“I feel comfortable with all that I don’t know,” Sarah was saying. We were in a taxi, driving to a writing conference. “The older I get,” she said, “the more comfortable I am with not knowing things.”
I wish I could feel that way, I thought. That is, comfortable with what I don’t know.
Recently I read a poem by Kathleen Dale that muses, “All that I know I don’t / know keeps me company / sits with me in a moment of ease / like an old friend.”
I wanted this. To feel that it was okay to live with the unknown, as a friend. A generous ally, someone who would sit and refuse to leave, that you could implicitly trust to stick around despite your crazy antics and idiosyncrasies.
The question I’ve found myself asking is this: what would it be like to feel there was room for your doubting self, your scared self, and your unsure self in this world?
Recently, I’ve struggled with doubt regarding vocation and calling. Just yesterday, I sat among friends whom I’ve grown to love and trust, crying about the ways I’ve felt my life hasn’t matched up to ambitions and desires—though I know I’m young and naïve, and this isn’t the end of the world, but perhaps a stop on the journey. Doubting, I’ve wondered if God cares about what I care about, and I’ve questioned whether as a woman, God cares less about my life and gifts.
Is it okay to question and doubt? And, perhaps more importantly, can you love God if you doubt?
It’s easy as an adult to see the ways paths of close friends have diverged; to wonder at how our lives often look like a random series of events instead of an intricate rug with repeated patterns and lines. I know a single girl whose only desire is to be married, and I have friends whose struggle with infertility has left them not only barren physically but emotionally.
And it is in this space of wondering about patterns that I’ve felt the first notes of doubt creep in, like a resounding bell or gong. I hear the sound of it in my wavering voice, in the ways I deconstruct my own understanding of the world, and in the lives around me—where I see enough chaos and hurt to wonder if there is some kind of overarching narrative, some cogent plan.
One thing that has surprised me in this process of doubt is that friends have reached out and concurred with me, gifting me their doubts and fears, startling me with their empathy. “I, too, have doubted,” they’ve said, “and this is how I’ve found my way.” Others have said to me, “I, too, am still in doubt. Doubting whether the narrative that I’ve grown up with is one I believe. I, too, am parsing the good from the bad.”
I used to think doubting meant you were a lesser person. I used to wonder if doubt was incompatible with faith. I’d heard one too many sermons denigrating the disciple Thomas for his unbelief. Was doubt a sign of insincerity? The kind that led to betrayal in Christ? I didn’t want to affiliate with Thomas, and then slide down the slippery slope into kissing Jesus on the cheek in betrayal.
For the longest time my faith has comprised a litany of all that I know. It required that I bear allegiance, bear responsibility for all that I knew. Christianity required devotion to all the things I knew. But being a Christian is not simply a devotion to all the things we know, is it? On the contrary, it is trust in a person—the person of Jesus Christ. The book of Proverbs instructs us to “lean not on your own understanding,” and Anne Lamott once said the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.
It is in our reaching for God, despite doubt, that we leave room for Him to work and show us what it is He wants us to know. There is much that He is okay with us being in the dark about. The very searching, reaching act of flickering like a candle in the dark is an act of faith.
Trying to hold fast to the creeds sung and whispered and taught to my daughter, I’ve now left space for doubt. We need people of all stripes in the church—the Thomases, the Peters, and the Pauls—and I’m grateful to be included among those whom Jesus loved.