nobody wants to be there. And yet it is necessary for our spiritual development.

Notice what happens in the language of the 23rd Psalm after the valley of the shadow of death – it changes from “The Lord is” and “He makes” and “He leads” to “You are with me” and “You prepare a table” and “You anoint my head.”

The language shifts from impersonal to personal.

Why? Because of spiritual development. The writer was growing up. He was no longer in an elementary stage of spiritual life.

Beauty from ashes. Joy from mourning. Praise from heaviness.


I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

1 Comment to Hitting The Wall

  1. Brian, I enjoy your perspectives and try to catch up on your posts. The recent one on necessary silence is paralleling the “Keeping company With Jesus” ‘study’–and this on “the wall”–both I can relate to. I would like to say I have a regular routine of time alone,walking, but stresses of life keep me returning to it. It is how I pray best through the walls I hit. That valley of shadow is one I characterize as anything that brings me to the end of myself, my ideas, skills, savvy. Those things that bring me to my face at His feet to declare again “I can’t do this”. We need the silence and solitude to 1) realize and acknowledge we’re at the end of our rope, and 2) to seek Jesus, wait for Him, remember His presence is with us and just be with Him. And maybe we will hear His voice in it too.

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