"Mama, how can you really know that God is real? I find myself doubting his existence, lately, and it makes me feel guilty, but it won't go away!"
Panic ran through my mama heart like icy cold water and I immediately feared that anything I had ever done or would do would be enough. What if she gave up her faith? What if I hadn't discipled her the right way or taught the the right verses? What had I done wrong and how could I be sure that she wouldn't lose her faith?
Sarah was 13 when doubt first entered my world and it bothered her often through the next years. I immediately knelt in prayer and probably this made me invest in my children more than if she had never had doubts. But eventually all of my children would go through stages of doubt. I learned that for our children to own their faith in an adult manner, they must ask the questions, search scripture and finally own convictions for themselves to have a strong mature faith. It is a part of growing from childhood to adulthood, to wrestle with what they have been taught and to test it to see if it holds up against their growing worlds. There is much I could say about this issue, but I loved this article that Joy sent me yesterday and thought it would be well worth printing again here, as I know many of you have asked me about it. But all four of my children have gone through stages of doubt at one time or another.
My response to Sarah,"I know your heart and I see that you sincerely want to love God. He is strong enough for you to question Him. You can ask Him anything and probe scripture and I believe you will find your answers. But until you come back to a strong faith for yourself, I will believe for you and pray for you and ask God to show His light on your heart issues. But, this does not cause me to doubt you, as I know in my heart you will sort all of this out in time. Don't fear, my sweetness, God loves you and will guide you."
Our children, like us, need support and love and affirmation when they are walking through dark times. But in order for them to have a legitimate faith, they need to learn to wrestle with God. Here is Joy's article:
“Sometimes I wonder if people knew what I really thought and felt, if they would think I was a prodigal?… that I’m losing my faith.”
The words fell out of my mouth quickly and awkwardly. I had waited many months to say them and felt an odd sensation at allowing their sudden presence in the room. I could not unsay them. They seemed fall with a thud in the heavy air and bring with them a shadow– a shadow that had hung in my mind for quite some time. Across from me sat my professor, leaning in, head tilted, hands crossed. I searched his eyes for a response- did he think I was losing my faith?
For a moment, the words hung in the silence, and he did not reply. I couldn’t read his expression, it seemed sad, intent, but not condemning. I looked down at the notebook I had brought with me. Inside it were neatly written questions, questions that had begun to haunt me several months before, and that had begun to quickly spill in the margins of my journal no matter how hard I tried to push them out. There were no more questions written out; I had asked (or perhaps ‘confessed’ is a better word) them all in that office hours appointment. I thought I had said all I needed to say, but then…
“I want to be a Christian. I want to have faith. I did not ask for these doubts, but they stay with me. I wish I could just put them to bed and move on with my life and faith.”
I suddenly felt an unwanted lump emerge in my throat.
The “cloud of unknowing” as Madelein L’Engle puts it came upon me one January day. I had a miserable and feverish cold and had just made myself tea. I had arrived back at school a bit early for a debate tournament. My cold was a nasty one accompanied by my childhood bane of asthma, which stole my voice. So, I stayed home from the tournament.
I remember sitting down, sniffing painfully, and suddenly feeling a cloud descend on me. The first feeling of doubt wasn’t really an articulated intellectual question, but rather a general feeling of estrangement from my beliefs. Recently in that year, I had encountered a situation that shook me up in what I believed about Christians. I saw Christians saying one thing, acting another way, which is not so uncommon, we are after all fallible humans. In this situation, however, what struck me was the profound dissonance between what they said they believed, and how their actions seemed to deny that belief as a possibility. It raised an awareness in me; was I doing this too? Did what I believed– and indeed who I believed in– really mean something in my life? And further from that, did God care about the inconsistencies? Did He care about me? Who is God? Why didn’t He speak to me?
It was like I had been swimming in a pool of what I had always believed, and I had gotten out for a moment, and observed the pool from the side. It was cold there, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back in. I wondered if I had always assumed my swimming pool to be the Ocean when it really wasn’t.
That day began a journey of months of searching. Though I never stopped going, church became difficult. A new question would present itself at each reading of my Bible. My eyes were suddenly opened to a thousand unexamined presuppositions that I held. And always, there was the attending feeling of isolation, as though I had broken up with a best friend.
