Faith without Doubt is Not Faith

A few days ago I had two conversations that helped me see what has changed in my spiritual life recently.  In the first conversation, I spoke with a young woman who has just moved to Greece and has decided to try to get a visa to stay.  I had to bite my tongue in order not to douse her excitement with “yeah, I thought that too” cynicism.  Later, I spoke with a woman who spent the summer in the same situation I did, waiting for a visa that didn’t work out.  It was hugely encouraging to not feel alone, to vent and laugh together over our mutual frustrations.

In the midst of these conversations, I realized that this visa process cost me my spiritual naivety.  Because my initial student visa was easy to get, I assumed that everything would work out for me if I kept living in Greece.  God wanted me here, so paperwork couldn’t get in the way, right?  Yes, it could.  Now, as I look ahead to a job that hinges upon 1) fundraising and 2) a visa, I find myself incredibly lethargic.  Where I once met these obstacles with excitement, now I’m exhausted.

But what hit me was this:  faith is not the absence of doubt, it’s believing in the midst of doubt (in much the same way courage is not the absence of fear, it’s acting in the midst of fear).  After all, it doesn’t take much faith to naively assume everything will work out for me.  To see my plans fail and then to attempt something similar…that takes a different kind of faith.  Something deeper, and less flashy, and more painful, but something that rests upon a more desperate hope and trust.  God took my life in an unexpected direction before…do I trust him enough to try something risky once again?

The older I get, the more I realize that my relationship with God is far more boring than anything I originally experienced.  This year I’ve felt pretty emotionally distanced from him.  But I think there’s something really beautiful about every little connection we’ve had, because I don’t take them for granted any more.  I’m no longer seeking youth group conferences of ecstatic emotionalism.  I just want a quiet, heavy moment of assurance that I am loved and that God has a plan for me.  I had one of those during my conversations, and it helped me to choose faith, in the midst of doubt, once more.

 

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Overcoming Doubt with Vulnerability

I’m on Step 5 of the 12 Steps, which says we “admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  This step is about confession, obviously, but its also about the connections we form with people when we are vulnerable.  Keeping secrets is isolating, and it heightens our shame and our loneliness.  The scariest thing – revealing the worst of ourselves to another person – is our only hope.  If we risk trusting a safe person with our secrets and they still love us, well.  That is simply the best feeling in the world.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I’ve been going through a faith crisis.  This isn’t new; I’m a doubter by nature, and every couple years I start thinking, “Am I wrong about everything?  Is there a purpose to life, is God good or even real, can anything ever change for the better?”  This time, my faith crisis began with the election of Donald Trump.

It has been so confusing for me to see Christians support a man who is explicitly racist, sexist, and xenophobic.  When people who taught me the Bible as a small child defend his actions and even give Christian defenses of his “safety” measures that seem hateful and fear-mongering to me, I just…I wonder why our beliefs are so different.  The God I believe in is more loving and grace-giving and patient than our wildest dreams.  If other people believe in a God that calls us to hunker down and keep people out in order to stay safe, who’s to say whose God is the real one?

It hasn’t helped that I am reading through the Bible chronologically, and I’m currently wading through the Exodus/Leviticus laws.  It’s a crime to kill a fellow Israelite, but if you beat your slave so badly that he or she dies, you simply have to pay a fine.  That is…God’s law?  That is not something I can stomach, and it’s been eating me inside out that some of these verses seem to support the hateful, elitist God of Trump’s “Christianity.”

I used to be able to see how the God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament went together, but right now, in the midst of confusion, anger, and sadness, I can’t see it anymore.

All of this felt immense.  I worried that I was losing my faith and that I was hating God (I am, a little).  It was suffocating me.  But then I studied Step 5, and during lunch last week, I poured everything out in front of Luciana.  She tried to encourage me, but I told her, “I’m sorry, but right now nothing you say is going to make me feel better.”  She assured me that she shared my belief in a loving God, and I said, “Maybe you’re a heathen like me.”  Finally, she suggested we share dessert and said, “It’s good to doubt.  It makes our beliefs stronger, even though it’s painful.  You’re in a really good place right now.”

