Hello! I’m blowing the dust off of this blog today in order to send some words out into the world. Thanks for being here.
A few years ago, I had a complete faith breakdown. I was frightened, anxious, and lonely. My sense of belonging, which had always been securely anchored in my church and beliefs, had vanished. My questions outweighed my faith by a lot. I thought that this meant that I was losing faith or had lost it entirely. I wanted God to be real. I just couldn’t pretend that what I learned about God still made sense. During a time like this, words we receive from others can either be a tremendous gift or can send us into a tailspin.
Recently, I read a tweet that elicited an out-loud “Wow!” It wasn’t a presidential tweet this time, but one from those earnest folks over at Desiring God telling us that “Doubt is slander against God…” Five or six years ago, seeing something like this would have had me reaching for my anxiety medication. Today, I can just shake my head. I can’t imagine any circumstance where hearing such a phrase is going to be helpful or transformative.
Sometimes, people just don’t know what to say to someone who is struggling with doubt. I received this well-meaning reminder once: “If you know the truth and reject the truth, you are going to pay the consequences.” Like the consequence of hell. Uffda. Thankfully, at that point, I was confident enough that God could handle my questions and maybe even welcomed them. I also knew that the person speaking loved me and was probably afraid for me. I didn’t take those words to heart.
Fear speaks the language of conformity, not transformation or life.
Even a sincere and loving, “All you have to do is believe . . .” is most unhelpful. That’s precisely the problem when your faith breaks down. What does belief even mean? The Sunday I heard that at church, I went home and cried for hours.
However, I want to talk about the gifts that I received from others: words that offered me hope and helped me find my way forward and through this faith breakdown. I don’t know where I would be without these conversations and questions. Maybe you’re wondering what to say to someone whose faith appears to be in shambles. Maybe you’re the one in the middle of your own dark night of the soul. Maybe these gifts that helped me will be of use to someone else.
- “My friend has questions like that too. She would love to talk to you.”
This is absolutely the best thing that I heard. The connections made through this conversation led to hope and to a connect-the-dot adventure of friendships and ultimately to new experiences and understandings of God. I wouldn’t be who I am today without this conversation. Finding people with similar questions was so important. But finding people who had journeyed with and through Doubt into a meaningful faith gave me hope. What I needed most at that time was hope and connection.
- “Ooh. You ask good questions. Your questions are good.”
Any reassurance that we are not lost or sinning because of our questions is helpful. To find people who are not shocked or frightened by our questions is necessary. To find people who are excited by our questions is a gift. It lets us believe that God is also not shocked or disappointed by our questions. When you think about it, what is at the heart of these questions? Isn’t it a longing to know–to really know deep in your bones that something is true? Not just to believe because someone else told you to? How could God be disappointed in your longing to truly know God?
- “You know Jacob wrestled with God and was given the name Israel. Israel means ‘he who struggles with God.”
Let that sink in. Maybe God still invites us to wrestle? What if faith is wrestling?
- “Did you know that this place of doubt, of losing faith, is in the middle of adult maps of spiritual development?”
Finding books like Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich’s The Critical Journey and Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward was a gift. It helps to know that this apparent loss of faith fits a pattern. Doubt may be an invitation to move from a head-based faith to your heart. It might be an invitation to shed a second-hand, hand-me-down faith and experience your own first-hand encounter with God. Doubt is an invitation to More. Doubt wasn’t the end of my faith; it was an invitation to a new beginning.
- “Do you need to know all of the answers to all of your questions right now?”
This question was such a gift. I may have been able to throw away my anxiety meds shortly after this question made its way into my bones. First: This question alone suggested that I don’t need to know the answers right exactly now. The woman who asked it of me wasn’t afraid that I might go to hell if I died in a car crash on my way home because I didn’t know what to believe about Jesus anymore. It suggested that maybe it’s actually okay to let go of that scary image of God that would make me afraid of that scenario.
Second: At a point where I felt like I was drowning in questions, this question gave me permission to rest. I felt like I scooped up all of those questions, captured them in a glass jar, and set them on a shelf in the back of my mind. I still had the questions, but they were no longer all-consuming. This helped mightily with the anxiety I was struggling with at the time.
- “What is your one question that you need today?”
This question helped move me from an answer-based faith to a question-based faith. I learned to find my questions, to ask them, to wait and listen and live the questions. My questions lead me to my next steps. I’ve learned to love my questions.
- “You might want to try asking these questions: “Who are you God?” “What have you made me for?” “What is my next step?”
Asking God questions like these was a novel idea to me, and it changed my life. Would God even answer? There was only one way to find out. It didn’t hurt to try.
What about you? Are there questions or conversations that you can point to that helped you find your way through doubt? Are there questions or conversations that helped you find connection or hope? Please share. Maybe someone else needs your question too.