Words that Made a Difference for This Doubter

Hello! I’m blowing the dust off of this blog today in order to send some words out into the world. Thanks for being here.

A few years ago, I had a complete faith breakdown. I was frightened, anxious, and lonely. My sense of belonging, which had always been securely anchored in my church and beliefs, had vanished. My questions outweighed my faith by a lot. I thought that this meant that I was losing faith or had lost it entirely. I wanted God to be real. I just couldn’t pretend that what I learned about God still made sense. During a time like this, words we receive from others can either be a tremendous gift or can send us into a tailspin.

Recently, I read a tweet that elicited an out-loud “Wow!” It wasn’t a presidential tweet this time, but one from those earnest folks over at Desiring God telling us that “Doubt is slander against God…” Five or six years ago, seeing something like this would have had me reaching for my anxiety medication. Today, I can just shake my head. I can’t imagine any circumstance where hearing such a phrase is going to be helpful or transformative.

Sometimes, people just don’t know what to say to someone who is struggling with doubt. I received this well-meaning reminder once: “If you know the truth and reject the truth, you are going to pay the consequences.” Like the consequence of hell. Uffda. Thankfully, at that point, I was confident enough that God could handle my questions and maybe even welcomed them. I also knew that the person speaking loved me and was probably afraid for me. I didn’t take those words to heart.

Fear speaks the language of conformity, not transformation or life.

Even a sincere and loving, “All you have to do is believe . . .” is most unhelpful. That’s precisely the problem when your faith breaks down. What does belief even mean? The Sunday I heard that at church, I went home and cried for hours.

However, I want to talk about the gifts that I received from others: words that offered me hope and helped me find my way forward and through this faith breakdown. I don’t know where I would be without these conversations and questions. Maybe you’re wondering what to say to someone whose faith appears to be in shambles. Maybe you’re the one in the middle of your own dark night of the soul. Maybe these gifts that helped me will be of use to someone else.

Doubt is not the end of faith

  1. “My friend has questions like that too. She would love to talk to you.”

This is absolutely the best thing that I heard. The connections made through this conversation led to hope and to a connect-the-dot adventure of friendships and ultimately to new experiences and understandings of God. I wouldn’t be who I am today without this conversation. Finding people with similar questions was so important. But finding people who had journeyed with and through Doubt into a meaningful faith gave me hope. What I needed most at that time was hope and connection.

  1. “Ooh. You ask good questions. Your questions are good.”

Any reassurance that we are not lost or sinning because of our questions is helpful. To find people who are not shocked or frightened by our questions is necessary. To find people who are excited by our questions is a gift. It lets us believe that God is also not shocked or disappointed by our questions. When you think about it, what is at the heart of these questions? Isn’t it a longing to know–to really know deep in your bones that something is true? Not just to believe because someone else told you to? How could God be disappointed in your longing to truly know God?

  1. “You know Jacob wrestled with God and was given the name Israel. Israel means ‘he who struggles with God.”

Let that sink in. Maybe God still invites us to wrestle? What if faith is wrestling?

  1. “Did you know that this place of doubt, of losing faith, is in the middle of adult maps of spiritual development?”

Finding books like Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich’s The Critical Journey and Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward was a gift. It helps to know that this apparent loss of faith fits a pattern. Doubt may be an invitation to move from a head-based faith to your heart. It might be an invitation to shed a second-hand, hand-me-down faith and experience your own first-hand encounter with God. Doubt is an invitation to More. Doubt wasn’t the end of my faith; it was an invitation to a new beginning.

  1. “Do you need to know all of the answers to all of your questions right now?”

This question was such a gift. I may have been able to throw away my anxiety meds shortly after this question made its way into my bones. First: This question alone suggested that I don’t need to know the answers right exactly now. The woman who asked it of me wasn’t afraid that I might go to hell if I died in a car crash on my way home because I didn’t know what to believe about Jesus anymore. It suggested that maybe it’s actually okay to let go of that scary image of God that would make me afraid of that scenario.

Second: At a point where I felt like I was drowning in questions, this question gave me permission to rest. I felt like I scooped up all of those questions, captured them in a glass jar, and set them on a shelf in the back of my mind. I still had the questions, but they were no longer all-consuming. This helped mightily with the anxiety I was struggling with at the time.

