Sunday services I have attended sometimes left me more discouraged than ever in my Christian life. I was surrounded by people joyously celebrating the resurrection, the “victory in Jesus” while I felt stuck in Holy Saturday. There are days I carry grief and doubt and these services make me feel like I am on the outside looking into a world where I do not belong.
I remember going to church the Sunday after losing a child to miscarriage. My grief was real but I felt there was no room for it there within the rows of church people. It’s not that there weren’t other people there with their own sorrows and struggles in that place, but we were encouraged to leave our problems at the door.
With all the ups and downs in my own life and the troubles of this beautiful yet broken world, I often feel like Thomas, who had a difficult time believing what all the other disciples were saying, that life had overcome death and Jesus had risen from the dead. His disappointment was real – things had not turned out the way he thought they would. Maybe he thought the others were just delusional, so desiring Jesus to be alive that they had manufactured these sightings. Perhaps he believed he was smarter than they were and not taken in by these false claims. And maybe he was afraid of what this would mean if it were true. We don’t know the inside story of Thomas, but I see myself in this doubting one.
I feel less ready than ever to celebrate Eastertide. We are a people of the resurrection and yet I still know doubt and grief. I question if I am missing something and fear I am doing it wrong. I am encouraged by the words of Madeline L’Engle when she said, “Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.” I am not alone and neither are you in our discouragement and doubt.
I wonder if, in the teachings I received, I got an unhealthy dose of the prosperity gospel. One that preaches “name it and claim it” and blessings are ours for the taking but which leaves no room for the struggles in life. A gospel that tells us to gaslight ourselves in order to fit in to the happy-clappy environment of the victorious Christian life. A faith which fails to value the struggle and the wrestling seems insufficient and even irrelevant to our everyday lives where we battle cancer, financial insecurities, loss of loved ones, mental health struggles, and a host of other challenges. God’s people, in fact, were named as those who wrestle. Jacob received this name after he contended with God and received a blessing and a limp and his descendants became known as God’s chosen nation. Could it be that in the struggle is where we find ourselves embraced and marked by God Himself? Perhaps our discouragement and doubt serve to bring us further in to the intimate relationship we desire with our Maker.
I live in a space that has both belief and doubt, like co-joined twins. Where one is never there without the other. I think of C.S. Lewis who suggests that joy is always tinged with longing. And maybe that is the case with belief – that it is always accompanied by doubt. There is so much that is uncertain in life and we need to learn to live in the grey area between these two.
In Mark there is the story of the father seeking healing for his son who is continually tortured by a demon. His words to Jesus make me think that perhaps I am not alone. He says, “I believe, help my unbelief”.
And I wonder if this is the way forward for you and I when we are weighted down by discouragement and feel our faith is lacking. To admit where we sense the lack, and trust that the gap will be filled.
Sue Fulmore is a freelance writer and speaker seeking to live an examined life. She explores what it might look like to journey from “auto pilot” living to a slower, more intentional way of life, and would love to be your companion on the path. She is the mother of two adult daughters and lives in sunny Alberta, Canada with her retired husband, plant babies, and robust shoe collection. You can find her at: https://www.instagram.com/suefulmore/ and www.suefulmore.com