Can I Get Through Spiritual Disappointment? With Dr. Alicia Britt Chole [Episode 281]

spiritual disappointment pain Dr. Alicia Britt Chole

GIVEAWAY ALERT: You can win the book The Night Is Normal by this week’s podcast guest. Keep reading to find out how!

When intense spiritual pain casts a shadow on our lives, we can feel so uncertain, ungrounded, and unsettled about what we once knew to be true. It’s like the light of faith is overtaken by the dark night of the soul.

This, my friend, is spiritual disillusionment, and it can feel hopeless—like you’re all alone and trying to find your way in the pitch black.

But according to today’s guest, Dr. Alicia Britt Chole, the night is not your enemy.

Because even though faith shines best in full sun, it grows depth in the dark. So the night is not just normal, it’s necessary, and it won’t last forever.

As we talk about Alicia’s book, The Night Is Normal: A Guide through Spiritual Pain, you’ll discover these dark, disillusioned seasons are actually an invitation to follow God in the night. You’ll get practical tools to navigate the night and lean on God in the darkness, leaving you with a bright beacon of hope.

Meet Alicia

Dr. Alicia Britt Chole is a speaker, award-winning author, and mentor. Her voice cuts through fluff and invites souls to walk with God. Alicia holds a doctorate in leadership and spiritual formation from George Fox Seminary and serves as the founding director and lead mentor of Leadership Investment Intensives. Her other books include Anonymous, 40 Days of Decrease, and The Sacred Slow.

[Listen to the podcast using the player above, or read the transcript below. Then check out the links below for more helpful resources.]

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Episode Transcript

4:13 Podcast: Can I Get Through Spiritual Disappointment? With Dr. Alicia Britt Chole [Episode 281]

Alicia Britt Chole: Faith glitters best in full sun, but I believe that it grows depth in the night. Because in the light, we have this illusion of self-leadership, I've got this. Thanks, God, I've got this. But in the night, we have the realization that we have got to keep leaning, we have got to keep depending, we have got to choose trust. And so disillusionment, spiritual pain, the night, to me they're all synonymous of those places where we see less and we feel less and we have the opportunity to choose trust and grow love.

Jennifer Rothschild: According to today's guest, Dr. Alicia Britt Chole, though faith shines in the sun, it grows depth in the dark. And that's a good thing, because often there are times when we feel like life is just plain dark. Spiritual disappointment can happen and then we can feel so uncertain and ungrounded and like the light of faith has been overtaken by the dark night of the soul.

Well, today you are going to learn that the night is not your enemy. In fact, the night is necessary. Alicia is going to help you see that spiritual disappointment can be an unexpected friend. All right? This is going to be so good, so here we go.

K.C. Wright: Welcome, welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and Biblical wisdom set you and I up to live the "I Can" life, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Now, welcome to your host, Jennifer Rothschild.

Jennifer Rothschild: Hey, our friends, glad you're back. This is going to be a great episode. So if you're new to us, you picked a great episode to show up to. I'm Jennifer and I'm just here to help you be and do more than you feel capable of as you live the "I Can" life. And if you've been listening a while, you know it is two friends, one topic, and zero stress.

And today when you hear Alicia's voice -- y'all, even if she didn't have anything good to say, just the sound of her voice will make you like, ooh, zero stress. She has such a lovely, peaceful voice. But I'm just telling you, what she has to say will also bring you such hope and encouragement. She is a deep well.

And I -- actually, K.C., you know this, I know her very well. She and I have been friends for years. She's an author. And we don't live too far from each other. We first met, though, in -- I think we were in Wisconsin or Michigan, somewhere. I can't remember. We were both speakers at a conference, and that's where we first met and then realized we lived in the same town, and the Lord used it to develop a beautiful friendship. Alicia is one of the most encouraging people I have ever been around. And y'all, we need encouragement --

K.C. Wright: Come on.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- don't we?

