Recently, a friend whom I haven’t spoken to in a while asked me how I was doing over Telegram chat. I summed up my answer to her in this phrase – “This season has been rich in doubt and consolations.”
My friend expressed surprise that I would choose to describe doubt as “rich” and her response has led me to ponder further on why I had chosen that word. After all, when it comes to faith, we usually think of doubt as a negative thing, something we wished we had less of. We tend to think that a strong faith is one in which there is little space for doubt. Perhaps we attempt to push our doubts aside and soldier on doing what we have been taught we should do, and there may be times when that is our duty of the moment. But is that all we can do with doubt when it comes to our relationship with God?
Call me crazy, but I have found in my relationship with God that He often leads me into doubt. He usually does that when I get too sure of myself or too sure about anything at all, really, including when I get too sure about Him! I have found that while I am careful not to put God to the test, he loves to put himself to the test for me and in the process test my presuppositions of how this whole faith thing works. Again and again, he has shown me that he is not just the God I thought I knew from what I have been told or read about him, or even simply the God I have come to know in my past. He is bigger, wider, and far wilder than the wildest of his grand creation.
There is something dangerous about entering a real relationship with the living God instead of just theologising about Him – you can never control how God chooses to reveal himself or how he shatters your illusions about him and his Church. Doubt is just one of the many tools God uses to grow us to maturity in our relationship with him, for where has there ever been a deep and abiding relationship which had never been tested? And where has there been a fruitful and loving relationship which was frozen in some sort of idealisation of love instead of being honest, messy, difficult and even at times ugly? Why would we seek some sort of tidy, “perfect” relationship with God when what our hearts long for (and what HE desires with us) is a real one?
In my vocation as a wife of eleven years, I have learned that what deepens the love between my husband and I is not playing some kind of role I think an ideal wife is supposed to play, or striving not to fall short of some sort of external yardstick. Neither does holding my husband up to some ideal standard of what it means to be a husband or man help. (As any husband would agree, I am sure, that would usually lead to the exact opposite outcome the wife hopes for!) What deepens our intimacy is, more than anything, our fidelity to discover and live from our True Selves and our fidelity to welcoming each other as we really are instead of who we expect we should be. It is incredible how powerful a motivation acceptance and compassion can be for us to grow in maturing love!
Every living thing grows and evolves and changes with different seasons. So too do relationships, including the relationships we have with our dearest ones, and especially our relationship with God. We must be stretched beyond our comfort even as we are embraced, challenged as we are unconditionally accepted, and we must let die what we have outgrown and let new life spring from what we let go. I have found that doubt is often the instrument God uses to help me cross the threshold from what was to what is yet to be. Doubt helps to free my mind and heart from old certainties so that I might behold God as he is before me now and to recognise him when he appears in a different way from before.
So let’s not be afraid of doubt or let doubt discourage us from our desire to know and love God more. For when what we long for is God, even doubt becomes an ally to a deeper and stronger relationship with Him. May the soil of our hearts be rich with the doubt that yields purer love!