When Doubting Hurts

 

lord

when you arrive

we will be light

bread and water

the table is set and the door opened

come and take your place among us

free me of the belief

that you are only faithful from a distance

and speak with me

in the unharried language of animals

who from far off lie in wait for us

with their unadulterated hunger

–Said

 

When I travel for speaking events, one of the first things I’m often asked is if I am an introvert or an extrovert. You’d think that’s a simple question, but for someone who grew up in the Southern Baptist evangelical church, it brings up a lot of difficult emotions.

 

The church spaces I grew up in rewarded people pleasing. They rewarded those who were willing to put on a happy face and go through the motions required of such a religion. We were faithful to prayer, to purity, to reading the bible, to saving souls, and to smiling while we do it.

 

I grew up in a church with beautiful, kind people, but no one taught me to ask questions. No one taught me that things might not be as they seem, that God might be someone who gives room to really difficult questions.

 

So, I brought myself up with extrovert-like actions, a social butterfly who could buzz around with small talk and laughter, but who earnestly longed for quiet conversations with big questions over hot cups of coffee.

 

As an adult, I’ve joined multitudes of others who are deconstructing their faith, and it’s difficult as hell.  The constant work of asking questions, of giving voice to doubts, seeing things that cannot be unseen– it is utterly exhausting, and positively necessary.

 

 

I'm not sure we spend enough time talking about how painful the process of deconstruction is.

 

 

The night before this last Easter Sunday, I watched old Easter videos online, triumphant productions with men’s quartets and choirs proclaiming that Christ is risen. I was laughing at the things I naively believed as a child, but I went to bed with a sense of mourning what was once such a simple faith that I no longer claim to have. I carried that grief into Easter morning, letting all my questions roll around inside me.

 

I didn’t wish people a Happy Easter. I thought about both what deconstruction has given to me and has taken from me. I thought about how my view of Jesus has changed so much throughout the years, and most of the time, I don’t know what to believe. 

 

Some weeks, we cry because things cannot be simple, the way they once were. Grief, doubt, and the realization that faith is complicated– it feels like it ruins everything, for all time, and we will never find peace in faith or religion ever again. It leaves us terrified of what the future terrain of faith looks like, an unknown land we do not understand and are not prepared for.

 

The days, months, years of deconstruction wane on and on, and most of the time, we are not content there. We are tired. We want something to reconstruct that will be better than what once was. 

 

Perhaps in these moments, we need to voice our questions to remember that we are not alone. This has held so much power in social media spaces, where we find friends outside our physical communities who are asking the same questions we are asking. When we say, “I have doubts, and they hurt, and I don’t know the way forward,” someone steps up beside us and says, “I had those questions too, and I’m still here.”

 

It doesn't mean healing is one straight path; on the contrary, we know that healing is a winding road that seems to have no destination. But it helps to know we aren't the only ones on the journey.

 

So my hope is that we talk about how hard deconstruction is, how difficult our questions are, that we can say out loud, “I miss the simplicity of a doubtless faith,” while listening to the poets and prophets of our time remind us that we cannot give up the work.

 

And just maybe what we realize along the way is that “the table is set and the door opened,” as Said says. We realize that both the doubtless, childlike faith and the wandering, weary, questioning faith lead us to a God who takes all of it and responds with fresh wind and rain, with sunsets and a few friends along the way.

And suddenly we realize, all these winding roads, all these roadmaps that seem to lead to nowhere, they actually lead us to the thing that has always been.

Love was always the destination. 

 

I am writing

because sometimes

we are closer to the truth

in our vulnerability

than in our safe certainties.

Rachel Held Evans

 

Having Grace for the Person You Have Been

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

I am in the middle of writing my second book. Anyone who has written a book, or even an article that is published, knows the embarrassment that comes with looking back on something you’ve written and wondering, How on earth did I think that? 

Our cheeks flush red and we hope that our current Twitter followers don’t judge us by our ignorance. We hope that they will understand how much we’ve grown, how much work we’re doing to be better than we once were.

