My Faith Journey

“If you are a Christian, keep your bags packed and your eye on the highway, because the life of faith is a continual journey.” Thomas G. Long. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian (15)

“We must live forward but understand life backward.” Soren Kierkegaard, quoted in R. Paul Stevens. Aging Matters (150)

NOTE: You will find that the content of many writing activities in this “Life Sentences” course overlaps. That is to be expected since in one way or another the activities all focus on your life. However, this writing activity—“My Faith Journey” —relates with special closeness to the one entitled “My Spiritual Testament.” You might think of them as two windows providing views of the same scene, yet with distinct angles of vision. 

You may wish to preview both activities and then decide which one best suits for you as a starting point. You can do one or the other, with significant benefit from either. If you have the energy, you also can do one and then the other, with the potential of later weaving together your two responses.


“Travel far enough to find yourself,” advises Pico Iyer, a British-born essayist and travel writer. Iyer’s travels have taken him to such far-flung locales as Cuba, Canada, Kyoto and Kathmandu, but his counsel may apply to our faith journeys as well. Whether we have ventured much beyond our immediate locale, each of us has made a faith journey through the peaks, valleys, and prairie landscapes of our soul. And, if we are fortunate, we may by now have found ourselves. 

Much of our understanding of the Christian journey of faith has been shaped by the truth of two works of fiction: Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. In Dante’s 14th-century poem, the narrator is at the midway point in his life’s journey and he finds himself lost in a dark forest, unable to go forward. His continued journey is by no means straightforward. It takes him, first, through the Inferno—Hades or Hell (“Abandon all hope, you who enter here”); then through Purgatory (up the levels of the Seven-Storey Mountain), and finally to Paradise (with its nine heavenly levels). 

The picture that John Bunyan paints in his 17th-century allegory is similar. One’s faith journey is not all “Onward and Upward, the Spiritual Life goes better every day.”  In Bunyan’s story, the central figure—Christian—goes through a number of different stages, including some very difficult ones: 

  • The Slough of Despond
  • The Hill of Difficulty
  • The Valley of Destruction
  • The Valley of the Shadow of Death
  • Vanity Fair, and 
  • Castle Doubt

Dante’s epic poem is regarded as the greatest work in Italian literature; Bunyan’s 

religious allegory is a significant landmark in English literature. Each has given rise to real-life accounts of a faith journey. Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, titled his spiritual autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, alluding to Dante’s Purgatorio, and Paul Hiebert, a Manitoba writer, called his memoir Doubting Castle, after Giant Despair’s dungeon in Bunyan’s work.

Like Merton or Hiebert, we may feel inspired by such great writers as Dante and Bunyan. Yet we need not be great writers to recall our faith journey. We simply need to be willing to invest the time and energy, remembering some of the key experiences in our faith development. Perhaps when you became a Christian you assumed that if you embraced the faith, you had done what was needed. End-of-story. For the next fifty or sixty years, you would just try to toe the line and not mess up.  By our age, however, most of us know that isn’t the way it plays out. Like the medical doctors and university professors who study the human life-cycle, we know that our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development continues and that our maturity grows through stages.

Father Richard Rohr, a member of the Franciscan order, speaks of our spiritual development as a movement through two stages. In his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Rohr describes the first half of life as a time focused on outward concerns: establishing our adult identity; acquiring a home and possessions; making friends; perhaps getting married and starting a family; concerning ourselves with financial security and outward success; and basically working toward a happy and productive life.

Then if we continue growing, Rohr says, we encounter some kind of a fall, a failure, or a change that compels us to turn inward, asking ourselves “Is this all there is? Is this what life really is all about?” We begin to pay more attention to our inner tasks. Rohr calls this transition—from the first stage of our faith life to the second half—“falling upward.” It may be a gradual change, or it may come abruptly as the result of an accident, an illness or a sudden loss. This transition is seldom easy but it can be reassuring to think of it, not just as a “falling down” but a “falling upward.”

Rohr sees this as a time of redefining “home,” not as a dwelling on which we pay a mortgage, but as a metaphor for our soul, as a time of looking inward and embracing the Mystery of God. “None of us go into our spiritual maturity completely of our own accord, or by a totally free choice,” Rohr contends. “We are led by Mystery, which religious people rightly call grace” (xvi). 

Rohr suggests that this midlife transition seems counter-intuitive, an apparent “falling down” that is a necessary “falling upward.” This “down-then-up” perspective does not fit well with our Western philosophy, says Rohr, yet it is the message of most of the world’s religions, “including and especially Christianity” (xxii).