K.C. Wright: Hey, speaking of that, Jenn and I, before we turned on the mics today, we have been reading your encouraging emails --

Jennifer Rothschild: That's true.

K.C. Wright: -- that have really just -- wow. I've got about five pages of emails --

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, my gosh.

K.C. Wright: -- that have come in, just podcast love.

Jennifer Rothschild: That's so nice.

K.C. Wright: And I can't read them all, but I want to thank you for each and every one of them. But I'll just take a few here and share them with you. "Thank you, Jennifer and K.C. Your interviews are uplifting, instructive, and encouraging. Your audio Christmas card was lovely."

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, they liked that.

K.C. Wright: Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, I love that.

K.C. Wright: Yes. "Because I'm deaf, having transcripts available for your podcast is amazing. Thank you."

Jennifer Rothschild: That means so much to me, because we don't want anyone to be isolated. I love that. And I want to give a big shout out to our producer, Jackie, and Jill. Jill Paulsen Harrison, she takes care of making sure those transcripts make sense. So I'm just so thankful for those team members who make it --

K.C. Wright: Teamwork makes the dream work --

Jennifer Rothschild: Right? I love that.

K.C. Wright: -- let me tell you.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. That's great.

K.C. Wright: "The 4:13 Podcast has been a tremendous blessing and encouragement for me for the past two years. Thank you, Jennifer and K.C., for all your hard work to make the podcast possible. Your care, concern, and love for others is quite evident." And that is answered prayer. We pray before every podcast, "Lord, use this podcast to minister to one heart at a time, one soul at a time."

Jennifer Rothschild: Yep.

K.C. Wright: One lady just wrote, "This podcast helped my soul." Amen?

Jennifer Rothschild: Ooh.

K.C. Wright: And then this one. "I would never know these many Christians and their difficulties, what they learned and how they trusted God through terrible hardships, if it wasn't for you bringing them to us through the 4:13 Podcast. Jennifer, thank you. I don't know how you find all these women to interview whose stories help us to walk by faith and persevere, but, hey, I'm so glad you do."

Jennifer Rothschild: What a sweet email. And you know what? One of the things that matters most to me -- and this is also what I try to accomplish on Fresh Grounded Faith -- is that we as the body get to hear many voices.

K.C. Wright: Ooh, that's good.

Jennifer Rothschild: And when we can help celebrate others' messages and ministry and promote what God's doing with them in front of a larger audience, I mean, I think that's part of what we're called to do. So that makes me so happy that this lady -- that this means so much to her. I love that.

K.C. Wright: "Your podcast topics often speak directly to what I'm seeking or struggling with at the time." Another answered prayer.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

K.C. Wright: "Thank you for cheering me on to keep up the fight and finish the race God has given me."

Jennifer Rothschild: Woo.

K.C. Wright: Wow.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay, y'all, you are over the top.

K.C. Wright: I know. And it goes on and on. But I mean --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, we'll have to save some for other episodes. Because here's the thing, these aren't even the ones that are on, like, Apple Podcast.

K.C. Wright: No.

Jennifer Rothschild: 'Cause those are blowing me away too, y'all. You've been so generous, so kind, so I just, along with K.C., do want to thank you. It is encouraging to us. And seriously, we're sitting in a closet staring at each other in a wall, and so it's so sweet to hear your voices through your comments and through your email. So thank you so much.

And I'm excited you get to hear from a voice who has really encouraged me over the years, Alicia. So let's introduce Alicia.

K.C. Wright: Dr. Alicia Britt Chole is a speaker, award-winning author, and mentor. Her voice cuts through fluff and invites souls to walk with God. Alicia holds a doctorate in leadership and spiritual formation from George Fox Seminary and serves as the founding director and lead mentor, Leadership Investment Intensives. Her books include "Anonymous," "40 Days of Decrease," and "The Sacred Slow." Today she and Jenn are talking about her latest book, "The Night is Normal."

All right. Are you ready for this?

