Confronting Your DoubtsFr. Barnabas Powell
Have you ever struggled with doubt? If you’re honest, the answer is “yes.” But I wouldn’t be surprised if some read this and said “no, I don’t doubt.” And that kind of scares me more because that means either this person has never really paid close attention to themselves or the Faith claims of Christianity, or they are so disconnected from self-awareness that they don’t realize they doubt.
But, if you have ever struggled with doubt, then you know how de-energizing it can be, how painful it can be.
So what is it about doubt that derails confidence? Well, past experience is a powerful image of future performance. It isn’t wise to ignore the painful reality of past promises unkept. But neither is it wise or even helpful to always expect the worst from someone else. Where’s the balance? How do we protect our hearts from the debilitating power of doubt?
Look at John 20:19-31:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.” Eight days later, His disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and My God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name.
The path to keeping doubt from becoming caustic in your soul requires you to hold the past, present, AND future altogether! Notice how the Lord deals with Thomas’ moment of doubt. The Lord doesn’t scold Thomas; He invites him to examine his heart through a question and a comment! “Have you believed because you have seen me?”
Doubt can be kept from becoming a sickness in your heart if you will embrace three truths: First, the Truth of Experience. It is completely legitimate to look at a track record of behavior and postulate future performance. That’s just reality. I have about a C- when it comes to paying attention to my diet (however, I do grade myself on a curve!) so, it’s fair to say I will continue to struggle with this aspect of my health. But, past experience will never protect your heart from the darker side of doubt. You CAN’T stop there.
Next, you have to embrace the Truth of Expectation. Not your expectation of yourself or of your friends and family, but your expectation of God’s grace and mercy! You see, forgetting to add God and His mercy and love to the equation will always lead you to despair, doubt, cynicism, and sadness. The Truth of Expectation allows you to joyously expect the best from yourself and others because God’s grace is always present. It’s just a matter of having the courage to appropriate Him for your life. It’s called “faith.”
Finally, if you are going to avoid the darker side of doubt, you must embrace the Truth of Execution. When I act as if God can’t rescue me, my behavior reflects my lack of faith. When I fail to act in a faithful manner, my heart and my words reflect my lack of belief! But if I act out the reality of God’s love and power in my life I can execute a pattern of faithfulness that dispels the darkness of doubt because of my confidence, not in myself or those around me, but in God’s ability to make up for the deficiencies of my life and those around me!
Today, we all have doubts. They are natural, understandable, and expected. But doubt doesn’t have to be the final word in your life. Doubt can be kept from becoming a paralyzing influence on your spiritual progress if only you’ll allow doubt to not grow into disbelief! By holding the past, present, and future together in light of God’s grace, His mercy, His love, and forgiveness, you can doubt and not stumble, just like St. Thomas! He ended his earthly life as Thomas the Believer because he was Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, thank You for moving St. Thomas from the Doubter to the Believer! Thank You for calling me to confront my doubts head-on and not pretend or lie about my own struggles. Thank You that You don’t reject me if I doubt, but You lovingly call me to face my doubts head on and see You as my sure foundation. You truly are worth the spiritual labor to push through my doubts into Your loving arms! Amen