Numerous other writers also have described the stages in our faith journey. James Fowler’s Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning is one of the most useful studies, though a bit challenging to read due to its academic style and scholarly intent. Dr. Fowler identifies six stages of faith, based on extensive research and interviews with many believers in a variety faith traditions. 

Instead of just considering the “big picture” (like the two halves of spirituality that Father Rohr speaks of), Fowler’s model offers a more precise tool for understanding our faith journey and experience. The third stage—one focused on creeds, community, and confidence—may give way to a more difficult fourth stage, characterized by confusion, doubt, even disbelief. For those who are not permanently lost to spiritual exploration, there may come a fifth stage of religious reconnection and, in a few instances, even a sixth stage with an inclusive vision and sacrificial service to others.

We can learn from such writers as Richard Rohr and James Fowler and from their literary predecessors Dante and Bunyan. Yet looking back from these elder years,  our main take-away may be that one’s journey of faith tends not to be straightforward. Quite likely our youthful ideals, aspirations and certainty have been tested.  We probably can recall our own mid-life experience of “falling upward,” our “dark nights of the soul,” and our anxieties as we wrestled with doubt and confusion. If we are blessed, we might also now speak of a providential reconnection with our earlier confidence and of a new way of being in faith that buoys our spirits as we continue in our faith journey.

This writing activity, like its Faith Journey subject, unfolds in stages. 

  • First, selecting from a series of questions, you will recall experiences from your journey of faith. 
  • Then, considering additional questions, you will reflect on those experiences, seeking in this review a fresh perspective and transformative understanding. 
  • Finally, if you are willing, you will draw on both your recollections and reflections to create a legacy account to share with others.

Stage 1: Recalling Your Faith-Journey Experiences 

The questions below aim to stimulate your memories. Chose only as many to answer as you find to be helpful. For some, that may be only a few. For others, it may be more.

The important thing is to begin writing about your unique journey of faith. Once you begin, one recollection is likely to lead to another. 

You need not respond to the questions in any particular order. Let your memories flow and jot them down in whatever way they come to you. Your main goal should be to get them in writing. They can always be organized more logically at a later time, should you choose to do that.

  • Likely your spiritual faith has changed over the years and decades. What do you recall of your childhood beliefs? What seemed especially important to you?
  • What are your first memories of church? Which church was it and where was it located?
  • What are your first memories of Bible stories? Which stories from that time do you remember in particular and who told them to you?
  • Which early prayers did you learn? (e.g. for mealtime, for bedtime). What impact (if any) did these prayers have on you
  • What influence did your parents, siblings or other relatives have on your early faith development?
  • Did you attend Sunday School, Summer Bible School, children’s clubs or any camp which offered faith-related instruction? If so, what memories do you have?
  • As you grew older, did you take any catechism classes or similar instruction in religious belief?
  • Did you have a personal Bible as a child? If so, when did you receive it and from whom?
  • As you developed spiritual awareness, did you make any kind of personal commitment to God? As best you recall, what were the circumstances?
  • Were you baptized or confirmed in a church service? If so, when did this occur and what do you remember of the event?
  • During your teenage years, did you attend any youth group that had a faith-based orientation? If so, what are your recollections? What influence did this involvement have on your subsequent faith commitment?
  • Did you attend worship services with any regularity? What was the nature of those services? What did you especially like (or dislike) about them?
  • Did you attend any special religious meetings (e.g. Church youth conferences? Mission trips? Revival meetings?)
  • During your teen years, what exposure (if any) did you have to other church denominations or faith traditions? What was your reaction or response to these alternative expressions of faith?
  • During your teen years or coming-of-age years, did any religious leader have a particular influence on you, either positively or negatively?
  • During those years, did you read any books, view any movies, or hear any radio broadcasts that had a particular influence on you?
  • During those years, what spiritual concerns (if any) did you have? (e.g. religious doubts, doctrinal questions, etc). Did you experience any kind of spiritual crisis? If so, what were the setting and the circumstances?
  • In your adult years, as you learned more about your faith tradition, what misunderstandings (if any) did you need to correct?
  • As a young or middle-aged adult, with what questions of faith (if any) did you struggle? Did you experience any times of doubt, confusion, disbelief? If so, what were the circumstances? What was the outcome? Were your spiritual concerns resolved or did they continue?
  • What have been some of the key verses in your life? Why, or in what way, have these verses been important to you? What understanding or guidance have they provided?
  • As you look back over the years, what have been your church involvements or faith-motivated community involvements?
  • Have your spiritual pursuits or decisions been motivated by any sense of “calling” or vocation?
  • If you currently are active in a faith community, how did you come to be involved with this particular one? What motivates you to continue in this involvement?
  • Thinking back over the years of your life, which books (if any) have been especially influential in your spiritual growth?
  • What has been the role of music in your life of faith?
  • Parker J. Palmer, in his latest book of reflections On The Brink of Everything, recounts how over the past 50 years the writings of Thomas Merton have provided him with “friendship, love, and rescue.” In your reading and thinking, who has illumined the path and accompanied you on your journey”?]
  • Have you been an active member in any form of Bible-study group or faith-based reading club?
  • As you look back over the years of your life, have you experienced any accidents or major health challenges? If so, what were the circumstances and the outcome? What impact has it had on your faith, positive or negative?
  • It is a reality of our later years in life that we confront physical challenges along with loss, sorrow and suffering. With what health issues have you dealt and what has been their lasting impact?How has your faith been shaped by or contributed to your experience? What has helped you to adapt to circumstances you cannot change? What has helped you to face adversity and to “bounce back”?
  • As you look back over the years of your life, have others whom you love experienced any accidents or major health challenges? If so, what were the circumstances and the outcome? What impact did it have on your faith, positive or negative?