Jennifer Rothschild: We are ready.

K.C. Wright: Let's listen in.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right, Alicia, I have already told our 4:13ers that we are friends and we go back way far.

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: So I know your story, but they don't. And it's so compelling. So I want to start with this. You were an atheist. So I want you to give us some insight into that part of your story and tell us how that part of your faith journey impacted your approach to just your sense of spiritual formation.

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes. Thank you so much. And, Jennifer, it's always a joy to be with you. I love and respect you and I'm so grateful for our friendship.

Jennifer Rothschild: Me too, girl.

Alicia Britt Chole: All right. Well, I chose atheism very, very early in life. Some people arrive at atheism through church hurt, some through science. I came through it philosophically. I've always been a question asker. And I'll say a little bit more about that later. But it seemed to me that people created God or gods because of the questions that couldn't be answered in life. And so when I chose to be an atheist, for me it was just an expression of being a fierce realist. I preferred unanswered questions over what I deemed to be fairy tales.

Then as life came along and my life was more seasoned by pain, my atheism went from something that was initially emotionally benign to something that had a little bit more fire, a little bit more fierceness in it. I became extremely upset with anybody who had the audacity, in such a world of pain, to claim the existence of a God or gods that could have prevented the pain. I thought if that somehow brings you comfort, that's fine for you, but please do not impose that upon us, especially the more realistic group of us that would just prefer to say there are no answers, it's just a mess.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

Alicia Britt Chole: Then God interrupted my atheistic existence with two unexpected gifts that absolutely transformed the trajectory of my life.

Jennifer Rothschild: You got to tell us about these two gifts, because they came in very unlikely packages given your personality.

Alicia Britt Chole: They sure did.

Jennifer Rothschild: So tell us about what God did. And by the way, I just want to pause and say, to repeat, God interrupted your atheism.

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: He interrupts us out of his grace and mercy. So thank you, Lord, that he did this. Okay, so tell us about these two unexpected gifts.

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes. Well, when I was in my last two years of high school -- we moved every year, Jennifer, as you know. And there were these two young women, that I met in the last high school that I went to, who loved Jesus. Just loved Jesus. Had never ever ever ever ever met something called an atheist, had never ever ever ever had their faith questioned, but they felt compelled to be my friend. And I liked it not most of the time. I found their simplicity of faith annoying. I was a debater, and not a kind one. And they would tell you that most of our conversations ended in debate and our debates would end in their tears.

But then from their tears, they said the smartest thing they possibly could have under the circumstances. They would say, "We don't know. We don't know. We don't have an answer to your question, but we know that Jesus lives and we know that he loves you." And "I don't know" is a really smart answer when it's true. I think sometimes we think that we're debating with people to give them answers, but there's also something of trust being built when we can just ask honest questions. And even when our response is sometimes to people's questions, "Man, that's a great question. I've never thought about that before. That's a great question. I don't have an answer." In some ways, we may frame that as a loss, but I think it's a gain because we're building trust. And that's what these young women did. They built trust. Not just through their attempts at answering, but through their honesty when they didn't know an answer.

And so what was happening in our relationship, as I said, through the trust they were building, and their honesty, I was getting close to Jesus because I was close to them, and there was this thaw that none of us could perceive that was occurring in my soul. So that was the first gift God gave me, two unlikely women who were faithful but didn't have any answers.

Jennifer Rothschild: And what was the second, then?

Alicia Britt Chole: The second was a tenacious mom of a friend who kept inviting me to church. This woman was persistent. And I went and spent some time with her one summer, and she just kept asking and asking and asking. And so finally it occurred to me that she was never going to stop, that for the rest of my life she was going to find me Saturday night, call me and say, "Would you please go to church?" So, Jennifer, I told her one time, "I'll say yes if you promise to never ask me again," and she said, "Deal."

