Doubt can be terrifying.
About a year ago, I went through the most intense and frightening season of doubt I have ever experienced. I wondered if anything I had ever believed was actually true. I doubted the existence of God, the validity of the Bible, and even my own ability to think rationally about these kinds of questions. I worried that the human brain was so powerful that it could convince a person to believe in God purely to avoid the prospect of our own inevitable death and subsequent non-existence.
As if that weren’t enough, I worried about what my doubts might mean for the rest of my life and my family. It’s not like I worked at a box factory where my peers and coworkers couldn’t care less about what I believed just so long as I kept making boxes.
I worked at a church. I was a teaching pastor at a church, which means I was largely responsible for the spoken message on any given weekend. So this new doubt was not merely threatening my paradigm and whether or not I believed anything happens after we die; it was threatening my livelihood in my present reality.
A pastor can lose his job for doubting.
There was one point at which someone I worked with at the church found out about my doubts. I had not intended to tell him, but I made the mistake of submitting a cryptic prayer request to the church’s prayer team which prompted an act of follow-up (I’ve told the story of how this happened in a previous sermon at Collective Church). Upon learning that I was having doubts, what was my coworker’s advice (instruction)? “Don’t tell anyone.”
We can’t have pastors who doubt, can we?
So I kept it to myself.
I started seeing a therapist and, more importantly, I registered for a two-day workshop with Rob Bell in Laguna Beach. I knew that Rob Bell had gone through his own season of doubt, so maybe he could help me work through my own stuff.
At the conference, I raised my hand and asked about this very thing, and Rob Bell (I don’t feel comfortable using only his first name because I’m afraid it will give the impression that I’m namedropping or that I’m trying to imply that he and I are friends or that he knows that my first name is also Rob—none of which are true. So I’m just going to keep it awkwardly and perhaps unnecessarily formal) said some very helpful and meaningful things. He talked about going through paradigm shifts and how the human experiences movement through different stages of consciousness (the construct he used to describe this is called Spiral Dynamics, which is completely brilliant, and you should check it out). But mostly, he told me that what I was going through was healthy and normal and an important part of human growth.
That was nice to hear.
But the thing that really helped me was what happened next. After the session ended, a guy named Mike McHargue came over to where I was standing and invited me to join him and his friends for dinner across the street. He told me that he had been a Christian all his life and became an atheist and had rediscovered his faith in the past two years. He offered to share his story with me, and he wanted to hear mine.
Let me just say this: I love Rob Bell, and I could sit and listen to him talk for hours without ever feeling bored or restless. Those two days of listening to him were life-changing for me. However, what meant the most to me on that trip were the two hours I spent with Mike and his friends (shout out the Chris Hawley, Ty Silzer, and Gregg Nordin), talking about doubt and faith, hope and meaning—exchanging stories and learning that I was not alone.
When I was instructed to keep my doubts to myself, I felt like I was in a mental form of solitary confinement of my own making.
When I was sitting on a rooftop in Laguna Beach talking about what it means to doubt and sharing those thoughts with other people, I felt freer than I had in a very long time.
So yes, doubt can be quite scary. It can also be healthy and life changing. It can open us up and help us to think about everything in a thousand new ways.
And so now it is nine months later, and I am the pastor of a new church. My hope is renewed, and my faith is my own. I see resurrection in places I never would have seen before. I believe I am part of a giant story that God is telling, and the whole story revolves around a resurrected Jesus.
But I never would have gotten here if I had not first learned to doubt and question and wrestle with my own previously-held ideas.
There had to be a death before there was a resurrection.
So if you are doubting, you are not alone. If you are rethinking your own beliefs, perhaps this is the beginning of something big and powerful for you.
Whatever you do, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk about it. Own it. Lean into it. Perhaps your doubts are trying to teach you something new. Perhaps they are trying to lead you to something better and bigger and healthier than you had ever experienced before.
*Note: Mike McHargue recently spoke at Collective Church. Click here to hear it.