Stage 2: Reflecting on Your Faith-Journey Experiences 

In Stage 1, you have recalled and recorded a number of experiences in your journey of faith. Now, using the additional guide questions—or ones of your devising—to reflect on those experiences.

Again, do not worry about completing every question. Respond only to those that help you to connect with the experiences you have described.

  • Soren Kierkegaard said that we live forward but understand life backward. As you look back over the years of your faith journey, have there been any pivotal turning points? If so, how have these moments of change or of transformation affected the development of your Christian faith? 
  • We sometimes hear people speak of “20 / 20 hindsight,” seeing clearly in retrospect what previously was not apparent. Looking back on your faith journey, do you see a deeper meaning in any of your experiences during youth, young adulthood or middle years?
  • Have you experienced the transition that Richard Rohr calls “falling upward”? If so, did the change come gradually or more abruptly as the result of an accident, an illness or a sudden loss? What did you learn as a result?
  • During which of your experiences have you been pushed outside of your comfort zone? How did this contribute to your spiritual growth?
  • Alcoholics Anonymous uses the phrase “Let go and let God.” Do you recall any time(s) in your life when you have had to give up all sense of control and let God provide the direction?
  • Over the years how have your spiritual needs changed? Where do you now feel a need for help?
  • In your spiritual journey and understanding of faith, where are you feeling challenged or uncertain?  What spiritual questions do you have in your present life? How are you seeking to answer them and address the challenges?
  • In your experience, can questioning, doubt, and possible disbelief really be considered a “stage of faith”? What leads you to this response?
  • Overall, do you feel that your life is “in balance”? If not, where do you find particular challenges?
  • How do you cultivate and maintain a positive outlook?
  • What now gives the most meaning and purpose to your life?
  • At this point in your life, what especially gives you a sense of hope?
  • Who or what in your life most contributes to your sense of happiness
  • How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?
  • How has God been at work in your life over the last few months?
  • What does the word “salvation” mean to you?
  • What does the word “discipleship” mean to you?
  • How have you explained for yourself and others the presence of evil and suffering in our world?
  • As you look back over the years, what has been the role of prayer in your life?
  • Do you have any intentional practice of meditation or reflection? If so, what wisdom or insights have you gleaned about the ways of Being—e.g. meditating, praying, being awake and aware of the world around you? 
  • How do you deal with life’s disappointments?
  • When you are upset about something, how do you react or respond?
  • Sometimes we are unfairly criticized by other people.. Have you had such a painful experience? If so, how have you handled it? Has the experience affected your faith journey?
  • Throughout our lives we encounter conflict and hurtful situations. What have been your experiences with forgiving and being forgiven?
  • Do you feel guilty over any aspect of your life—past or present? If so, how do you seek to deal with it?
  • In what ways has your life become more inclusive—of people, of ideas, of feelings?
  • When you encounter different perspectives, are you able to appreciate more than your own?
  • What would you say is the essence of “God’s story”?
  • The story of our lives is not yet complete, but as Christians we are part of a greater story. How do you connect your personal story, especially your faith story, with the Greater Story of God? How do you connect the “I am” of your self to the “Great I Am”? 
  • In terms of your spiritual well-being, do you feel you have any “unfinished business”?
  • As you look ahead to your spiritual life in future years, in what ways do you still hope to grow?
  • If you had an opportunity to meet and chat with your young adult self, what advice might you now offer?