So on that Sunday, she took me. And you can imagine, I was in my finest purple mini-skirt for the occasion. And she took me into the last church you might think of taking someone who was an atheist, who leaned a little academic, who leaned a little artistic. This was a broken-hearted church in a broken-down building. A couple of dozen souls. It was actually one of the last times their doors opened, because there had been a horrible split and it was just the founding mothers and fathers of the faith that were there. And the church, the organ was out of tune, the carpet was terrible. There was nothing of excellence except their beautiful broken hearts, Jennifer. And so I sat in the back row, and at some kind of cue to this out-of-tune organ, they all stood up and from their pain began to worship. And the atheist in the back row had an unwanted, unexpected hour and a half encounter with the God who pursues those who deny him.

Jennifer Rothschild: Wow.

Alicia Britt Chole: It was unmistakable. I would have had to commit emotional and intellectual suicide to deny God's existence after that experience.

Jennifer Rothschild: Alicia, I've heard this story before, because we've talked about it, but it is so moving. And I'm just so thankful because it just shows the sovereign mercy and grace of God.

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: And what a beautiful gift, then, from those gifts that he has given us, which is you. Because your messages are strong. And just as you talked about how the young women that were your first gift were able to say, "I don't know," here we are in our faith. You know, fast forward. Here you have walked with Lord for so many years and you still have moments and times of questions. And, in fact, that's this new book you've written, "The Night is Normal." And so I love it because it addresses the angst that all of us experience from time to time, but that sometimes we don't know how to handle it. So I want us just to go straight there and I'm going to ask you, what is spiritual disillusionment? Because we all feel it. Sometimes we don't know how to label it, but we all feel it from time to time. So what is it?

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes, we do. And I'll answer that with the image of the night. Way back in the beginning, in the beginning, pre-fall, pre-sin, pre-curse, pre-drama, the night was one of the original residents of Eden. God created the day; he created the night. He created the greater light to govern the day, the lesser light to govern the night. So in the beginning, walking in faith with God required day faith and night faith.

And I think that image is so powerful for us, because we still experience both day faith and night faith. Day faith, those times where we know what's going on, we know what God wants us to do next. We know where we need to put our energy. We understand. We feel like we have a strong answer to the many questions of life. But it is also natural to have night faith, where we see less and we feel less and we know less.

So faith glitters best in full sun, but I believe that it grows depth in the night. Because in the light, we have this illusion of self-leadership. I've got this. Thanks, God, I've got this. But in the night, we have the realization that we have got to keep leaning, we have got to keep depending, we have got to choose trust. And so disillusionment, spiritual pain, the night, to me they're all synonymous of those places where we see less and we feel less and we have the opportunity to choose trust and grow love.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. Well, I think you are leading to the answer to what I was going to ask you next, because you write in your book that the night is necessary. But most of us, we just want to avoid it or get through it quickly. So why is that night not just normal -- because you've explained that -- but why is it necessary?

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes. So we are human, which means we're finite. And God is not human. He is God. He is infinite. So there is this gap between our finiteness and his infiniteness, and we call that gap mystery. And mystery is sacred. Mystery is this invitation to follow God in the night. It is absolutely -- can I say the word logical? That night is a part of faith as the finite us interacts with the infinite him.

One of the illustrations I use in the book, it's almost like this balloon that's filled with air that even the best, the biggest, the brightest of our ideas about God are still too small, aren't they? And so these balloons pop under the pressure of the fact that he is infinite.

Jennifer Rothschild: Interesting.

Alicia Britt Chole: The problem is we associate that startling pop with failure. Oh, what did I do wrong? Where was my misstep? We've just naturally matured and realized that God's bigger than we had even imagined.

Jennifer Rothschild: Alicia, I love mystery thrillers, those fiction books. And part of the reason I love mysteries is because they're solved at the end. It's so tidy. And what you are describing is untidy. And so my question to you is this, what happens if we don't think that these night seasons are normal or necessary?

