Dealing with Doubt
This post is a little different from previous ones. I actually wrote it about 6 months ago, but didn't have the guts at that time to post it. I wasn't sure if I was writing out of pain or if what I had to say would hurt people. So I sat on it. But, I'm now sat in France, ready to take on new adventures and I found myself re-reading this piece. I realised that I still believe what I wrote and that maybe it needed to be shared. I've decided to be bolder and to start writing what's on my mind a little more. It scares me because I definitely care what people think, and I know that the internet world isn't always kind. But I don't want to silence myself out of fear so here it goes...
I’ve been brought up to ask questions, to be unafraid to do so, and to believe that asking questions is important! This is pretty cool, and has been instrumental in my journey with faith. I was brought up as a Christian, and committed the whole of my life to this. Being a Christian was a joy to me, it gave me purpose and connection. My whole world revolved around God and what I believed He was calling me to do. This was the case in the small and the big decisions, ‘should I go to the party?’ ‘Should I skip church to play football?’ ‘Which subjects should I take in School?’ ‘Where should I go in my gap year/s?’ ‘Which university should I go to?’ ‘Should I date this person?’ After asking each question, despite not hearing an audible “YES” or “NO” from God, I would go with the decision that gave me the most peace, this is how I believed God spoke to me. If I felt at peace, it was a yes from Him. If I made a decision and subsequently did not feel at peace, then I felt He had probably said no, and my doing it anyway was the reason I felt turmoil in that situation.
Anyway, three years ago I fell in love with someone I did not expect to love. I had guarded my heart, not always the most effectively but, I was waiting for the right one, the person I would feel at peace with. When I met Matthew, I was scared, because I liked him, alot. He wasn’t a Christian, and therefore wasn’t who I expected to fall for. But, I felt at peace. He made and still makes me incredibly happy, if you've met him, you'll know why.
Matthew is inquisitive, and from the beginning asked me question after question about my faith. He wasn’t trying to tear it apart, but wanted to understand. The problem was, I had so many questions myself, questions that I hadn’t yet faced because they felt too big. I had relied for quite a while on the fact that I could apparently never truly know everything, and where there was doubt I could have faith. But this was never really satisfactory to me, because to rely on faith when I couldn’t find an answer meant squashing my doubts and not finding answers. I get that there aren’t always easy answers, and that there are often differing opinions, but to ignore the doubts felt dumb.
This started me on two journeys
The journey of being in a relationship (very new and scary)
The journey of truly questioning
I realised that if I was going to go on this journey, I didn’t want to half-ass it. I wasn’t going to hold back on the questions, which meant I had to consider that perhaps everything I’d believed for the first 22 years of my life, had been a lie. This was a very scary thought. What if God doesn’t exist? But, how could I possibly come to a place of peace with this, if I would’t allow myself to consider that possibility?
As I journeyed this, I came to understand, I think, why so many young people have distanced themselves from church. This is something I‘ve always wanted to understand, and have struggled to really grasp. How could someone go from believing, to not? From giving their life to the Lord, to not? It’s something that the church has prayed into endlessly, the words ‘lost generation’ have been used and I’ve seen the fear in people as more and more youth have left. A few things are often assumed...
That the young person didn’t have a faith of their own, had never really connected with Jesus and therefore with age, realised they didn’t actually believe.
That the young person wanted to be able to do what ever they wanted without feeling guilty. Sex, drugs, drinking etc.
That the young person became offended by something or someone within church.
That the influence of a new boyfriend/girlfriend, who isn’t a Christian, had led to the young person leaving.
I guess these points may be true for lots of people, they are definitely conclusions I came to in the past, but I think that there is another reason.
Since my journey of questioning and the mounting doubt I’ve been facing, I’ve tried to stay connected to church. The expectation is that when you date a non Christian, you’ll most likely leave the Church, eventually. So, I wanted to defy that expectation. There is then the difficulty of remaining honest, and not living a double life, something I also tried really hard to do. Having always been brutally honest, I attempted to continue this. I spoke to people, who I love, my church community is also my family. They helped raise me in many ways and so I love and respect them. So, I tried to be honest about my journey, my questions and doubts. But it was painful. And this is perhaps why so many people do not do it. I had many conversations where as I opened up about my thoughts, my choices, my doubts, I could see the very real fear and worry. They were afraid that they were losing me. That I was going to make choices that couldn’t be reversed. That I was lost. I tried to keep going to church, but I often left feeling sad, carrying the weight of other peoples fear. I felt like I was hurting the people who loved me most, and that this journey that was exciting, new and I believe, vital, could not be celebrated. Every time I spoke with someone, I would gauge their reaction and therefore know how much to disclose, and would often ensure to fit in the words, “don’t worry, I’ve not lost my faith in God, I’m just questioning.” This was perhaps not always completely honest, but it would slip out of my mouth in an attempt to appease their fear.
I am not alone in my doubts, and am currently on a journey of rediscovery. I don’t blame the church at all. I was never angry about this situation, because the reality is, that I have felt what they feel. When friends, young people have spoken to me of their doubts, when they’ve dated non Christians, I’ve felt fear and worry. I’ve tried to ‘fix’ their situation. So I can’t possibly be annoyed. I did it with some of the closest people to me. When they were struggling with their faith, I was scared. So scared. But, this really didn’t help them. And I’m sorry for that. Really sorry. Because I'm now in their shoes. I've felt the need to justify myself, or to appease the fears of those who I love, despite not agreeing or feeling what they feel. It's hard. And now that I’m in a situation I never foresaw, I’m actually so incredibly happy, and free. My life has changed drastically but I’m still on a journey.
In truth, I think I got to the point where I didn’t know how to continue my journey of rediscovery, without hurting the people around me. I wasn't able to keep re-assuring people that I wasn’t one of the ‘lost generation’, because I need to take a break, and allow myself the time to take an outside look in on what it it I’d been committing my life to. Re-evaluating…knowing, that I may in fact no longer hold the same beliefs as the community/family I so dearly loved and respected. I needed space to make my faith my own.
Figuring out how exactly I would be able to remain in relationship with Church was difficult. Which, is a problem. When we invest so much of our lives in something, like faith, church, Christianity. The prospect of changing, of addressing the doubt and what that might mean, is scary. But so many young people, especially those who have grown up in Church, are no longer satisfied with where the Christian Faith has led them. This is not about whether they believe in God anymore, I don’t think, but rather how they can address their faith and their doubt within the structures they have grown up in, without losing it all. Because, to lose your Church family is like experienceing a loss. To see the change in the way people look at you, as you try to address what it is you feel or believe, in a way that is honest and true to yourself…is painful.
I understand why many people can’t face it. Why they choose to cut their ties and attempt to avoid the painful process.
I don’t believe that what I have written is necessarily true for everyone. I haven’t wrtten this to tear down the Church, and the people in it. That is actually the last thing I want. Rather, I’m hoping that my perspective might in some way help. The life and experiences I’ve had through Church have been incredible-like truly amazing! When I look back on the opportunities I was given, I can see that I was priviliged. My commuity has helped me grow and I’ve felt so much love and connection.
But, I think something needs to change if we want to avoid alienating and damaging the next generation as they make their way in the world.