o me of little faith

I don’t have a particularly good memory (to which my husband can attest, as I ask him where I left my keys approximately eighty times a day), but there are a handful of moments from my childhood and growing-up years that still feel as visceral to me as they did all those years ago.

One such memory happened when I was small, I don’t even know how old, older than 5 but younger than 10. I was in my bed at night and the strangest feeling of sheer fear washed over me. I remember running my hand over my wall, feeling the sturdy surface underneath my hand, the tiny bumps of drywall and paint under my fingers. How do I know this is real? I brought my hand back in front of my face, and I stared at it in the dark. How do I know that any of this is real at all? What is this wall even made of? And what is that made of? And what am I made of? How is it possible that anything exists at all?

Pretty meta for a little kid.

It freaked me out so badly that I couldn’t calm myself down, and I got up and ran downstairs and told my mom and dad what was going on, and I don’t remember what their exact response was, but I’m pretty sure they prayed with me and put me back to bed with the assurance that yes, in fact, I am real, and so are they and so is our house and so is God.

I wish it could always be that easy.

I’m a doubting Thomas
I took a promise
But I do not feel safe
O me of little faith

I am not very good at faith. I am not very good at doubt, either. I’m trying very hard to be better at both.

Two Sundays ago, I attended my second of three church services that weekend. It was at my parents’ church, a Southern Baptist church that I called home for over half of my life. There was a guest pastor speaking as theirs was out of town, and he preached on choosing joy in times of struggle, choosing the certain over the uncertain. Sure, but what if it’s not certain? my cantankerous heart argued in the pew.

He touched on that possibility at the end of the sermon. “If you doubt,” he said, “you should doubt your doubt, because God is big enough for you.” (This is as close to a direct quote as my brain will allow more than a week out from hearing it.)

And I got mad. Because if ONLY it were that easy.

I’m a doubting Thomas
I can’t keep my promises
Cause I don’t know what’s safe
O me of little faith

There is this culture and belief in lots of churches, at least in my experience, that doubt must be eradicated. That doubt is (one of) the (many) enemy(ies). That doubt is a rebellion that must be quashed, for fear of losing hold on everything we as the church hold dear.

I think instead that sometimes that the church holds things too tightly, and loses them in return.

The thing about doubt is that it’s not a rebellious act. (Or wasn’t for me, at least. Obviously I can speak only to my own experiences, as someone who grew up in an Evangelical community and was in church for more than eighteen years every time the doors were open.)

My “crisis of faith,” as I like to fondly call it, was the hardest, longest, most gut-wrenching period of grieving I’ve ever been through. More difficult grief than losing either of my grandparents. I say I’m not good at doubt because for four years, I couldn’t even think about it without bursting into tears.

I tried really hard to stop believing in God. I tried and tried and tried because I truly felt like faith, at least the faith I’d grown up with, and my very strong moral and social compass and code were mutually exclusive.

But God, being the mercifully stubborn entity that God is, wouldn’t leave, and I was left to wrestle like Jacob with what God means and who God is and what I believed.

Let me tell you what that feels like: it feels like drowning in your own muck. It feels like the world has gone topsy-turvy, like you don’t know which way is up, like you’re clawing and reaching and stretching for something to hold tight to, but there’s not much there to grasp. It feels like a constant earthquake beneath your feet, the very foundations on which you based your life for years crumbling under you, the widening crack threatening to swallow you up.

You wonder if you’re going straight to hell because of it. The next minute, you wonder if there even is a hell.

Can I be used to help others find truth
When I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie
Can I be led down a trail dropping bread crumbs
That prove I’m not ready to die

For years, I juggled the strange, uncomfortable paradox of holding one set of convictions so strongly that I couldn’t bring myself to believe in anything that contradicted them, and being convicted by beliefs I no longer held, pinning me down and shaming me for turning my back on them.

The shame that cloaks itself heavy on your shoulders comes and goes, but stays more often than not. You worry about what people think, what judgment you’ll face if someone finds out. You hear people your parents’ age talk of lost sheep, of the grief their children are bringing to them due to wandering away from the faith, and you can’t help but wonder, “What do you think of me, then?”

It’s been a long struggle, and some days it feels like it’s over and some days it feels like it’s not.

 Please give me time to decipher the signs
Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted

There’s been a lot of talk lately on Millennials and the church and why they leave and what they stay for. And as an almost-not-Millennial (I was born in 1985, and apparently Gen Xers ended in 1984), I can hardly speak for everyone, but I can certainly speak for myself.

I go to a tiny church plant made up of people with very big hearts who do very big things. Our tiny church, Saint Junia United Methodist Church, was created specifically to “become a diverse community of sinners, saints, and skeptics who join God in the renewal of all things.” (That’s our vision statement. Don’t you love my church already?)

One of the hundreds of defining moments for me, one of the moments that made me say, “Oh, hi God. Thanks for that,” was a statement made by my pastor one Easter Sunday. He said, holding up a Bible in front of God and everyone, on the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, “Ten percent of the time, I believe a hundred and twenty percent of what’s in here, of what we teach. I’m all in. Eighty percent of the time I believe about eighty percent of it. And the other ten percent of the time I’m not sure I believe any of it at all.”

Honesty. Frank, unadulterated honesty. That’s what Millennials want. That’s what this Millennial wants, at least. I’ll take a sometimes-doubting pastor over one who tells me to doubt my doubt any day. I go to church in a place that gives everyone, even our pastor, space to question. To wonder. To doubt. But that space also gives us space to grow, instead of squeezing so tight we feel like running. I don’t have to run away from Saint Junia, or from myself. I don’t even have to run away from God – I can look God in the face, here, and ask the questions I want to and side-eye questionable religious practices and learn to believe even in the face of doubt.

These days, instead of being terrified of my doubt, unwilling to acknowledge it, I’ve learned to sit in the room with it and let it be. There are still days when it’s big and scary and roars in my face and shakes the ground under my feet, but most times it sits quietly in a chair and raises its hand politely when it wants to speak. It’s learned to present itself as healthy skepticism at times, which has been beneficial. It’s taught me things about my faith, about God, about myself. I’m learning to walk forward in spite of it, and some days it walks with me and some days it stays behind.

Either way is fine.

I’m a doubting Thomas
I’ll take your promise
Though I know nothin’s safe
O me of little faith

*Song lyrics from Doubting Thomas by Nickel Creek

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