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes. If we do not realize that both biblically and historically the night is normal, we will tend to perceive the night as failure. Either our failure -- man, I just couldn't get this faith thing figured out. What's wrong with me? I must not have what it takes to follow God -- or we can think of it as God's failure. He's not who I thought he was. He's not the kind, loving, just God that I was told my whole life. Sometimes we see it as the failure of the church, of they didn't teach me right, they didn't make room for me. They weren't as generous as they could have been, they were too judgmental.

We tend to -- when we don't realize that the night, this painful gaining of reality which is how I define disillusionment, when we don't realize that, no, that's just a normal part of spiritual growth, we prematurely label where we are failure. And the sad, sad, grievous thing, Jennifer, is that when we do that, we bail right on the edge of the greatest growth in loving God that has ever been presented before us. When you love him through the night, you are choosing to love him for who he is, not for what he gives. You are choosing to love him for who he is, not the answers that you crave. And that's love.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. And that is deep satisfaction also --

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- because ultimately those answers do not really satisfy. It's just that relationship, that pressed-in, desperate almost on our behalf relationship that really satisfies us.

So in your book, Alicia, you advise that without a framework within which the night makes sense, we're vulnerable to trying to just sustain faith through spiritual highs, you know, like song to song, event to event --

Alicia Britt Chole: That's right.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- experience to experience. And most of the time this just doesn't work. It's like a sugar rush that leaves us. So give us an example of a healthy framework that would be sturdy enough to hold us through these dark, disillusioned seasons.

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes. Well, culturally we tend to mistake emotion for devotion when it comes to our faith. And that's where we try to string those highs together, the next podcast or the next worship song or the next retreat or the next conference. We keep trying to piece together these places where we feel good, where we feel close to God. But God was not created by our senses. He is not waiting for our worship to hit a certain pitch. He is profoundly present whether we see stars or we feel absolutely nothing.

So part of the framework for being able to navigate the night is having a healthy theology of emotion, that emotions are -- they're windows into our soul, but they are not truth's vocal twin.

Jennifer Rothschild: Right.

Alicia Britt Chole: And which is fantastic, because that means that our greatest shout doesn't thicken God and our greatest doubt doesn't thin him. Whether right now someone feels so close to God they feel they have wings, or feels in such a pit of despair that they feel abandoned by God, it does not change God's profound presence in our lives. And so by faith, we know that all of him is present in every moment of our lives, regardless of whether that's confirmed by our senses, and that is one of the very first steps that we have to take in order to walk by faith and not by feelings.

Jennifer Rothschild: That's really good, Alicia, because -- well, the way I've said it in the past is God is I Am, he's not I feel.

Alicia Britt Chole: That's right.

Jennifer Rothschild: For you to remind us that he is profoundly present whether we are seeing stars or feeling nothing. Thank you for that reminder. That is a good word. He is, he is with us.

So you mention that good framework, that we don't need to base it on a theology of emotion. So what are just some practical tools to help us navigate this disillusionment?

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes, yes. And I think the book has, like, 31 of them. I was so excited that the very first part of the book gives that framework so we have a good grounding for the night, we've got a good healthy Biblical, theological, historical framework for the night.

And then in the rest of the book, Jennifer, I talk about how there are three different types of disillusionment, three different types of spiritual pain: with God, with ourself, and with others. When God isn't who we thought he was, when we're not who we hoped we were, and when God's people aren't who we needed them to be. And we look at examples of that in the Scriptures, in history, and then we break out the tools for navigating the night, practical steps we can take.

So, for example, when we're disillusioned with God, one of the most practical tools for me is this request for God to mentor our minds. We tend to think solo instead of as a duet, especially when we're disillusioned. So there are practical steps I guide people through in the exercises of how do we ask God to be the leader not just of our feet, not just of our dreams, not just of our careers, but how do we actually ask God to be the leader of our thoughts, the leader of our minds? And so each and every one of the types of disillusionment is followed by multiple tools that we can put in our hands and actually activate in this moment.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay, that's so good, because you gave us something very practical right there, to ask God to mentor our minds. But you also gave us, my people, a reason to get this book. And believe me, I have sat across the table from Alicia many times having tea, and everything she's saying right now is exactly the voice you will hear in the pages of the book. She will gently guide you and just kind of walk with you through this. I love this, Alicia, and I love you, obviously, but we're going to get to our last question. Okay?

