Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Doubt as Hope

Crisis of faith. Time in the desert. Struggling. Doubt.

I worked hard for a long time to find language and metaphors for my loss of faith. I left a religious culture cemented in certainty to drift, untethered, in a wide ocean of possibilities and fear.

The thing about leaving that culture is, you act exactly the way they tell you you'll act when you're backslidden. Sermons don't move you, and worse, irritate you. You read attempts at proselytizing as an insult to your intelligence and right to self-determination. You forget your religious language fluency, and scrunch your nose in concentration to understand what others mean when they say, "It's my heart to..." or, "The Lord told me..." or, you know, "backslidden." So, I constantly felt one foot in the accusations of the old world, while the toes of the other stretched to pull me toward new thoughts and truths.

I found myself pretty interesting during that time. Once I acclimated to this reality, it felt good to own my differences, and push against boundaries that hemmed me in. But it also felt like certain damnation. Others found me interesting too. Some, because they had a project to save. I got pretty adept at telling people straight, "I don't need to be saved." Others, because they saw glimpses of things going on in their own hearts -- things they were too tired to pretend didn't exist.

I pulled away from church. Partially to preserve my sanity from the songs that irked me, and the prayers that reminded me I didn't get it any more. But also, because I didn't want anyone to look at my life, and have to lose what I lost, traveling this path.

I lost hope when I lost faith. Both are heavy burdens at times. Both need work, and evolution, and patience, and good soil, and water, and food. When it all started, the religious culture I was in (seminary, so also my academic culture) showed me the ugly side of privilege, and the twisted results of mixing business and religion. I went there in hope of finding a broader culture, instead to find my sex the butt of continual jokes (from a pulpit), and controversy. I decided that if the best god produced showed up there, then I could do better without. And I wandered. And doubted. For years.

I wander still.

But, I no longer find faith and hope incompatible with the doubt I still drift in. I no longer find the ocean wide and scary, but wide and beautiful. Over the last year, so many experiences showed me that rejecting a false god enthroned in mid-century American ideals did not translate to "therefore, no God."

Pregnancy hormones played  a big part. Whaaa? Seriously. I'm a nurse. I firmly believe our hormones and neurochemicals factor into our emotions, and reactions to faith and God. My preggo hormones cracked open windows, and slammed open emotional doors cut off by encountering religious disappointments.

Husband caught me dancing to "Wagon Wheel" playing across the field at a preggo photo shoot
Therapy helped too. I got to say things, and scream things, and cry things, and try things on, sometimes for the first time ever.

Strangely, church helped (here, because of my past I must clarify I'm not preaching, I'm narrating). I found a church where the pastor nearly clapped when I told him I had no faith, and needed the church to be willing to carry that burden for me for a while. Maybe forever. They did. And, not once did anyone push or pull me. Allen (my pastor) honored me with interest in my story, and acceptance of my journey. It turns out, I need community, and in this instance I needed a faith community.

Also, confronting all the death I've seen. I've seen a lot. In the last 3 years, I invested in synthesizing what all that time at the bedside of death meant, and I found it meant I wanted to live. Deep and wide live. Live richly. Live fully as me -- a woman, a mother, a doubter, a believer, a human.

For a few minutes there I worried I wouldn't be interesting any more. I got over that. I only have today. In this new faithful, hopeful doubt, I can see my story of learning to live and love and believe and doubt in the face of a limited lifetime helping others learn to live.

Although certainty eludes me, certainty precludes faith. The presence of doubt makes faith possible. And that's a paradox I'm finally able to live into.

Note: I will be linking this up to a larger conversation about doubt at on June 5th.

Further Note: I shared this with my pastor before posting, and he reminded me of St Anselm's motto, "Faith in search of understanding." While there are debates on how exactly he viewed the meaning of this (one resource here), I love that it doesn't start with understanding/logic/certainty. Those things are sought -- no promise of being found.  


  1. Being able to express our doubts, to get out what we are thinking, to fully understand our beliefs makes us stronger people. For me it reduces the anxiety. Accepting its ok to have doubts and still be a Christian gives me peace.

    1. Well said, Monica. The anxiety itself kept me from a lot of that exploration for a long time. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you Jessica, for this glimpse into your journey. I'm so glad you found us and joined in today. Feel free to join us on the Doubters Anonymous facebook page too if you'd like!

    1. I was so excited about the link up, from the moment I saw your comment on the Sunday Superlatives at Rachel Held Evans' site. I've been out of country, with spotty internet access, and I can't wait to read up on the other posts!

  3. Wow. What a gift that church and pastor excited about your no-faith must be. Amazing. Thank you for sharing. I nodded the whole time. And yes to hormones being an open door!

    1. Also, thought you might appreciate this quote, so wanted to share:

      "If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” ― Francis Bacon, The Advancement Of Learning


    2. I feel so grateful for Summit (our little church) and Allen.

      I'm glad I'm not the only one on the hormone train. In the past, I actually had people tell me female hormone fluctuations disqualified women from certain jobs and positions. As I've grown, I have decided otherwise. It's complicated. But I've seen instances of heightened creativity, sensitivity, and empathy that convince me being woman is not all burden.

      Also, love the quote. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is great. I think faith is found in absence as much as it is found in presence.

    1. Karissa, that's a good summary of my own discoveries. It's a both/and situation. I needed the presence of the church and its people, to find a little bit of faith again. I also needed the absence of certainty to find comfort in faith that doesn't always answer all the questions. Thanks for your thoughts.