Stage 3: Re-reading Your Faith-Journey Experiences and Reflections

Frederick Buechner is an American novelist, minister and theologian. His central message, he said on more than one occasion, was “Listen to your life.” In his memoir Now & Then, Buechner wrote” “If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that he speaks to us largely through what happens to us…” (3).

Our goal, in this third stage of our Faith Journey writing activity, is to “listen to our life” as we re-read what we have written, our recollection of faith-journey experiences (in Stage 1) and our reflections on them (in Stage 2).

As the writer of those recollections and reflections, we of course know what we have written. Yet the act of reading our own writing helps us to shift our point of view, as Gary Kenyon and William Randall note in Restorying Our Lives: Personal Growth Through Autobiographical Reflection. In reading ourselves, they say, “we are effectively taking greater authorship of our lives, opening ourselves to fresh and freeing interpretations of who we are and what we can be” (129). 

In the faith-journey experiences that we have recollected we are the primary character. In our reflections on those experiences, we are the narrator.  Now, as the reader we again change our perspective. Essentially, we are “stepping back from the text of our lives” and “critiquing it with dispassionate yet affectionate concern…” 

Kenyon and Randall suggest that we re-read our responses asking a number of “restorying” questions:  

  • What broad patterns can we observe?
  • What have been the main events?
  • What roles have we played?
  • What view of ourself and of the world can we discern? 
  • What philosophy of living shines through in our responses? 
  • Where do we sense our experiences could have been different and possibly still could change?

“No one but ourselves can tell us who we are, or who we can become,” the authors write. That is why it is vital that we learn to “listen to our life.” Each of us must tell and read the story of our faith journey and then let the direction reveal itself on its own.

T.S. Eliot, a Nobel-Prize winning poet, wrote in his masterful “Four Quartets”: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” It is our hope and prayer that recalling our experiences, reflecting on them, and then re-reading them dispassionately but affectionately, we will arrive at a deeper knowledge of who we are and where we are in this place and time.

Stage 4:  Recounting Your Story for Others

In Stages 1, 2, and 3, we have been writing for ourselves, focusing on our own personal growth. Our task in this fourth and final stage—should you choose to continue—will be to write for others. We will weave together our recollected experiences and our reflections on them, aiming to leave a legacy.


Our motives for leaving a spiritual legacy are not significantly different from those that lead us to bequeath money and property to people we love. Our spiritual legacy may be a more heartfelt gift. 

C.S. Lewis was a renowned scholar and a prolific writer on literary and religious subjects. He left a rich heritage, one chronicled by Terry Glaspey in The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis. We may not be scholars or gifted writers, but we too can share from the the bounty of our own journey of faith. We too have known the joys and challenges that come as we embrace the Christian faith and discern its relevance to the thorny issues of our day.

Some people worry that writing such an account is a sign of vanity. In fact, it is a sign of vitality. Gerontologists tell us that transmitting a legacy to future generations is one of the primary tasks of our elder years. If our relationship with God has been important in our lives, we need to communicate the varied nature of our spiritual experiences. We treasure the wisdom and guidance of Bible stories and we can trust God that our readers also will learn much from our personal stories.

Other people worry that their children or friends will not be interested. Sometimes these are the same people who express regret they did not ask more about their parents’ thoughts and experiences. It is true that younger family members and friends are busy with their lives, as we once were. Yet very likely the day will come when they will be grateful for all that we have shared and for the love that motivates our effort.

In his third memoir, Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner has spoken of his reason for sharing the story of his faith. “My story is important not because it is mine,” he writes, “but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through theses stories in all their particularity….that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”  To lose track of our stories, Buechner says, is to be “profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually” (40). 


We have noted the personal value of writing about our Faith Journey—how our recollected experiences and subsequent reflections on them can afford us a fresh perspective on who we are at this age and stage of life.

Our writing also has a more public value. We might share it with family members, interested friends and anyone with whom we discuss matters of faith—our pastor; our church historian; our spiritual director, if we have one. Likely we already know the persons for whom the story of our faith journey will have most relevance, either now or later. 

“One travels in search of spiritual Truth much as one travels in search of scenic vista and grandeurs,” wrote Paul Hiebert in his memoir Doubting Castle, noting that he was “sharing experience with others so that they might not find themselves too much alone if they happen to be traveling the same way” (109). Hiebert’s words may remind us of those of the prophet Jeremiah, when Israelite exiles returned from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem. “Set up markers for yourself,” Jeremiah declared, “make yourself signposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went…” (Jer. 31: 21).