I didn’t believe her, but talking to her DID make the weight on my chest ease up.  I’d told someone that I kinda sorta hated God, and she had shared dark chocolate mochi with me.  So a few days later, during a dinner to get to know my new roommate, I casually mentioned that I was going through a faith crisis.  Two days later, we went out for coffee, and she carefully said, “You know how you said you were going through a faith crisis?  I am too.”  My vulnerability had opened a door that allowed us to complain to and encourage each other.  We might have sat in adjacent bedrooms for months, not knowing that the person next door was also feeling confused and betrayed and scared for the very same reason.

Nothing is necessarily figured out for me, faith-wise.  I’m still in the middle of a period of doubt, but it no longer scares me.  I even believe that God timed things so that I would study Step 5 just when I needed it, that he isn’t annoyed by my “hating” him because he is excited for the moment when I see HIM, the real him, again, and love him even more than before.

Our fears and doubts are scary, but we make them bigger than they need to be when we keep them to ourselves.  Finding the courage to share them with others can bring relief to yourself, and sometimes, for other people who need to know that they are not alone in their own fears and doubts.

We’re not meant to live alone.  It’s only in a community of honesty and acceptance that we can grow and thrive and change, and I’m so glad that I was able to live that this past week.

Running Away From God is a Good Thing

I was talking to a friend recently about fear, doubt, and faith.  We’ve both come to realize that having and expressing our “shameful” feelings is better than hiding them or trying to conquer them.  But then my friend paused.

“I feel like God is coming closer to me, and I am away.”

“You’re going away from Him?”

“Yes.”  After a half hour of confident expression, she’d finally said something that she was ashamed of.

I’ve gotten to know this friend well over the past several months.  I know that she struggles to be close to people, and that she would prefer to have fortress-like walls around herself to keep herself safe.  So I immediately realized:

“Maybe it’s a good thing.”

“To run away from God??”

“Yeah.  Because that’s how you treat people.  When they get too close, you run away, right?”

“Yes.”

“So if you run away from God when he gets closer, that means you see him as a person.  Otherwise you could just keep going through the motions of “serving” God and assume that he’s some lifeless thing to manipulate.  You’re acting like you’re in a real relationship.  That’s pretty awesome.”

“Is it??”

“I mean, let’s not stop here.  I want you to be in a place where you feel safe with God.  But I do think it’s a really good sign!”

My favorite thing in the whole world is to turn shame into hope.  It’s much easier for me to do this for other people, so I’m writing this here both to encourage others and to remind myself that it’s true.

God Finds Me Even When I Don’t Go To Church

I am writing this on a Sunday morning when I ought to be in church, but instead am sitting at a coffee shop table in the center of a park near my house.  I am only here after an hour of mental anguish, because I knew I OUGHT to go to church, but I didn’t want to.  Well, part of me wanted to.  It’s the first Sunday of the month, which is when the church I (half-heartedly) attend does Communion, and Communion is the one thing about church that I find consistently satisfying.

But mostly I didn’t want to.  I loathe the process of going to church on my own.  Getting ready alone, walking to the metro alone, riding the metro alone, walking several blocks alone, opening the door alone, scanning the seats for a familiar face alone, seeing them sitting in a full seat and therefore finding my own place.  Alone.  It is hell.

So I didn’t go.  But it’s a beautiful day, and I DID want Communion with God, that mysterious practice that reminds me that I cannot do life on my own but must, in some way, consistently take Jesus inside of me as the food I eat and the wine I drink.  So I came to this park, and I’m drinking coffee (it felt weird to order wine at 11:00 a.m.), eating a croissant, and reading Gospel by J.D. Greear.

