Having grown up as a cradle Catholic, I’ve always had a conviction and commitment to my faith. It’s been the fundamental definition of who I am— a daughter of God. That understanding of myself has continually deepened as I’ve grown and matured into an adult. Over the years I’ve gained knowledge about the faith and the doctrine that I choose to align my life by and believe. While my life has had its ups and downs just like everyone else, I’ve never experienced a crisis of faith. Until recently.
When Grief Doesn’t Dissipate
Close to three years ago, a family member unexpectedly and prematurely died. While the immediate aftermath was crushing, it was also simultaneously permeated with a sense of God’s closeness and love for me. I literally felt his grace and had a deep peace that he was working these tragic events for the good. I felt that my ability to cope was rooted in my faith. Perhaps my expectations were too high, because when the following days, months, and years didn’t result in the grief absolving and all of my other life problems being answered, my faith was shaken.
The years since this tragedy have without question been the hardest of my life, and quite honestly seem to only get harder as that initial sense of God’s closeness and love for me slowly but surely fades. As time progresses, I find that, whereas my faith was previously my rock, it has morphed into something that I hold at arms-length, unsure of how I feel about these things I once declared to be true and am now genuinely questioning.
Going Through the Motions
This attitude is evident in everything I do. I used to be eager to go to church and hungrily hang onto every word when I was there. Now I find myself showing up just as the service is starting and tuning most it out. I consistently find myself sitting in a church pew, wondering why I’m even there. As I look out at other church-goers who are piously devoted to the Lord, I can’t help but compare my apathetic attitude. I repeat the well-known Bible verses that use to be my lifeline—God has a plan for my life, he is the Good Shepherd, and he wills and works for my good. But to be honest, I don’t really buy it. It may be true for some people, but I find myself having to cope with all of life’s difficulties without an essential piece of the puzzle. Is that really God’s plan for me? Is that how a Good Shepherd would provide for his flock?
Embarrassed to admit how much I am struggling with basic truths that a few years ago I would have staked my life on, I worry I’m a fraud. My faith has been the quintessential definition of who I am for my entire life, yet is it so weak that I only claim it when things are going well? When I’m getting what I want? Was what I thought was faith just a contract? If I do my part than God gives me good things? That he owes me something? How can I possibly be so intellectually convicted of something yet fail to identify with it on a personal level? I always thought that it is precisely in the moments where things aren’t going well that faith kicks into high-gear. That it’s exactly these moments which define our faith. In some ways, I feel that I’ve failed the test. This was where my faith really had a chance to shine, and I blew it. Sure, I’m still doing the external acts of faith by showing up to prayer and continuing to identify as a Christian, but I know in my heart of hearts that I’m not fully in. As shameful and humbling as that is to admit, I finally did so.
Doubt an Element of Faith
Having sought some objective and wise counsel (always a good idea), I’ve been guided to see that the first step is to accept reality. And that reality is that my faith is struggling. I am grappling with it, seeking to make sense of it in light of the changed person I am as a result of this tragedy and other life difficulties. The second piece of advice, and to be honest the more comforting one, is the idea that any faith which claims to be real has endured difficulties. If it were easy to have faith, everyone would have it. I’ve been humbled to see that my faith isn’t as strong as I thought it was, yet as weak as it is, it does exist. Though at times I’ve felt suffocated by doubt, rather than viewing it as something completely in the negative and an obstacle to my faith, I’m beginning to understand that it’s a part of it. St. Augustine said that “doubt is but another element of faith.”
I wish that I could finish this reflection with a great summary of how my faith is as strong as ever, that the above experience was a glitch in the road that I’ve since surpassed. But that’s not the case. My faith is struggling in the fact that doubt is very much a part of it. It feels raw and vulnerable like an open wound. Sometimes the most I can muster in prayer is a whisper to God that I’m not sure if any of this is real, because nothing in me feels that it is, but I’m going to keep trying. For now, that prayer is good enough. I’ve accepted that doubt is there, but rather than assuming that it negates my faith, I’m doing my best to allow that doubt to purify it, trusting that it is, paradoxically, becoming stronger because of it.