  1. “What is your one question that you need today?”

This question helped move me from an answer-based faith to a question-based faith. I learned to find my questions, to ask them, to wait and listen and live the questions. My questions lead me to my next steps. I’ve learned to love my questions.

  1. “You might want to try asking these questions: “Who are you God?” “What have you made me for?” “What is my next step?”

Asking God questions like these was a novel idea to me, and it changed my life. Would God even answer? There was only one way to find out. It didn’t hurt to try.

 What about you? Are there questions or conversations that you can point to that helped you find your way through doubt? Are there questions or conversations that helped you find connection or hope? Please share. Maybe someone else needs your question too.

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Good Words

I love good words. I love sharing good words. I thought I would share some good words with you today.

Hildegard’s words are some of my favorites.

Good People

My friend Jo, shared some really good words this week about learning to embrace and love who you are.

I really liked Sarah Bessey’s words about finding time to write–or to do any creative practice really. I especially appreciated the way she described self-comfort v. self care. That is giving me something to think about.

I always appreciate Shawn Smucker’s words, including his post: My Ramadan Meal, and Finding Peace in Unexpected Places.

Have you stumbled across any good words lately? Please share!

Why I always begin again (and again)

apple blossom

“The sun comes up and we start again. The sun comes up and we start again… Be here now.” Mason Jennings sang me to wake this morning with words that I needed to hear and carry with me today.

They echo words from St. Benedict that I have tucked into my heart: “always we begin again.”

And Rumi offers a similar invitation: 

Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times.
Come, yet again, come, come.

Every day I start again. Every moment I can start again. It’s not too late.

It’s been almost a week since I sat down to write. In between subbing, a baseball tournament, devouring a Louise Penny mystery book on Saturday, and sick kiddos at home yesterday and today, I didn’t find much time to string together my own words. When it’s been a long time, it sometimes feels awkward to start again. I can paralyze myself with guilt or shame for not making time to do something I really want to do, feel compelled to do even. Or I can begin again.

It’s been over a month since I wrote something for this blog. I’m hoping this space is more like that conversation you have with a friend where whether you see each other once a week or once a year, your conversation picks right up where it left off–deep and good-for-your soul. It doesn’t need to be awkward because “always we begin again.”

I’ve been trying to practice centering prayer daily for 20 minutes. Yesterday, I made it to 15; the day before that it was five minutes. But I don’t need to keep track of that. I start again today. While I’m practicing centering prayer, I usually need to begin again about 20 times, or even more. My brain wanders about flitting from what I should make for supper to composing a letter to my representative about all of the things that are making me angry in our political circus. Then I surface again. What was I supposed to be doing? Breathe in. Breathe out. I’m supposed to be here now. I begin again.

I snapped at my daughter. I breathe. I tell her I’m sorry. I hug her. I begin again.

I forgot to floss Sunday night. (I’m sorry Lezlie.) I begin again Monday.

Every day is an invitation: to pay attention; to open my heart wide; to receive love; to be love. Some days my head fills with fog, and I forget to notice the way that God is loving me through this day. I stop. I breathe. I start again. I pray for open eyes and an open heart. Whether it’s calling a friend, walking the dog (and myself), or taking the next step toward making a dream reality, every day I start again. Even if it’s been a few days, or a few months, I start again.

Starting again every morning, keeps me from getting and staying stuck. It helps me to be gentle with myself and with others.

If I forgot to show up yesterday, I show up today. I begin again. And that is always enough.

 

 

 

Rejoicing in Sprouts

Sprouts!

sprouts.jpg

I’ve spotted two so far. Tiny tomato sprouts from seeds that I planted 8 days ago. Seeds that are a few years old because last year I had a tomato tragedy and my plants weren’t able to produce fruit. I’ve been checking for signs of life a few times a day since I planted the seeds. I have a habit of impatience. And also doubt. Are they going to work? Are they too old? Is the soil too wet? Is it warm enough? What if nothing happens?

Oh me of little faith!

Seeds are amazing. Resilient. They possess magical, life-containing powers just waiting for the right conditions. Stuck in a baggy, shoved into a three-ring binder, stored on a bookshelf–they will not amount to much. Just hidden potential. I’m not sure how long they maintain their life force.