I wrote a piece a few months ago on the death of John Allen Chau, missionary to the Sentinelese Islands who endangered an Indigenous people, and they acted to protect themselves. As I read the story, I thought back to the young woman I once was, the young woman in the baptist church who was so sure that she would save the world and bring the people around her to Jesus. Love was mixed with colonization, and I had no idea that I was playing a part in one of the greatest tragedies to happen upon mankind: destroying one another in the name of Jesus.

And so, as I write my second book, I fear for the woman I will become and the one I am now. I feel like I’m learning a thousand lessons a day from Twitter and parenting alone, so what if I read my own words two years from now and I’m disgusted with what I see?

There, it seems, I must find grace for who I once was. I must find grace for the woman I have been.

It took some time for me, in therapy over the last year, to learn that I need to look back with a constant love note to the girl I was, the girl who didn’t understand fully the systems that shaped her. She was full of love, but sometimes had trouble finding the right outlet for it. She was fueled by community and connection, yet she didn’t have words for it.

I know now.

And yet, I don’t know much.

And when I’m older, I will say the same things.

I meet people all the time who, when I tell them something about the struggle of being Indigenous or a part of our history that is often covered up, they say, “I just didn’t know, I’m so sorry.” In that moment, I’m not looking for an apology; I’m pointing to our education and church systems that have so badly prepared us for conversations like this, systems that erase the stories of Indigenous peoples and people of color.

I’m looking to say, “You didn’t know, but now you do. What happens next? What you will do for the next generation?

Our dearest Mary Oliver said,

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Well, perhaps one thing we should plan to do is know RIGHT NOW that we will be disappointed in a few things about who we are.

Perhaps if we know RIGHT NOW that we will be ever growing, ever changing, ever evolving, we will have more grace even for future us.

I live in a spotlight on social media, as do many. Educators, activists, commentary writers, journalists, religious leaders, politicians– we are put under a scrutiny that is well-deserved, because we are speaking on behalf of not only ourselves but those we wish so much to better care for.

I speak on behalf of my own story as a mixed woman who is Indigenous and white, and yet, when others see me, I represent so much of the Indigenous story. It’s not right, of course; we are not a monolith, and we have individual experiences, layered with privilege or lack of it. We’ve got to be honest about that, too.

There will be plenty of unrelenting criticism.

There will be plenty of rage over things we’ve said and done, over things we’ve left unsaid and undone.

And there should be, because we are looking in a mirror. We are asking to see who we really are as America, and we are asking for our systems of oppression to be taken down. That should happen, and the way of grace says that it should happen with holy fire.

Perhaps, in this space, if we begin with grace for ourselves, we will learn to follow with grace for one another.

We live in an era in which people like to out-woke one another, all in vain. But I wouldn’t dare call myself woke when there’s still so much waking to do.

 

I wouldn't dare call myself WOKE when there's still so much waking to do..png

This statement allows me to recognize that I haven’t arrived, and if I haven’t arrived, neither did the nine year old me whose father had just left, and neither will the 80 year old me who is struggling with what it means to age with kindness and sometimes feel alone.

This statement allows me to apologize when I get it wrong and work to make it right, like I’ve seen others do.

What if we chose the way of grace?

What if, when we know our own faults, we also know our own strengths?

And if we know our own faults and our own strengths, can we call those out of each other when the time is right?

Our systems of oppression must be toppled. That will never change.

The question is, what kind of people will we be in the midst of it?

We can be people full of grace and full of anger, make no mistake about that. Our anger leads us to ask questions, and grace is the partner that holds our hand along the way.

Can you feel that?

Can you believe that?

Perhaps the child that still sits in a chair in the corner of your soul is asking you to tell them something.

Perhaps the young adult that still rests at the pit of your stomach wants you to say, “It’s okay. I get it,” and mean it.

Perhaps the person that you’ve sought to understand but can’t needs you to step into the fray and speak, “I want to know your story and understand.”

With grace.

With grace.

With grace.