So you gave us a framework, you gave us an example of a tool. So now let's end with this. When this podcast ends and someone really -- now you've awakened in them this hope and this desire for perhaps getting through the night with a little more authenticity and really seeking God within it. So what are some very practical ways that we can reclaim this spiritual disillusionment or this night season that just feels so filled with disillusionment and darkness? Like, where can someone start when this podcast ends?

Alicia Britt Chole: Yes, practically, "with Jesus." And I'll wrap a story around that. As you know, Jennifer, my daughter has been doing ballet since she was three years old. And when she hit high school, her dream was to do it professionally. And she truly had the skills and the opportunity to do it. She was a junior member of a professional company locally, really had plans, until we were at a red light and we were rear-ended. And the X-ray showed an L5 fracture. Now, two years of physical therapy and two years of work later, she never regained her backwards mobility, so her dreams of doing ballet professionally were shattered along with that part of her spine.

And I remember watching my daughter. I mean, she had walked with me through cancer, her brother's on the autistic spectrum, she was no stranger to pain. But this was different. This was a dream that was shattered. And during a mentoring time with her, I said, "You know, sweetheart, you do a fantastic job at living happy with Jesus. You're fantastic at it. You're great at it. And now you have the opportunity to live sad with Jesus, and that's okay. Because at the end of your life, what's going to have made your life rich isn't going to have been the happy or the sad, it's the 'with Jesus.'"

So the practical is wherever you happen to find yourself, full sun or the depth of night, happy or sad, seeing clearly or feeling a little lost. Whatever it is, live it honestly with Jesus, and that "with Jesus" will make life rich.

Jennifer Rothschild: So where do we start when this podcast ends? We start with Jesus.

I really loved, K.C., how she told her daughter, "You've been able to live happy with Jesus, and you do a good job with that, now you get to learn to live sad with Jesus." And at the end of this thing, what makes it rich? It's not the happy and it's not the sad, it's the "with Jesus." Wasn't that powerful?

K.C. Wright: The last line really hit me, "live it honestly with Jesus." Whoa. The "with Jesus" will make life rich, right?

Jennifer Rothschild: Yep.

K.C. Wright: I'm so glad I get to tell you that you need her book and we're giving one away. She mentioned 31 different tools in her book, so obviously there is so much more in those pages than we could ever cover here in this one conversation. So go to Jennifer's Instagram -- you can simply find it @JennRothchild -- to enter to win. Or you can go to the Show Notes right now. to get connected to win Alicia's book.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes. And at that same Show Notes, just as you heard earlier, you're going to find a full transcript of this rich conversation.

K.C., she dropped so many truth bombs, didn't she?

K.C. Wright: Oh, goodness.

Jennifer Rothschild: So you definitely need to listen again or read the transcript, and definitely get her book. So definitely go to the Show Notes, because we will link you there to purchase her book. And you can even find out more about her mentoring ministry.

K.C. Wright: All right. Until next week -- I don't want to let you go, but we got to go. I want you to trust God all day and all night, because here's truth. You can do all things through Christ who gives you supernatural strength. I can.

Jennifer Rothschild: I can.

Jennifer and K.C.: And you can.

Jennifer Rothschild: Her voice, it's like a warm blanket.

K.C. Wright: I know.

Jennifer Rothschild: Isn't it? Like velvety.

K.C. Wright: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: And you know what? Her personality's like that. Like, I'd be having coffee with her, or tea, because she only drinks tea, and I could barely stay awake. Because I'm like, "You're so soothing. Could you perk it up a little?"


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