Saying the word Doubt out loud to a friend brought tears with it, but also relief. I finally turned to face the thoughts that had been tugging at me for a while. My pride doesn’t want me to share this until I reach my destination, once my answers are clear and concise, when it’s all tidy. Unlike now, when I’m not even sure what my questions are. The Bible? Prayer? Jesus?
I have realised that there is a pressure on these thoughts, they have felt so heavy that I could barely speak of them, weighted with shame. I’m 30 years old – I should be sorted. I’ve been serving with a Christian organisation in Africa – I should be certain. I lead others – I should have all the answers.
I think this transition season is forcing me to consider this weight that’s been persistently pulling at me. Having been out of our home culture for a few years, I know that I don’t fit back into the same place I did before. My heart and head have been changed by the pain and joy and friendship and difficulty I’ve experienced. So I find myself looking at this burden of doubts, knowing that I’ve got work to do.
Like an old house that requires a refurbishment, I need to deconstruct what I believe. We can make do with a leaky roof or broken doors temporarily, but the time comes to make a change. Deconstruction sounds active, moving forward, rather than Doubt, which pulls me down. Yet it first means pulling apart and laying bare, getting back to the foundations. We carefully deconstructed our life and home in South Africa, considering what we need, what we should keep, what we should let go of. Now we are gradually rebuilding life again. Deconstruction has a purpose, but it also requires courage to take apart the known and rebuild something new.
I plan to take Henri Nouwen’s advice from ‘Spiritual Direction’:
‘Be careful when life’s questions swirl around you in times of pain. Beware of easy answers or guarantees. Seek the companionship of others who will befriend you and listen as you live the questions of your life.’
I hope to lean into these questions in trusted company. This will require vulnerability, it’s a challenge to invite someone else in to see my mess. But it’s also a pathway to being authentic with myself and with others, and to knowing that we’re not alone.
I didn’t want to write this yet, because I can’t bundle it up into a neat answer. But the words of others* have given me the courage to ‘live the questions’. I have come to see I’m in excellent company. Perhaps the renovation will be a lifelong task, continuously learning. Perhaps I’ll never get to the place where my thoughts and theology line up neatly. Perhaps I’ll always carry some weight of doubt. And perhaps this will give me compassion for the wonderers and wanderers, because I know that we are kin. I do hope to find answers, but perhaps even more, I hope to find Grace.
‘If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention. The Spirit is often breathing in the very changes or shifts that used to terrify us. Grace waits for us in the liminal space’
‘Sitting there with my Bible in my hands, twisting its silk bookmark nervously between my fingers, I realised that just as I sat in church with my doubt, there were those sitting in church with their sexuality, their race, their gender, their depression, their addiction, their questions, their fears, their past, their infertility, their eating disorder, their diagnosis, their missed rent, their mess of a marriage, their sins, their shame – all the things that follow us to church on Sunday mornings but we dare not name’
Spiritual Direction: Wisdom From the Long Walk of Faith – Henri Nouwen
‘Spiritual direction means to listen to the other without fear and to discover the intimate, divine connections within your own stormy life history. It means to help others discover that their questions are human questions, their search is a human search, and their restlessness is part of the restlessness of the human heart – your own included.’
Nomad Podcast is a chance to explore Christian community, mission and the future of the church. Join two ordinary pilgrims as they stumble through the post-Christendom wilderness, looking for signs of hope.