what i want you to know about doubt {a linkup}

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there was a time in my life that i had no doubt.

only certainty that what i had made the center of my life was, indeed, the whole truth.

then, my foundation suddenly crumbled underneath me; after the seeds of doubt i’d been hiding in the bowels of denial put down roots and made quick work of destroying all i thought i knew.

a switch flipped one day, when i asked the question – at age 22 – newly married and just out of college: “what if it all isn’t true??” i spent the next seven years desperately trying to get that switch to flip back, to turn the lights back on.

i wanted it back – the easy, certain faith of my youth.

it was a miserable seven years; full of dark confusion, desperate searching, depression, resignation, wishing for it all to end (one way or another).

(i have never been more grateful than the moment i stepped out of that fog into the warm lovelight of a present God.) 

 

what i didn’t know back then was that doubt is normal.

 

it is a vital piece of a vibrant, alive faith. because certainty is no faith at all.

“If we are unwilling to live askew for a while, set off balance, to wait on the ever-spacious threshold, we remain in the same old room for all our lives. If we will not balance knowing with a kind of open ended not knowing – nothing new seems to happen. Thus it is called “faith” and demands living with a certain degree of anxiety and holding a very real amount of tension.” -Richard Rohr, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective

i have found this to be oh-so-true.  once i have learned to sit with my doubts, allow them to inform my faith; accepted, rather than denied, them… brand-new doors have opened to me, doors to freedom – and even creativity – with God.

 

but here’s what i want you to know about doubt:      ::it doesn’t feel normal::

 

not when you’ve only ever known certainty, and have believed doubters to be “…like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:6-8 NIV). my impression was that doubting was cause for shame, so i had just never gone there.

during those seven years, as i approached pastors and philosophers, apologists and religion professors, i was trying to pull myself out of what was surely a shameful situation of no longer being able to simply believe. it was incredibly painful, that upheaval of the faith i’d once known. it was excruciating to no longer know what was true, no longer know how to orient my life.

no one chooses doubt because it is the easy way out, because they’re being lazy about their faith (somehow i had this impression). it is anything but easy.

i had a few people during these years tell me, with a wave of the hand: “oh yeah, of course – we all have doubts.” i’d – at first – begin to breathe a little easier, until they followed that up with “that’s normal; but i just keep coming back to the Bible, where it says God blah blah blah…” nobody stopped long enough to hear me that i was questioning everything. not just the specifics of where my beliefs would land, but the big things they took for granted, like God’s existence or the veracity of the Bible. this doubt i was experiencing was not “normal“, based on the responses i had to what i was experiencing all those years. no.one.got.it. i was alone. 

the very few responses that helped me, that gave me hope, were the ones that spoke to their own personal experience of a big God. the friend who said “i will see the light for you until you can see it yourself.” and refused to be anything but present. the ones who guided me deeper into my doubts to see what they were telling me – about myself, about God. these hearts held mine gently until that day that light pierced the fog.

my faith now is so much messier than it was before the lights went out. and so much more beautiful and free and real. 

now, there is daylight and there is moonless night.

they both move in my spirit, and i am with God.

***

this post was written as a linkup with the Doubters Anonymous group my friend Alissa runs (and i am part of) – if this is a topic that you’d like to read more perspectives on, go check it out:

What I Want You to Know About Doubt

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Thrashing: day 1: Write your own Bible

Mandy Steward‘s book Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything was released today, and i am two chapters in. i’ve already decided i don’t need to write a memoir anymore, since she already has (don’t worry,  writer friends, i’m just kidding – i know MY story is important. it’s just the similarities are…eerie).

and God has already spoken to tender places in my heart.

this book, it is connected to my story in many ways, and is beyond where i have allowed myself freedom to go, in so many ways. i had both fear and excitement before beginning its pages. i had to write myself a “permission slip” before i read the first lines, to remind myself of freedom to thrash, unafraid of my final destination.Image

Mandy is one of the co-creators of The Art Journaler community, where i have spent much time this past year. Each month, they send out a download for us to have prompts to work from in our art journal, or to set intention for our days. This month, October, since her book came out today, the prompts revolve around themes within her book. some of them look very dangerous at first glance (and may very well be). Last night, i cut apart the typed phrases, without paying much attention to their words. i read some, and a few made me think: “i hope i don’t draw that one until later in the month, when i’ve read enough of the book to have context for it.” This was one of those.

“write your own bible”, it said. Whaa…?

but as i held it at arm’s length (literally. i’m farsighted.), i focused on what was directly behind this little subversive piece of paper in my hand. and realized that i have been doing exactly that. well, not exactly that. i began a new project a few days ago, and it involves:

*marking out huge chunks of the bible (yes, like IN an actual bible – gasp! it’s a One-Year Bible that we have been meaning to “get rid of” and i rescued it.) to create “blackout poetry”.

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*meditating on one word that “shimmers” from a bible passage, contemplating ripe meanings within its phrases.

*free writing about themes that emerge, then creating a pantoum poem from favorite lines:

in deep waters//empty, waiting, like a dark womb//having only ever known: alone//until the light

empty, waiting, like a dark womb//the spirit moves//until the light//birth soon to be witnessed

the spirit moves//having only ever known: alone//birth soon to be witnessed//in deep waters.

*and finally a “found poem”, cut and pieced from random book pages. Image

i have been afraid of the bible. for years.

it has been a full three years since i stepped out of the darkest , most despairing time of my life (so far) into new light. and it has been beauty and freedom and spirit-whispers and desire.

but the bible? it still had all the same language it did in all my growing-up years, and when i read it, it was heavy with baggage of decades of knowing all the right answers. all those “right” answers that no longer had the same meaning for me, walking in this new life. and so, i haven’t spent much time in it. i have had moments of feeling guilty, like i “should” be able to read scripture without feeling so triggered back to the shame of before. but walking in freedom requires of me not to obligate myself when i am in a season of needing something different. and he has been nothing but tender, grace-full, aching with me for my heart’s freedom. 

so there was this moment, a couple weeks ago, where a friend was teaching a workshop, and used a bible passage glued down as the base layer for what she was creating. and as i followed along, glancing here and there, making connections within the passage, i discovered that i wasn’t afraid (well, maybe a little). i felt free coming to the bible for the first time in ages. granted, i chose the passage that has felt most “safe” to me – galatians 5 – i can get on board with being free, and refusing to put old chains back on, and being led by the spirit.

but as i worked through it, i found myself alive (this was very unexpected), and i suddenly wanted to do this for the whole bible (a lofty goal? perhaps)…! and the friend i confessed this to said, “i would buy that book, even if i wasn’t a christian anymore!!” 

imagine. a book of art and found poetry, created as i thrash my way anew through old words? abstract reflection and interaction with ages-old text, and the heart of God? i want that book.

and i have been waiting to find “my book”, since i am 8 weeks into a 12-week writing course whose intent was to come out with a manuscript; but all i was writing seemed to fall flat. nothing seemed right.

but this? this is me.

this is my journey, moving quietly in rhythm with the spirit, no cold-hard-fact answers; only whispers and questions and creating and receiving.

last week, i began in genesis, and have made it through the first four days of creation.

and i have to tell you: it has been incredible. and whether or not it ends up published as an official book, this process…? it has already been invaluable and life-giving for me.

and i hope the glimpses will refresh you, too

“October is a fine and dangerous season…a wonderful time to begin anything at all.” – Thomas Merton

here is to #31days of thrashing