My friend Sally and I write letters to each other. We have written them since her first year in college- which was six years ago now. This is one I wrote to her.
I wanted to write in response to your email. I have gone through a very similar period and while I may not know exactly what you are feeling, I do remember how I felt. And how I feel often. I’m not sure any of us can go through tough stuff without doubt. And if people say they don’t doubt, then they are liars and way too fake to be your friend.
One of my favorite thoughts about doubt is from some book- If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me. Our relationship with God is not designed to be automated. At work, we talk a lot about how man/woman has free will. And I don’t think God made us to just believe without some internal struggle. It is the struggle that makes the belief more valuable. I think we are more devoted to things we have to fight for, even if that fight is internal. All of that may seem too theoretical but it’s like this: I am a nerd, you know that, and in classes where A’s were handed out (Leadership), I didn’t really value that A. But in my Physics class my C was something to be proud of, because I worked really hard for it. All this is to say Doubt makes us human and God would rather have us be the humans he created us to be than autotrons who are fake.
I also think we were done somewhat of a disservice by older Christians—especially when we were in high school. Somewhere I learned that I was only as good as my “quiet time.” I told my friend Michelle that I’d been a crappy Christian and then sheepishly told her I hadn’t been reading my Bible. She laughed and reminded me that I’m a good Christian when I remember I am a bad one because it shows me how grace-filled God is to love someone like me. And then she told me that there isn’t a twenty verse requirement per day to maintain my Christian status. Like at Sam’s Club when you have to pay membership dues. God isn’t going to block my entry to heaven because I didn’t have an hour-long quiet time. This is not to say the Bible or prayer is unnecessary- quite the opposite. They are so important but too often we see it as if we have to read or pray and then we do it out of a sense of obligation or legalism or perfectionism- which is not great. The Bible is so important that to read it out of guilt is to ruin what it is supposed to be- a message from God to his people.
I’ve been realizing I’ve felt so guilty because I didn’t have quiet times like you or Cari or whoever. But we’re all different and I’ve never been able to get up at 6 am and spend an hour praying like that girl in high school that we always hated. I still don’t think that is what most people do, nor do I believe that it written anywhere in the Bible, as if the only time to relate to God or to learn anything about him is at six. I think that is mostly for the hardcore Christians who want to prove how crazy about Jesus they are- like people who wake up at 2 am on December 26th to get the deal but really do it just to tell other people about their crazy devotion to saving money on towels and sheet sets. But don’t let sucky quiet times or lack of desire to pray get you down. I know you will find other ways to connect with God.
After my depression, I did not want to read my Bible at all. I hated reading about all these people who were redeemed or had great joy or peace. It just made me more despondent and thought I’d never be rescued. And I would not sing at church. People only write happy melodies for praise songs. I felt like I would be the biggest poser to sing a song such as “God of Wonders” when I didn’t believe that God could control my turmoil let alone the universe. So I didn’t read my Bible, I didn’t sing and the more I think about it, I probably didn’t pray.
But two things happened: One was that my truly amazing friends and family stood in my place before God and cried out for healing and joy. I know this because I heard you all do it. And the other was that I started to volunteer with kids. I couldn’t find God in my prayer times or in songs but when Sam would sit in my lap or Caroline would draw me a picture, I found God there. It may be crazy but I know God can be found in everything around us and sometimes finding another way to connect with God reminds me that God is all and in all.
Lastly, please don’t rely too much on emotions. I’ve been really scared by my emotions in the past (please see years 2000 and 2001) and believe God is so much bigger. We tend to think that if we do not feel close to God that something is wrong. It may not be super comfortable but even when God seems far away, you know (and sometimes have to say out loud to yourself) that God is nearer than we think. I love Psalm 139- “If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” It doesn’t talking about feeling God with us. It’s just fact—he’s there. I’m sure sleeping in the depths (wherever that is) wasn’t the most God-filled feeling but God was there.
I feel like a big fake writing this since I haven’t come out of my doubts and cynicism and judgmentalism and sin and I don’t want this to sound like, “Get your shit together and be good.” It’s not. I’m not a good Christian in the legalistic sense but I know God is near to you and know that you will be made EVEN more real. It may lead you to cuss in a letter to one of your best friends (and a pastor’s wife, nonetheless) but you will have such an authentic faith. Even when God seems far and you feel bad, repeat this mantra from Henri Nouwen- “God loves me and God’s love is enough.” Sounds dumb and something you know but how different my life would look if I KNEW it in my core. I love you more than these words can say.