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Do I owe my writing career to Cara Davis? She’d probably say
“no,” but I’m not so sure. She was the first person I got to know at
Relevant Magazine, the first editor to ask me if I had any book ideas,
the first editor to acquire one of those ideas, and then she ended up editing Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse, Pocket Guide to the Bible, and several other books and projects for Relevant.
So pretty much I think she’s awesome, and I’m not alone. As the former
editorial director of Relevant Media Group, Cara has helped jumpstart
the careers of a lot of writers like me. She left Relevant a few years
ago but is still a fantastic writer and publishing professional, and is now the online
editor of HalogenTV.com. Other stuff to know: She lives in Florida with her husband and their
3-year-old daughter. And she’s the author of Cheap Ways to Tie the Knot for those of you planning a wedding.
Despite working for progressive Christian companies and organizations, Cara comes from a very conservative Christian background, and I’m thrilled she agreed to write a guest voices post on her struggles with doubt.
I’m so vanilla that even my dark night of the soul is textbook.
Of course when I began to experience it, I thought it was anything but. I thought perhaps I was the only singer who had graced a church platform with fellow worship leaders and led a congregation of hundreds into a time of worship while not feeling so much as a goosebump myself.
Turns out my experience with doubt is common, universal and average.
I’m special! I’m entitled to a rare form of spiritual sickness that requires a brain trust of theologians to unravel!
Truth is I’m incredibly mediocre, and in a sense, it’s the only comfort I have.
I never strayed from the denomination of my raising. I never questioned my faith in my Christian college. I only worked for one company in my field that wasn’t a Christian company (if you’ll allow me the adjective), and that was only for six months.
I didn’t even missionary date, even though at the ripe old age of 24 my mom suggested I might try it since I wasn’t having luck within the fold. Thankfully, Jesus had my back and brought in a fresh sheep for me to date and eventually marry. And we soon followed the biblical prescription to be fruitful and multiply.
It seems for most people having a baby brings a euphoric spiritual high that’s unparalleled in the natural world. Suddenly you get it! You see with God’s eyes! You can begin to fathom God’s love for us by considering this intense bond you have with a helpless little bundle of fat and spittle.
Yeah … that didn’t happen so much for me. It kind of had the opposite effect.
When people say something like, “How can people question the existence of God when they see a baby come into the world?” I answer, “I never questioned the existence of God until I was in labor!” I say it as a joke, like, haha, labor’s so painful, haha, isn’t that funny?
But it’s actually the period of time in my life I can point back to as when it all started slipping away. And the joke is a veiled cry for help and clarity.
I’m sure it was more of a process, a gradual stripping, but I can remember one night in particular after I read some particularly unsettling material on the internet that I sat up in bed and felt God had vanished. It was like, “What happened? Where is God? And why am I suddenly unsure about my faith and his existence?”
Ever since, I’ve experienced some of the darkest days my faith has ever seen — my own personal “dark night of the soul,” as St. John of the Cross penned in the 16th century.
Matters of life and death naturally make people think about the afterlife and eternity. That certainly happened with me as well. Two weeks after my baby was born, my beloved grandfather died. Nine months later, my dad died.
I remember when my dad was dying; praying was like breathing. There wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t praying that dad would recover and get well. It felt so unfair when I talked to him about all the things we’d do when he got better. Meanwhile, radiation took his hair. Chemo gave him boils in his mouth. The cancer destroyed everything else, including his hearing. His weight melted until he was a skeleton with skin.
Now, my prayer life feels like that — a skeleton with skin.
I used to devour books on theology and Christian living — as if I was searching for something — a nugget or passage or proof that what I have been taught was true. Today, I still manage to read when I’m being paid to.
One such book was The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg. I read it to review it, but it ended up reviewing me. Margaret deals with the tough questions of life — why some people are healed and some aren’t; why some prayers are answered and some are met with a deafening silence — and points to the answers God does give, like “you are not alone.” That’s when I realized I wasn’t alone. My case was not unique.
In my spiritual crisis, I’ve been in good company. Saint Therese of Lisieux admitted experiencing a plunging spiritual darkness to her fellow nuns in the 19th century. Saint Paul of the Cross experienced a dark night of the soul for 45 years, but ultimately recovered, as did Mother Teresa, from whom we probably have the most extensive documentation regarding the affliction of doubt. King David of the Bible experienced confusion, doubt and anguish as well, and he still ended up with rock star status.
In all cases, it seems doubt, in the end, is more friend than foe. It strips us of our self-righteousness. It calls upon us to own what we really believe and question everything instead of blindly adopting the culture of our caregivers. It’s a purging and purifying holy fire. It’s painful, but good.
I’m not sure how long I’ll be in spiritual purgatory. I like to think I’ll recover sooner rather than later. At this point (going on three years) my hope is that I’ll recover at all, and that I’ll not let doubt back me into a comfortable corner of apathy where I’m unwilling to leave and search for truth.
My prayer, a desperate cry I often whisper in my spiritual dungeon is, “I need you Jesus.” Because I do.
For now, that’s the best prayer I’ve learned to pray. After all, there is no textbook on doubt.
Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…
• Matthew Paul Turner: Letting Them See My Doubt
• Sally Lloyd-Jones: Where Did You Put Your Faith?
• Chad Gibbs: When It Doesn’t Seem Fair
• Leeana Tankersley: The Swirling Waters
• Robert Cargill: The Skeptic in the Sanctuary
• Dana Ellis: Haunted by Questions
• Rachel Held Evans on Works-Based Salvation
• Winn Collier: Doubt Better
• Tyler Clark on Losing Fear, Losing Faith
• Rob Stennett on the Genesis of Doubt
• Adam Ellis on Hoping That It’s True
• Nicole Wick on Breaking Up with God
• Anna Broadway on Doubt and Marriage