For those of us who have made a difficult journey from spiritual exile back to belief, our faith-journey account may provide a kind of signpost, one that assures others “You are not alone and this is not the final destination.” 

Ultimately, good stories find their own audiences. Our main concern is to write as well as we can and with as much candour as we dare.


For many of us, writing about our faith journey will be easier than formulating a spiritual testament. A spiritual testament is mostly expository writing, an explanation or direct statement of one’s ideas and beliefs. Our faith journey, by contrast, is more of a story, a narrative account filled with incidents, encounters, experiences and feelings.

Each of us, whether we are deemed to be ‘talkative’ or the ‘strong, silent type,’ has considerable experience telling stories. We have been doing so most of our lives.

As well, we likely have generated at least a small body of material in our Stage 1 Recalling and our Stage 2 Reflecting. The challenge now is to determine some kind of order, to puzzle out which pieces fit where. It may help to remember that “writing is a process” and often a messy one. In moments of insight, we might see how one thought or experience connects to another, but often the organization is a matter of trial and error. 

A second challenge—perhaps a greater one—is to manage the length. This is the downside of a story being easier to write. What begins as a simple, straightforward narrative, five or six pages in length, grows as one adds further memories. Eventually, the account may be 45, 50 or 60 pages in length. This is not a bad problem to have. As a piece written for oneself, the length is to be celebrated, provided one does not feel overwhelmed by all of the material. One might even consider further expansion and the development of a book. Yet for many of us, as we think of family members and friends who may read our account, we desire something more concise.

As with expository writing, it helps if we can identify a central idea that runs through our many recollections and reflections. When John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote about his faith journey in 1666, he was mindful of God’s grace in his life. His account was titled Grace Abounding and most of his recollections reflected that theme. Katie Funk Wiebe, a Mennonite writer and college professor, transitioned into retirement only to find herself struggling with depression and a sense of ambivalence. As she sought to adapt her identity to new circumstances and find new ways of making sense and meaning, she felt she felt a need to articulate her experience “crossing the border into the land of aging” (9). The result was Border Crossing: A Spiritual Journey. 

Every story has a chronology, an inner time clock or calendar that keeps moving forward. Some writers “begin at the beginning,” and then doggedly work their way forward. It can be an exhaustive effort and, even worse, dull reading. A useful step, as you organize your material, is to determine the scope of your story. Will you review the development of your faith from earliest memories onward? Or will you highlight a particular period in your life, perhaps one that includes key moments and transformative experiences? Manitoba writer Betty Enns used the latter approach in Living Our Prayer: A Four-Year African Adventure into Faith. As the title implies, Enns’ memoir recounts four years of service that she and husband Bill did during with Mennonite Central Committee in Lesotho, Africa. Even so, her story draws in pivotal experiences that preceded and followed their missionary work.

When we listen to a young child retelling a story, we often hear the drum beat words “…and then…and then…and then.” We may smile, but in our own narrative writing we face a similar dilemma: How do we get beyond the next, next, next of our experiences?  One step is to weave in our reflections, not as a sugar-coated moral but as a lesson learned, a moment of insight, or an aspect of growth.

Another more technical step follows the practice of ancient story tellers: begin in medias res (in the middle of things). Open your story or your particular scene as the action is happening. 

  • Sitting on a jet plane at the Winnipeg airport, awaiting the take-off flight to Lesotho (Living Our Prayer: Betty Enns)
  • Waking at 4:30 a.m. in a mountain climber’s tent on the Palisade Glacier, the morning of a life-changing fall (You Gotta Keep Dancin’, Tim Hansel)
  • Reading a “Dear Shopper” advertisement listing products for the aged (Border Crossing: Katie Funk Wiebe)
  • Contemplating an invitation to speak in a university “Last Lecture” series, knowing you have pancreatic cancer and it well might be your last lecture (The Last Lecture: Randy Pausch)
  • Receiving a nearly inaudible call from a stranger who said, “Your father is dead. He is killed in a car accident.” (Dreams from My Father: Barack Obama)

You then fill in the “backstory” (background details the reader needs to know) using flashbacks.

In our telling of “My Faith Journey,” as with other stories, we bring a lifetime of practice.

Use it and trust it. And, like all writers, aim to keep learning. “I learn by going where I have to go,” the American poet Theodore Roethke wrote in “The Waking.” That wisdom applies to writing as well as life. You may be able to apply what you learn in the writing lessons found elsewhere in this course, but much of what we do we figure out as we go along.

May you recall readily, record fully, and reflect meaningfully.