The Rev. Brian McLaren: Perplexity: The Season of Spiritual Surviving

You are alone. Even God seems to have abandoned you. Here in this bitter space, answered prayers of the past seem like ironic coincidences or cruel jokes. You're like a gambler who, after a string of gambling wins, risks everything on rolling the dice for a seven. But you roll a two and a four, and now you've lost everything you previously gained. You're not just back to where you started. You're worse off, because when you started you had hope. You felt lucky. Now you feel abandoned, cursed.

In Simplicity, we reach out to God in happiness. We see the world as it should be. God is with us here, and through invocation we acknowledge God's here-ness. God blesses us, and through thanksgiving we pour out our gratitude to God-thanks! God is wonderful, and through worship we overflow in wonder that can't be contained in normal speech-O!

In Complexity, we reach out to God in struggle. We cry sorry, as through confession we refuse to deny, cover, or excuse our wrongs, and we instead name them, express regret, and receive mercy. We cry help, as through petition we turn our anxieties into requests, and we learn to share our needs and burdens with God, so we will not be preoccupied with ourselves. And we cry please, as through intercession we respond to the needs and pain of others by joining our compassion with God's. In each case, a spiritual practice has provided us a way of coping and surviving-and more, of overcoming and thriving, of winning.

But sometimes, there is no winning. There are no solutions, answers, or consolations in sight. The spring of Simplicity and the summer of Complexity slip away, and now the autumn winds of Perplexity blow in a biting cold rain. Now, what matters most to us-more than being right, more than being effective-is being honest, authentic, even brutally so. We've moved from a dualistic and pragmatic mind-set to a relativistic and critical one. Leaders we once admired as correct authority figures and confident coaches we now suspect of being frauds- pretending to know more than they do, proclaiming their opinions as facts, misleading and manipulating the naive for their own selfish purposes. Life itself is no longer the simple war or the complex game it used to be for us. On our bad days it's a joke, on our good days it's a quest, and on most days it's a bit of both.

We've grown beyond being dependent infants who look to their leaders for everything, and beyond being somewhat independent children who boast, "I can do it myself!" Now we have become counterdependent, perhaps like adolescents who find our identity among a small band of similarly alienated friends. If we acquired our faith in Simplicity or Complexity, we will probably doubt it now and may even abandon it for a while. At the very least, we will need to add a margin for mystery and unbolt some of the structural elements of our faith that have been until now tightly fitted together. Our faith becomes less the nest and more the quest at this stage, and mention of God evokes feelings of ambivalence. It's a great season for honesty and for digging deeper, but not so great for commitment, energy, or enthusiasm.

For all its angst, there's beauty in Perplexity, the autumn blaze of color between green and gone. There's the strength of ruthless honesty, the courage of dogged endurance, the companionship of the disillusioned, the determination of the long-distance runner who won't give up even though exhausted. In that act of not giving up, there is faith too, and hope, perhaps the most vibrant faith and hope of all.

There's a special catalytic moment that comes late in the season of Perplexity. Having practiced critical thinking about the thoughts and beliefs of others, at this point thinkers turn a critical eye on their own thinking. They become skeptical of their skepticism and cynical about their cynicism. And in so doing they begin to push themselves beyond Perplexity. But it's a long, hard road between here and there.

[Excerpted from _ Naked Spirituality: A Life with God  **in 12 Simple Words. _Copyright © 2011 by Brian McLaren. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers]**