So, having reached a place in life where things no longer fit neatly into nice, simple black-and-white categories, where does that leave a person? Being pushed out of the comfortable insularity of Stage Three faith can be so disquieting that some people choose to take a step backward and forgo further growth in favor of holding onto the security of clearly-defined boundaries and allowing those in authority to provide the answers to life's difficult questions.
But is that really a life worth living? Moving on into Stage Four may be optional for most, but the consequence of rejecting growth is a life of wasted potential. God will work with us wherever we're at; if we cannot function without being told exactly what to do with no room for ambiguity, he'll oblige us, just as a parent will give a five-year-old a different set of instructions than she'd give to a twelve-year-old. But the twelve-year-old will get opportunities to experience life and interact with the world that the five-year-old could never conceive of.
Not that an individual in Stage Four really has any basis for feeling superior to those still in Stage Three. We're all still children in our own way, and just as prone to error; we simply have a different set of pitfalls to work our way around. Stage Four can be a wilderness of uncertainty and doubt. God can seem very distant and unattainable at times, and the promises that once comforted us can seem cold and empty.
The process of establishing one's identity separate from the groups that used to define it can lead to further estrangement as others still in those groups react with fear and hostility. Stage Four brings with it a desire for authenticity and independent decision-making, and a drive to integrate the different faces that one used to put forward in different settings. Such a push for autonomy and nonconformity tends to go over poorly in most groups, and so Stage Four individuals often find themselves largely (if not completely) on their own.
I feel very fortunate to have friends that I can express my questions and doubts to as I've begun the process of coming out of the closet and questioning the church's stance on homosexuality (among other things). Even so, there's coming a point where I will probably have to let go of certain relationships, including some that have been a part of my life for a very long time. I have no idea what my life will look like when I emerge from this season of redefinition, and that quite frankly scares me.
All the same, I can no more go back to what I was (has it really only been a year and a half?) than a butterfly can crawl back into its cocoon. All I can do is continue putting one foot in front of the other until I find out what lies further down the road.