Alive in Grace is a space that desires to encourage deeper relationships with Jesus through freedom, hope and honesty. Today’s guest post is important because honesty is important to AIG. Abby’s letter below shares from a vulnerable and sacred place in her heart. I am so grateful she was willing to open up about her perspective and doubts, and hope that if you can resonate with her that this will help you process some of your own thoughts and feelings. And if you can’t resonate, that her story will open your heart to those who experience these daunting doubts.
Dear Doubter: You are Not Alone
by: Abby De Boer
In our culture, we seem to value certainty. And when it comes to religious beliefs, certainty is given special importance. As we grow older and more settled in our lives, it seems our curiosity gets quiet and we don’t often challenge what we are told. The number of students in class who raised their hands to ask questions dwindled significantly between elementary school and college. It’s like the kid who raises her hand is either the valedictorian or a total weirdo who doesn’t understand social cues. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered a similar culture in church, and I believe this needs to change.
I have identified as a Christian for most of my life. Lately, I’ve been going through some serious doubts, and through my processing, I’ve decided to write a letter to my fellow question-askers. These are words I feel we need to hear. If you find yourself in that camp, even if you’ve asked a single question about faith, read on.
If you’re anything like me, your questions are loud. They fill your ears as they take the stage, un-invited. In the middle of a worship song, sermon, or prayer, there they are, swarming your mind and clouding your heart.
Your questions are many, because one always leads to another. Like dominoes, after the first one is tipped over, there’s no stopping the rest.
If you’re anything like me, your questions are deeply significant. Like itches you can’t ignore, the need to scratch them feels physical. Like you can’t move forward until you let them be heard. And yet…
Your questions are hidden. They’re kept safe, tucked deep inside. After all, revealing your doubts would make you feel like a sheep among wolves in a sea of certainty. The fear of rejection can be absolutely paralyzing. Trust me, I know.
I know what it’s like to sit in a church service and not be able to focus on the Doxology because you’re stuck trying to understand something the pastor said towards the beginning of his message. “What did he mean by that?” you might ask, “And how does that affect my Jewish friend Mark?” Or maybe you’re wondering, “Why did God allow Job to go through so much suffering?”
I often don’t feel safe enough to share my questions, like they might rock the boat too much. So I try to hide them. ‘Snap out of it, Abby,’ I think to myself, ‘We’re trying to sing How Great is Our God and all you can think about is whether the pastor implied that God loves some people more than others. Look around, everyone is smiling and nodding their heads to the music. Why don’t you feel the same way? Why do your questions always get in the way?’
If you’re anything like me, this season of uncertainty might feel extremely lonely, like no one understands.
Unfortunately, our culture encourages us to portray only our best selves, even when it comes to faith. People in your church probably don’t make their weaknesses freely known. Despite this real pressure to wear a mask, we doubters need to realize we are not alone. There are others who take their time to accept things, whose minds naturally pop questions like there’s a built in popcorn maker inside.
Here is some advice for my fellow doubters / questioners:
1. We need to learn to acknowledge our questions.
If we want freedom and acceptance, we have to start with ourselves. For example, let’s say you’re listening to Christian radio in the car, and you hear, “My daughter just got in a car accident and is paralyzed from the waist down. It’s been hard, but I know everything happens for a reason, and this is a blessing in disguise. We just don’t know what that blessing will be yet.” Maybe this rubs you the wrong way and you notice a question cross your mind. In that moment, listen to your question, don’t push it away. Go ahead and explore it, maybe even write it down and find the time to process it. You might come to an answer and you might not. But right now, that doesn’t matter. Your question deserves enough respect to be acknowledged.
2. We need to see the value in our questions.
First, we humans were naturally built with a sense of justice and an ability to think critically. Those are amazing gifts! I believe we should use them even with regards to religious belief. We shouldn’t silence our intellect or our sense of justice under the guise of “child-like faith.” If someone uses that phrase to mean blindly accepting ideas as truth without question, they must not have spent much time with kids. Trust me, I’m an elementary school teacher! I only have 8 students in my class. But if I had a dollar for every question they asked, everyone in the school would have a personal iPad within the week!
Asking questions isn’t wrong—it’s part of what makes you human.
A second reason we should see the value in our questions is that throughout history, questioning the norm has been necessary for making our communities and our world a better place. Maybe the things you’re questioning should be challenged. Maybe your questions will help us all come to a deeper understanding of truth and love. I found this quote by Rachel Held Evans extremely helpful:
“I was under the impression that the most important elements of the faith had not changed over the years but had simply gotten lost and rediscovered […] But the real story of Christianity is a lot less streamlined. The real story involves centuries of upheaval, challenge and change […] We would like to believe that, had we lived in the days of the early Church or the Protestant Reformation, we would have chosen the side of truth, but in nearly every case, this would have required a deep questioning of the fundamental teachings of the time.”
(I would recommend her book, Faith Unraveled, to anyone who deals with doubt.)
3. Find other people to share your questions with– people who truly care to listen.
Look for someone who asks you questions, like “what did you think of that lecture?” or “do you agree with what she said?” and most importantly, “how are you really doing?” You can tell they truly care by what comes next. They don’t respond with a quick and easy answer or tell you to stop making it so complicated. Instead, they might say, “I see where you’re coming from,” “I appreciate that question,” or they might say nothing. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that your question has been heard and validated. In my experience, these folks are rare, as some may take your questions personally. There’s a real chance you could get hurt when you choose vulnerability. But when you find someone who truly loves you AND your questions, you’ll know you’ve found a gem. (Without them, I wouldn’t even feel comfortable enough to write this post.)
Finally, my doubting friends, as much as I would like to say we can change people we think are judgmental of our questions, we can only control ourselves.
I hope you can remind yourself that your questions matter. I hope you can find safe spaces to be honest. And I hope your questions make an impact on the communities that need to hear them.
If I am encouraging you to be honest about your doubts, then I know I must do the same. So I will share three of my biggest questions with you, choosing to believe it’s okay, even good, for me to ask them. Please leave them unanswered for now, and just think about whether you’ve ever wondered the same things I have…
- If God is loving, why does he allow so much suffering in the world?
- How is it “loving” for God to elect certain people to be saved and not others?
- What would happen if we found out that God isn’t even real?
In closing, trust the journey, and may pondering questions bring you to a deeper understanding of truth and love.
My name is Abby De Boer and I am 22 years old. I live in Bozeman, Montana with my husband Kyle. I’m an upper elementary and music teacher at a public Montessori school and in my free time I enjoy skiing, playing the cello, doing yoga, drinking coffee and spending time with friends and family. Writing is one of my favorite ways to process what it means to be human.