When my father died at the age of eighty-seven, he had lived with us for four years before we found it necessary to admit him to a very fine, clean place where he lived a while longer. He was kept under the watchful care of my sister and me during his final days in the hospital. I grieved silently. Yet when it came to my duties as a pastor of a growing, dynamic church, it was like someone threw a switch and I pressed on in my responsibilities.

I preached Dad's funeral to a small gathering of family and friends. I spoke somberly and appropriately about the promises of God and the hope we have beyond the grave. I buried my father's frail body with grace and poise, as all good ministers do. I never missed a beat. I've done that duty hundreds of times throughout my many years in the ministry. I could do much of it with my eyes closed ... but always with tenderness and compassion.

My sister, Luci, and I got back on the plane to return home. During a quiet moment she asked, "Babe, do you believe every single thing you said today?" It made me think...deeply.

"No," I said, almost sighing under my breath. "There are things that the jury's still out on in my mind."

"That's not what I'm asking," she said back to me gently. "I know you believe a lot of it. I just want to know if you fully believe every single thing. 'Cause if you do, we're very different."

I said, "No. There are things that I really have a hard time believing and understanding. I just can't fit everything together in my mind and in my heart." She paused, then lovingly put her hand on my arm and with tears in her eyes answered, "That's good, Babe. And that's okay." Perhaps softened by her tender expression of love and honesty, I looked at the clouds outside the window as tears began to flow for my dad and for our losing him.

I fear that too many believers think they have captured the message of Christianity and placed it in a box marked on top, "Don't ask. Don't tell." On the side it reads, "Off limits for doubts and questions."

Does someone in the family need to give you permission to weep when you lose a loved one? I mean, really grieve? Do you feel the freedom to admit, "I just don't know for sure?" Is there a place for you because you're still thinking and still questioning? Bottom line: Is it okay to doubt? It's okay! In fact, it is necessary! You must or you won't grow. You'll wind up learning someone else's answers, and in many cases they will be inadequate for your questions...if you're honest enough to ask them.

I find airtight conclusions mainly in people who have not hurt much. They're usually people who have become tightly wired, rigid, and isolated from the real world. They're closed ... unwilling to be vulnerable. Suddenly, a divorce comes. Or someone dies in a tragic set of circumstances, or loses his job. Reality hits and a storm blows in and threatens their once tranquil existence. The emotional explosion results in more questions than answers. They discover things they didn't really know. They are in the vortex of dilemmas they cannot solve. At that point simplistic solutions are replaced with realistic reflections ... and the deep things of God begin to emerge, eclipsing shallow answers.

Throughout any life that is lived realistically and reflectively, we come to impossible places where we feel we cannot cope. They may not seem like it, but those are the healthiest places in life, but they are also the hardest. When the bottom drops out, when the pain seems unbearable, when some unbelievable event occurs, doubts arrive unannounced. Don't deny them; acknowledge them. Those times of doubting become schoolrooms of learning. As we work our way through them, a new kind of faith is forged. It will come slowly, and that's healthy. It's being shaped on the anvil of God's mysterious plan, some, of which you will not be able to explain. And that's okay.

Now the real question is how. How do we grow this new kind of faith in the tough stuff of doubt?

First, by risking and failing, not always playing it safe. You can't afford to live a life of fear. You must not always play life safe. Winning over doubts means beginning to live by faith and not by sight. Walking this new journey has its risks. You cannot see around every bend or anticipate every danger. You will sometimes fail, but that isn't fatal! That's how we grow, by trusting God through the risks we take and the failures we endure. Step out. Refuse to play it safe.

Second, we keep growing by releasing and losing things valuable, not finding security in the temporal. At the heart of this technique is the principle of holding all things loosely.Cynthia and I know a couple who have to be as close to the ideal set of parents as we've ever met. Every Christmas we get a lovely card from them. For years they were to us the picture-perfect family. Yet one day they found themselves in an inescapable abyss. Their precious daughter was admitted to a psychiatric facility after attempting suicide over an eating disorder. Our dear friends hit absolute bottom. They weren't grinning and quoting verses. They didn't run around smiling at life, quoting tired clichés, like, "In spite of this, God is great, God is good." No, they nearly drowned in their doubts. They wept bitter tears. They questioned everything they ever believed.

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