Thursday, June 5, 2014

What I Want You to Know About Doubt

“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”
― Francis Bacon, The Advancement Of Learning

When my daughter died before she was born, I was determined to "do grief right."  And, largely, I did.  I refused to hide from the sorrow, from the anger.  I felt it, and felt it all.  It was a terrible and profound experience.

But where things fell apart, I now see, was my equal determination to "do grieving faith right."  Sure, I questioned God -- a little.  I got angry at God, but I refused to doubt his goodness or presence or provision.  I think I feared that if I was anything less than a model Christian (whatever that means), I would lose my daughter.

Instead, I nearly lost someone much more precious -- myself.

“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

Then, nearly a year ago now, my husband emerged onto the latest plateau of his spiritual seeking whispering the words, "I am an atheist." 

And my world shattered.

I realized that I'd been squashing doubts in the name of marriage, refusing to deal with them.  And this refusal hollowed my soul.

When my husband left what I'd seen as our mutual religious obligation, there was nothing tying me to my own except my stubbornness.

In the end, even those strands broke, and down the rabbit hole I tumbled.

I didn't want to be there.  Not at first, anyway.  But soon, my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, and I found myself wandering through a desert netherworld that, thought it seemed dead at first blush, really teemed with miraculous life.

from Magdalen Rising by Elizabeth Cunningham (affiliate link)

If I am resurfacing now -- and I'm not at all sure that I am -- it is with a grateful, vibrant appreciation of the night, of the crimson tears of Gethsemane and the torturous silence of Good Friday.  And -- I would not trade this for anything.

Maybe I didn't walk willingly into the austere, unyielding black.  Maybe I won't enter my next dark night of the soul gracefully, either, although I hope I will, armed with this growth and soul-knowledge I've earned.  But it has been the most trying and life-giving journey that I have ever, ever had.

So you don't need to worry, and you certainly don't need to try to pull me out of the gloaming.  Leave me here -- don't forget that babies are formed in the dark, that seeds sprout in the claustrophobic earth.  Don't forget that the moon wanes monthly into shadow.  The day would be so much less sweet without the night.  So would my faith be vastly less meaningful without my doubt.

So don't you dare try to haul me back into the light.  Any such rescue would be a death sentence -- death to my soul, and maybe yours, too.  

“Time is not the great teacher. Experience is. A man may live a whole life, but if he never leaves his home to experience that life, he dies knowing nothing. A mere child who has suffered and lived can be the wiser of the two.”
― Lynsay Sands, Love Bites

I may not be comfortable here, but I want to be here.  And comfort is overrated, anyway.  When did you ever hear any of the great spiritual teachers praising the benefit of comfort?  Remember that Jesus spoke with the sword-edge of mutilating truth.  It is okay -- it is necessary -- to be uncomfortable.  Don't deprive me, deprive yourself of this great teacher.

Don't try to fix me, to fix this.  You can't.  I know it hurts you to see me like this, but you just can't.  Your answers do not help, and not because they are necessarily wrong or unhelpful, but because they are not mine.  Don't you see?  I am learning to trust the divine spark within me.  Your well-intentioned advice smothers its flame.

And when it's all said and done -- although I'm not sure that it ever will be -- I will not be the same as I was.  I cannot be the same.  That's the point.  This is a time of vital, enlivening growth, and to go back to who and how I was before would be a horror.  It would be a self-deception, a tepid and living hell.  Which, though you may not agree, is far, far worse than the dark night.

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I ask you to allow.  No, I am not asking for your permission to walk this path that God has set before me, this midnight trail that leads, no matter how it terrifies, into her heart of heart of hearts.  It's okay if it's not pretty.  It's okay to let it be not-pretty.  Allow, allow.  This allowing is for me and it is for you.  To allow is love.  Jesus is the great allower, after all.

Listen to me.  Hear my thoughts as the parables they are, that are perhaps leading you deeper into yourself and the Spirit that dwells in those depths.  Understand that I am abandoning the absolutes that nearly ruined me.  It's okay not to know.  In fact, not-knowing offers an education beyond price.

“People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience always know that they don’t know. They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a Love, which is incomprehensible to the mind.”
― Richard Rohr

Know that I didn't ask for this doubt, but that I cannot do anything but enter in fully, now that it's here.  Let us learn something together about ourselves and each other, the world, and that curious being we call God. 

This path of death is my path of life.  It is a rehearsal for bodily death.  It mirrors the paradox of nature's seasons and instructs me in the holy ways more surely than the rules I clutched tight ever did. 

And, somehow, I have not only found my God-breathed self here in the doubt, but also my daughter.  Also love.  Also God.

I am home.  The threshold is dark, but the door stands open.  Welcome.

What do you want the world to do know about doubt, about the dark night of the soul?

What I Want You to Know About Doubt


  1. O yes. You said it all perfectly dear Beth. Just like I knew you would. So grateful to be walking this journey beside you. <3

  2. Beautiful. I agree that we need to embrace the pain and indwell it, not just give glib answers like "God's in control." But I think that embracing the darkness is not hopeless act; it gives way to redemption, renewal, and a deeper since of soul.

  3. What I've learned is that once you break through the barriers into the deepest part of this ocean of faith {darkness, yes}, you are able and welcome and sometimes even yearning to swim back up to the shallower waters. Yet... I don't find myself very comfortable there anymore, with the beautiful fishes showing off their scales, and I have a desire, then, to sink back down. For me, it's no longer a painful dark, but a wonderful cocooning dark. And God is bigger there for me. Bigger and heavier all around me, with a pressure that pulses and presses and makes me feel a safety that is almost dangerous in itself. Does that make sense?

    I love this post so much. I need to reread it.

  4. "It's ok if its not pretty" Yes, life is messy and doubts are part of life. I love this Beth.

  5. Oh Beth. This is so good. Last year, cocooning myself in darkness was a precious time for me. Safe and comfortable is over rated. I prefer grey to black and white. I have come to love the mystery and be OK with uncertainty. Love you and your words xo

  6. Exquisitely written. My head is teeming with thoughts, and I'm completely uncertain where to start -- kind of like a conversation that just needs one trigger to go all night. I'll start with this: I needed your vulnerability AND your assertiveness. I think both help others better understand your journey, and your right/responsibility to traverse it. I so hope to get to read/share more of that journey with you.


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King