I had often heard people say to me “When people doubt, its because they’re being tempted to sin, and they don’t want to think there’s a God to hold them accountable.” This may be true for some, and certainly and easy out to seemingly constricting morals would be to deny the maker of the morals existed to begin with. But, for me, this was not true. I had no boyfriend I was tempted to compromise with. I didn’t have a secret addiction. In my truest heart of hearts, I did not want to give up on my faith. I simply wanted to know that it was big enough. I wanted to know it was not a faith made in my own image– something that made me feel better but wasn’t really true.
One weekend, my mom came and visited me. We ate burgers on the pier, enjoyed the delightful ease of laughing with someone who really knows you, watched the sunset and then went for a walk on the beach. As we walked along the water, putting our toes in as the chilly waves licked the shore, I began to share with her some of my thoughts. She listened and held my arm. As we walked, the night snuck into the sky. In a rare occasion for the polluted skies of Los Angeles, stars began the freckle the darkness, and shine out optimistically. Our conversation paused for a moment, and we stood and watched and listened as the waves came steadily in.
“I once had many of those questions, too, Joy. And sometimes they come to me again. But in Jesus, I found some thing so big, so loving, and so true, that I hold onto him. He is big enough for your questions. He threw these stars into being, and He poured this ocean out on the earth like a cup of water. If you hold on, I know He’ll find you.” she said, with years of memories swimming in her eyes.
The waves crept over my cold feet. The Ocean beckoned me out. My doubt did not end there, but a new search began, the search for the Jesus of the Waves and Stars.
Something that truly helped me in that time, was reading the Gospels and the Psalms. In my time of doubt, I scoured my Bible for answers. Often, I did not find exact answers, but I found that my desires were echoed. In the Psalms I discovered that I was not alone. Before me, David and the psalmists had cried out to God, to know that He was there, that He cared about bringing justice, that He would speak and not be silent.
It was perhaps the Gospels that most profoundly effected me. In the Gospels, I encountered Jesus. As I read, there was a newness in the stories I had never experienced, and Jesus began to come to life from the page to me. He was strange, strong, and sometimes confusing. In His words, I found a deep down truth. I began to truly fall in love with Jesus… with his words, with his life, with his call to die.
It was somewhere in the midst of that process of that reaching, struggling, winning and losing battle to know the truth, that I found myself in the meeting with my professor, true words hanging in the air, silence unbroken. But finally, he broke it.
“They probably would think you were a prodigal.” he said, but his eyes told me that he did not think I was.
“Joy, doubt is never a good or happy thing. It is lonely and long. But doubt can be redeemed. In doubt, you go to the depths of yourself, but there you can find God. And if you find God there, your relationship with Him will be more deep and more strong than it could have been if you hadn’t have doubted. You may never put your doubts completely to bed. But for me, I find that I cannot get past Jesus. He is my bedrock that I fall upon no matter how deeply I doubt. In Him, I find the reason that Paul said “I have counted it all loss to know Christ Jesus and to share in his sufferings.”
I swallowed and managed out a smile.
For the rest of her blog article, go HERE
When your children share their doubts with you:
1. Tell them you love them and believe in them.
2. Tell them you know that God is trustworthy and you have found in your own life, He is faithful and leads you to answers that satisfy.
3. Pray with them and for them.
4. Stay close to them and take them out for coffee, a meal, time where they can freely share apart from the company of others.
Find books that help or answer their questions: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller's book, The Reason for God are two books that are useful to answer questions.
Often, my children were doubting God, they were doubting because it didn't seem like He was answering prayer, or because other Christians had hurt or disappointed our family or acted without integrity or one of their friends had fallen from faith or adopted an immoral lifestyle. There are many reasons in a world full of temptation, but I think staying close, communicating love, affirming and understanding their questions and speaking forward into their lives is helpful. And of course, pray, pray, pray!
Jesus knew that Peter would be tempted and give in and He spoke forward by saying, "I have prayed for you. When you return, strengthen the brethren." Jesus affirmed His value, believed in his future, loved him in spite of his struggles and gave him a mission--this will help you be stronger so you can help others.
Blessed is the child who has a mama by his or her side when they walk through this valley. Praying for you all today!