For the past few years, I have been trying to trust that God’s love for me is not dependent upon my actions.   Continue reading

The Doubting Christian’s Starter Pack

Are you drawn to the story of a God who lives and dies full of love for a rebellious creation…yet find yourself wondering how it could possibly be true?  Have you grown weary of rules that seem to cause slavery rather than freedom?  Are you skeptical about the usefulness of “good news” that doesn’t seem so good?  Do you worry that the religion you grew up with doesn’t apply to a more diverse population?

Welcome to the Doubting Christians Club!

In a desire to provide a strong foundation for its members, the Church has often promoted a rigorous belief system that seems to leave little room for doubt…which can make doubters feel like they either need to leave the Church or else hide their doubts.  I don’t believe either of these options is a good idea for the Doubting Christian – the first because you will miss out on the beauty you are drawn to, and the second because you will live a double life that will slowly isolate and destroy you.

Luckily, there are others out there just like you (myself, for instance)!  Listed below is the Doubting Christians Starter Pack that will stretch your mind, give you hope, and assure you that you are not alone.

71891781|  O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling by Jason Boyett  

This is the book that began my journey toward becoming comfortable with my doubt.    It was given to me, unasked for, by my pastor, which has earned him my undying respect.  In this book, Boyett gets honest about his doubts and comes to the conclusion that perhaps doubters are closer to God than those who never question their faith – after all, doubt is an inextricable part of a faith given to something unseen.

Continue reading

Self-Hatred, Legalism, and Grace, Grace, Grace

 

I distinctly remember sitting on Lindsay T.’s couch on July 4, 2013, drinking from a cheap Strawberry Daquiri Seagram’s bottle.  “I don’t know if God loves me,” Lindsay admitted.  We had recently upgraded our acquaintanceship to friendship, and this conversation was a milestone.  “God loves me when I’m good,” I responded.  “But deep down I’m pretty sure He’s just waiting to give up on me if I screw up.”

Just two years later when I graduated from seminary, everything had changed.

I spent three years hearing my professors say things like, “God is not the god of karma, but the God of grace,” and “It is grace that justifies us, sanctifies us, AND glorifies us,” and “When I get to heaven and God asks why I deserve to be there, I’ll just shake my head and whisper, ‘Jesus.'”  I spent three years in a church that offered weekly Communion so that we never forgot where our strength comes from.  I spent three years in a small group where we argued about abortion and gay marriage and Islam and transsexuality and feminism in safety and love.  I spent three years befriending counselors who were delighted to discover my darkest secrets and shared their own with me.  I was spoiled with grace.

But then I moved home.  The problem with leaving your hometown and changing is that when you return…you revert to your old mental and emotional habits.  Or at least, I do.  Who was I before I learned to trust in God’s unconditional love?  I was the Good Girl.  I measured my worth in my modesty, I argued people into heaven, and I covered my possessions in simplistic Christian statements.  I was determined to earn people’s approval.  I was determined to earn God’s approval.  I knew how to work the system, and honestly, it was comforting.  Legalism is nothing if not controlling, and I am good at controlling things.   Continue reading

What Is My Faith Made Of?

“Καλημερα!  Καλημερα, Τρισια!” I heard behind me as I turned right in front of the 1896 Olympic Stadium.  I turned around.  Nir held his arms open.  “Like my jacket?” he asked.  “My parents bought it for me.”

We discussed our weekends, and he asked about how church works.  He asked about Christmas and Easter, and I asked about Yom Kippur and Purim.  He said he wasn’t religious, but was I?  “Yes,” I said, grimacing.  I’ve thought about this before, how much I hate to tell new people that Christianity is a big deal to me.  Romans 1:16 runs through my head like an accusation, but I’ve decided that I’m not ashamed of the gospel…I’m ashamed of a lot of the people who go around talking about it.

“What does it mean for you?  To be religious or not religious?” Nir asked.   Continue reading