Imagine me, search and stalking the ground of my actual life, looking for a space where questions are safe, where exclamations aren't the only things marking the end of a sentence.
It's not easy. In an ultra-efficient land-- where technology is actually programmed to calm my fears and assure me that I am, in fact, on the fastest possible route-- doubt is a detour en route to nowhere good.
I'm not sure when I had my first doubt, and I'm even less sure why talking about it feels vaguely similar to talking about the loss of innocence.
To doubt is to cross over into a new country with the bridge crumbling behind you. As an American, to doubt is to refuse seizing your destiny, littered with premium internet-and-TV bundles. As a twenty-something, to doubt is to turn down the wanderlust that teases your 8-to-4 routine with visions of something dripping with poetry and significance. As an American Christian, to doubt is fine, but not as good as faith. And as a Christian in vocational ministry, to doubt is latent shame.
Aha, but I still doubt. And though I doubt you doubt, I think you doubt too. What's up with that?
In some ways, doubt has shaped how I've understood that last two or three years of my life. And although I've got a hunch that doubt is too sacred and complex to solve with a blog post-- like most things, actually, now that I think about it-- I do know that doubt needs certain conditions to thrive.
Here's three things:
1. Mark the spaces
Think about a fire. It's not necessarily good or bad. Place it in a pit on a mild summer night, surround it by chairs, and you have something beautiful. But place it in a forest, and you've got something grave and destructive. Don't get me wrong: I don't think you'll blow up your friends by sharing your doubts with them. But I do think doubt, like fire, can quickly become all-consuming.
You likely know the spaces where it's safe to doubt God, the meaning of your life, evolution, or whether or not you should eat ever again after watching Food Inc. Maybe it's a raggedy journal. Maybe it's a raggedy friend, the dependable one you always appreciate a little less than you really ought. Maybe it's praying as you drive alone. And once you've found those spaces, formalize them a bit. Place your doubts there. Explore them. Interrogate and investigate them. Worry about them all you want.
2. Limit the spaces
I've found that single doubts have a way of becoming total doubts. What begins as an innocent doubt about how historical the Old Testament quickly spreads until I doubt I'd ever be a good dad. How that happens I honestly don't know. But it does.
If doubt is a monster, then I can only freak out about it for so long before I'm asleep at the wheel of my actual life. How beautiful is it to be human that, though we feel crippled by fear, we might still act in love? Though Jesus sweats blood and begs for release in Gethsemane, what happens after he leaves that garden is salvation history.
3. Plan on doubt
And since we're talking about Jesus, I'll admit I imagine a Galilean man with a smile pasted on his face even as he sleeps. I imagine a Galilean man who had one bout of doubt in Gethsemane, maybe two if you think he got a little ornery during his forty days in the wilderness.
And it's convenient to imagine that, I suspect, because it gets us off the hook trying to become like Jesus. If he didn't have our human experiences, then we can't reasonably expect to imitate him.
But if this Jesus regularly laid his head to sleep, battling wandering thoughts about whether his life actually mattered? If this Jesus stared up at the boundless stars in the night sky and wondered aloud about his place in it all? If believing he was a beloved son wasn't all exclamation marks and parading? If this Jesus had doubts throughout his entire life?
Then maybe he isn't the only one whose life can actually matter. Then maybe we find our place in his story after all. Then maybe we can live like we're beloved children after all.
And maybe doubt isn't a nagging disease to be cured, but just the assumption that makes creative love so compelling.
photo credit: wifey