Posts Tagged ‘doubt’

(Warner Brothers)

(Warner Brothers)

We got a GPS this past Christmas. We call it Mildred. If we’re going somewhere and we need directions, we just type our destination and hit “Go.” And Mildred sets to work, bouncing signals off a satellite and back, calculating the perfect route (usually) and then – the best part – speaking that route to us, turn by turn.

My friend Lincoln and I took Mildred to Southern California a few weeks ago, where she performed like a champ, guiding us through the freeway system. A few times when we couldn’t get to the exit ramp because of heavy traffic, we’d miss a turn. And Mildred would simply gather herself, recalibrate and tell us the new directions. Once in a while, she would get confused momentarily – especially on cloverleafs, where one road was directly above another – but we could always count on her to figure things out.

Sometimes I wish my life had a GPS, where I could plug in a destination and receive turn-by-turn instructions from Mildred’s firm, confident computer voice. Instead, life usually seems like I’m stuck in a tunnel and Mildred can’t find the satellite. I’m left to take my best guess about the next turn. Sometimes that proves to be the right path. Sometimes I have to recalibrate.

That can be frustrating when all I want is clarity. But then I remember: No great adventure was ever a sure thing. What makes it an adventure is risk – risk of getting lost, risk of failure, risk of letting a lot of people down, even risk of death. The bad thing about a GPS is, it can turn a journey into a boring list of instructions. Sure, you don’t get lost. But in the process, the adventure gets lost with it.

I tend to wander, and I tend not to follow instructions (just ask my wife). I’ve been lost many times, without a map or GPS: In a forest preserve two miles from our house. On a remote national park trail as the sun was setting. In a ridiculously bad neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, where I could only think of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold character. Even in Beirut, Lebanon, where we’d wandered much too close to a Hezbollah rally.

Each of those situations became a good story we still talk about – usually in the context of how dumb I was for not carrying a map or GPS. Point taken, if we’re talking about a hike or a drive.

But when we’re talking about life decisions, then I’m back to that adventure thing – how it requires an ever-growing trust in someone I can’t see. Brennan Manning writes in “Ruthless Trust” that he believes that trusting God is, in fact, what it means to love him.

“Why does our trust offer such immense pleasure to God?” Manning writes. “Because trust is the pre-eminent expression of love. Thus, it may mean more to Jesus when we say, ‘I trust you,’ than when we say, ‘I love you.’”

Those words help. I wrestle with doubts about my faith all the time. The bottom line, though, is that my wife and I have loved God enough to trust him, and to take a big risk, not knowing where the road leads. We’ve sold our nice home and I’ve left a comfortable career – certainties in life – in order to pursue something crazy, something great. We have no idea how this story will turn out.

I watched “Argo” last night, the Oscar-winning film about the rescue of six American diplomats from Iran in 1979. Ben Affleck’s character, CIA agent Tony Mendez, is laying out his crazy-sounding plan to the diplomats: They’ll pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi movie. The six are less than convinced. Mendez tells them it’s their best hope.

That’s why I’m here,” he says. “I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna be with you the whole way. This is what I do. I get people out and I’ve never left anyone behind. I’m asking you to trust me.”

Sometimes, a film that has nothing to do with God can bowl me over with a God moment. Right now, if our lives were a movie, we’d be at that critical point where the audience isn’t sure whether the heroes are going to make it.

And I can sense God saying to me the exact words Mendez used.

I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna be with you the whole way. This is what I do. … I’m asking you to trust me.

We want an airtight plan with guarantees. Or at least we think we do. God says, “Trust me.”

Do I love him enough to do that? I want to.

Manning writes:

The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”

Sometimes I really relate to Lieutenant Dan from “Forrest Gump.” In this scene, the Gary Sinise character reaches his breaking point with disappointment, heartache and failure. In the face of a hurricane, and in a one-way conversation, Dan has it out with God.

Sometimes, faith just bottoms out.

“So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call … ?”

That was written by that great backslider, Mother Teresa, as she struggled with her work in Calcutta. Some of her journals and letters wound up in a 2007 book. I stumbled upon that specific entry online a few weeks ago. Unknowingly, I’d just written something similar in my own journal, during a particularly bad week as a dad:

“God, I feel like I am hanging onto my faith by my fingernails. I am so tired of unanswered prayers, destroyed hopes and … just heaviness. How much more are you going to let pile up on us? Often it seems like you have just checked out on our family. How can I honestly tell people that Christ is the answer they’re looking for, when I’m left feeling empty so often … like my prayers never get past the ceiling? Some days I wonder if my faith is even real. Is this how life is always going to be now? Do you even care? Please renew my strength, hope and faith. I don’t know why we’re in this storm that never seems to end, but please help. Show yourself faithful and worthy of my trust. Please.”

Philip Yancey, one of my journalistic heroes, writes that in a time of disillusionment, he went a year where the only prayers he could muster came out of a book of prayers. I can identify with that. Sometimes, I’ve got absolutely nothing.

I think just about any Christ follower with a brain has had days/weeks/months/years like that. I don’t mind wrestling with doubt – in the end it solidifies my belief and helps me separate truth from assumption. Those wrestling matches aren’t fun, though. Sometimes, waves of doubt swamp my intellect. I just don’t have it in me to be a “God said, I believe it and that settles it” kind of Christian. Surely I can possess a faith that includes room for doubt, and challenge, and intellectual sharpening.

David had that kind of faith. As I read through the Psalms – not just the happy ones that got turned into worship choruses – I see some dark, dark moments. Doubt. Anger. Despair. It’s all there.

I think of a quote by the great sports writer Red Smith: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” That could just as easily be applied to real, heartfelt conversations with God.

Through the centuries, the Church has had a tough time being honest about doubt. It’s been treated as a sign of spiritual weakness, not to be openly discussed. As a result, far too many intelligent people walked away from the Church and never came back.

One of the really good things happening today among missional-minded churches (and others, too) is an openness to the fact that faith is a struggle sometimes. Some churches, including mine, have experimented with something we call Doubt Nights. Usually held in a bar or coffee house, they’re an opportunity for anyone to raise hard questions. “Did Adam and Eve really exist?” “How do I know the Bible is all true?” Or the even more honest, “Why does God seem so absent in my toughest times?”

I don’t have all those answers, and I don’t like hanging out with people who think they do. Because often, those are the people who have never endured any real trial. So we talk about those questions, offer guidance where we can, and acknowledge that even when the Bible finally makes sense, life most of the time does not.

God and I are on better terms again lately. Circumstances haven’t really changed, but writing that letter to him helped to distill my confusion and disappointment and, yes, anger. Hey, it’s not like he didn’t already know.

As Donald Miller wrote in “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”: “When you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.”