Add dirt. Water. Sun. Time. Miracles happen. New life happens. I’m already dreaming of red, ripe, softball-sized tomatoes. Sweet juice spilling all over my hands when I slice them for a sandwich or for my favorite summer breakfast of tomato slices and egg fried together in olive oil. Add a little sea salt and you have perfection on an early August morning.

Sprouts! That’s all they are now. I’m so excited.

Life is full of seeds. Seeds that transform us, bringing new life when the conditions in our hearts are right. We are full of miracles and life-changing potential buried deep in our souls. Seeds waiting for darkness. For softening. For nourishment. For warmth and light. For time to grow. What gives my soul space and room to grow? What practices soften my heart?

This business of transformation requires a lot from us. But it’s not pull-up your bootstraps, make over your life kind of work. The work required from us is about cultivating the conditions that allow for transformation–for becoming. How do we let God do God’s thing in our hearts? It’s a lot of work and it’s not really work at all. Does that make any sense?

Sometimes, we find ourselves in life with hearts that are hard and parched. How do we get to that place? We know too much. We are always right. We are living someone else’s life. We always have things to do and places to be and little time for stopping even for a short chance to catch our breath.

We forget to wonder. We have no time for mystery. No patience for paradox.

How do we cultivate a soft heart in the midst of laundry piles and soccer practices? Doctors appointments? Work obligations and responsibilities?

Here are just a few ideas:

What stops you in your tracks with wonder? Spend some time there.

What reminds you that you are fiercely and deeply loved? Spend time there too.

What reminds you that you are just one small part of this universe? One brief brushstroke? One drop in an ocean? Spend some time there.

What reminds you that you are connected to God? To others? To those who have gone before us and who will come after us? To creation? Spend some time there.

It’s hard to have a small, hard heart when we practice wonder. When we learn to drink deeply from the depth of God’s love for us. When we know in our bones the smallness and finiteness of our lives in these earth bodies. When we remember that we belong to one another.

Your soul might need different things than my soul. What does your soul need? Ask it. Listen for the answer.

An open, soft heart is a necessity for awakening to the life that is waiting inside of you. We can participate in its softening. In cultivating conditions that will allow for growth. And then we wait and rejoice in sprouts.

 

  

 

 

Daring Contentment

“I believe that the most important single thing beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.” Maya Angelou

When I think of daring. I don’t usually think of me.
But I have been daring lately. Daring to be content.
Daring to be happy with me and the life that is mine. Daring to be unapologetic about the things that I like.

A while back, I read something in some magazine about a shampoo for brunettes that eliminated brassiness–“the unattractive red tones when light hits.” Unattractive? I’ve always liked the red glow the sun brings out in my hair. I liked the warmth and depth it gave to my hair color. That’s brassy? That’s unattractive? Well I guess that you can think that if you want. But I’m going to embrace and love my brassy until my sparkles take over.

Sparkles? I suppose that same magazine would describe them as “ugly gray.” Cover those babies! Right? What if I dare to like them? I might. We’ll see. For now, I’m embracing the sparkles starting to streak through my brassy brunette.

When I moved into my house, I liked the kitchen. I liked the warm wood cabinets. Then I saw kitchens just like mine in all of the before pictures of kitchen remodels with descriptions like: “Boring” and “Outdated.” Says who? What if I dare to like my kitchen just the way it is?

What if I dare to like my body? Just the way it is? Long and finally gathering a few curves. Sharp angles softening. I don’t need a beach body. My body serves me well, mediating my experience on this earth. It is my doorway to Presence. What if I dare to love it? To listen to it? To embrace it? To honor it? Just the way that it is.

What if I welcome my soul, my heart, just the way that I am? In all of my earnestness and quirky awkwardness. A bundle of contradictions. Full of love and fear and hope. Gentle and sharp. Fed by both friendship and solitude. A mixture of doubt and faith. Full of courage and the need to hide. Patient until I’m not. This mixture of shadow and light gives me depth. It makes me real. Human.

What if I dare to be happy with just the way I am? With where I am? With what I have? That’s daring. That’s freedom. That’s power.

_Just be exactly where you are

Be present to the life that is yours right now.
Let go of what you think you should do.
Let go of what you think you should be.
Let go of what you think others think.
God is satisfied with and wants only you.