One of my oldest and dearest friends (we’ll call him Lance for now) is an atheist. Lance is one of my favorite people to debate because he is smart (like wicked smaht) and he rarely (never?) stoops to disrespect when we debate. He doesn’t scoff at my faith in God (at least not to my face) and he has always said that he too enjoys debating with me. Face to face interactions and mutual respect. It’s a refreshing change from the online comment boxes, that’s for sure.
Also, he drinks like a sailor and is one of my husband’s best friends, so we have those things in common, which is nice.
Where was I? Oh yes. Despite our differences, Lance and I enjoy discussing the weightier subjects in life. Religion, politics, etc. Once upon a time, in just such a debate, he asked me a critical question, and I totally flubbed the answer. I could blame it on the wine, but I think there was more to it than that.
Lance: Do you ever doubt God? Me: No. Lance: So you’re telling me you never wonder? You never think… what if I’m wrong? About God or Catholicism even? Me: No. I know God exists, that the Catholic Church is true and I know it deep down in my soul. I don’t ever doubt it.
My friends, that was a lie. A bold-faced lie. At that point in my life I doubted all the time. One moment I believed, the next I doubted. Depending on the situation or my mood, I doubted everything, from whether God existed at all to wondering whether Catholicism was any better (or much much worse) than any other religion out there.
But in that moment, I was afraid. I was afraid that admitting to that doubt made me less credible of a believer. Would Lance, wordsmith and user of clever and sometimes confusing logic, use that doubt to wrench my faith away from me entirely? I thought if I said those words aloud: “Yes, sometimes I doubt my faith,” somehow it would make my doubt stronger, my faith less sure.
Worst of all, I thought my doubt made a lie of my faith.
Over the last few years, as my faith has strengthened and grown, I have had moments of tremendous and terrible understanding. Moments where the presence of God is so real to me that I want – quite literally – to run and hide from Him. It’s a wonderful and terrible thing to be truly aware of God. But the most terrible thing of all, the truly awful thing, is that these moments of revelation (I say revelation because it doesn’t take faith to believe in something palpable) are invariably followed by moments or days or weeks of doubt. Did I imagine it? Was I overworked or overtired? Do I have a brain tumor? All of these things cross my mind, as does that lie I told a decade ago.
Every time I have a moment of significant doubt, I think about that stupid, foolish, wicked lie. I think about how false I sounded, even to myself. I ponder with great gratitude about how I’ve grown in faith, how God hasn’t allowed it to be wrenched from me. But I also think about how I missed a vital opportunity. I missed the chance to be vulnerable – in truth – to another one of God’s precious children. If I had owned up to my doubt, would I have made a difference to Lance? Probably not, I’m not as arrogant as all that. But if I had spoken the truth in that moment, it would have freed my faith sooner from that soul-crushing grip I kept it clenched in and allowed the Holy Spirit to fill those spaces.
As I clear away the distractions of my life, I remove those things which turn me away from God. The doubt comes less often and I can turn toward my faith, rather than forcing it to come to me. I make myself free to believe, and conversely to doubt and explore that too. Most importantly, I allow God to move freely within my life.
“Yes, in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.” ~ Pope Francis (emphasis mine)
I still have moments of doubt, but I won’t ever lie about them again. I try to think of them as consolation, as proof that less of me will always equal more of Him And I think of my faith as being like a compass. When it’s finally able to break free from localized magnetism (me), it spins without hesitation and without fail to True North (Him) yet again.