I put off writing about this for some time, but when I actually sat down to put words on the page I found it to be easier than I thought. After all, I’ve been having this conversation in some form or another for the past several months as I slowly begin to tell friends, family, and people I used to go to church with about what’s been going on in my life lately.
It’s also a conversation I’ve been having with myself. As I struggle with doubt, countless questions roll around in my head about God, his existence, his nature, the Bible, culture, other religions, etc. But I’ve also found space to ponder doubt itself. In my musings and with the help of fellow doubters, who either are or who have been where I am, I’ve come to see doubt not as a plague or sign of spiritual weakness, which has made all the difference.
So as I continue to struggle with doubt, here are some things you should know that I’ve discovered along the way…
Sometimes I like it.
As terrifying as doubt can be, there is also a side of it that is thrilling and refreshing. Like breaking off from a well-worn path in the woods, there is both the possibility of getting lost and confused and the possibility of finding something amazing. And likely confusion, lostness, and amazingness might all be experienced at the same time, not just one or the other.
This is a little like what doubt feels like to me. Anxiety, hopelessness, hopefulness, excitement, tears, wonder, fear, freedom all wrapped up together. Best of all I occasionally catch glimpses of God that I have been missing for so long, and he doesn’t look the same. I haven’t figured out yet if it is something of my own imaginings or something real. Either way it is just out of reach, which for now keeps me on the hunt.
It is essential for me.
To be frank, I didn’t choose my faith/belief system. It was chosen for me, it was chosen for my parents, and their parents, and so on. Granted, there was probably a measure of choosing involved in staying committed but we all started on a fairly fixed path. And I’m not even saying that I think it should be different, this passing on of traditions and beliefs. It makes sense and we do that with all sorts of things. But maybe doubt is a way of taking back some of the choosing. And maybe that will make whatever I hold onto more valuable and precious and lasting.
It may always be with me.
Like some of my worried friends and family members, I want doubt to be a phase. I want to wrestle for a bit and then move on. I want to figure it out, to be on the hunt but then eventually find something concrete to hold on to. But I’m becoming less and less convinced that this will be the case.
At this point, now in my 30s, I have struggled significantly with doubt at some time in each decade of my life. Not long ago, I was telling a friend that after my last bout with doubt, which took place in my early 20s, I felt I had been “delivered” and would no longer struggle in that particular way. Yet here I am again…back to doubt. This time around, though, I’m a little more comfortable with it, as if it were a familiar thing now.
I ran across an interview with author, Daniel Taylor, who wrote a book called “Skeptical Believer.” He described coming to terms with what he called his inner atheist and even described it like an old friend. I’m not sure I’m quite there yet, but thinking about it in those terms brings me a good amount of peace. It also takes the pressure off. Maybe doubt is not something to conquer but to be at peace with as a part of who I am and how I’m made.
As I continue to explain to people in my life about this season of life and the doubt that accompanies it, I know that I will run into those that don’t understand totally. That’s OK. I don’t expect people to. Even when I do encounter people who have experienced doubt in the past, I find it is a little different for everyone. What I do hope is that people might be open to a response other than “What a shame!” This is the response I dread the most. I have been pleasantly surprised, though, that most people I talk to don’t think this way and instead see doubt in more gracious terms. Doubt is hard enough as it is. What a gift to have understanding people to walk alongside. I hope the more we talk about doubt, or any struggle for that matter, the more understanding we will all have for each other.