Many people experience a time of spiritual doubt in their lives. This trouble could come following the death of a loved one or other difficult situation. Spiritual doubt can also simply be the result of a person maturing. Teens often question their beliefs because they now have the investigative skills to really think about what they profess to believe. Young adults who are starting their own lives, newlyweds and first time parents also find themselves doubting things they have never questioned before. Changing circumstances can make it difficult to reconcile long held beliefs with new life experiences. In those moments, doubt is relatively normal and often does not last. That said, it is uncomfortable to deal with spiritual doubt alone. Laying out your concerns and struggles can help you work through your doubts especially if you are speaking to someone whom you trust and has strong faith of their own. Spouses, siblings and parents are some of the most common choices. That said, it can be difficult to talk with family members about spiritual doubts. This awkwardness can lead to you stumbling over your words, downplaying the issue or sending your family members into a panic if you are not prepared for the discussion. As a result, the conversation may leave you feeling empty and more confused than ever. So, what do you need to do to feel comfortable talking with family members about spiritual doubts?
Make a PlanYou do not have to have a script or notecards, but making a plan will help you feel more comfortable when you talk with your family. Think about who you want to confide in. Do you want to speak to just your spouse? Would you prefer both your siblings to know? Then, decide on how you want to have the discussion. Do you want to bring up your doubts casually over dinner or have a more official family meeting? Do you want to talk to everyone at once or would you prefer to do a series of one on one meetings? Give some thought to what you want to say as well. You need to convey your thoughts in such a way that the person you are talking to can understand you.
Part of making a plan for such discussions is deciding what you want to get out of the discussion. Do you want advice? Do you just want to get your worries off your chest? Decide before you start talking to your family members and make it clear what you are hoping to accomplish. Little is more frustrating than someone who keeps trying to give advice when all you want is a listening ear or a person who just sits quietly when you would really like some direction.
Be HonestWhen you talk with your family about spiritual doubts, you have to be completely honest. There is a time and place for tactful words and careful diplomacy. This is not one of those times. If you are not honest about what concerns you about your faith, the conversation is pointless. You will either not get applicable advice, or you will still have your concerns bottled up inside you. Resist the temptation to sugar-coat or downplay your doubts to spare the feelings of family members. You do not have to be cruel about it, but if you are starting to feel like your family’s entire belief system is ridiculous, do not tell them that you have concerns about “some minor details.” If you truly want help assuaging your concerns, you have to be honest regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you or anyone else.
Be PatientExplaining your spiritual doubts to family members can be frustrating especially if they do not understand immediately. If they have never dealt with serious doubts, you may have to repeat yourself a few times to get them to understand that yes, you really are questioning if God even exists. On the other hand, if you have family members who abandoned their faith entirely, you may find yourself trying to explain to panicking parents that you really are just a little confused by the pastor’s stance on divorce and not looking to leave religion in the dust.
Even after you get your family to understand what sort of doubts you are having, you may still have to expand on your concerns several times. Your family might well want to help but simply misunderstand what you are doubting. In that case, you need to correct your family and explain your doubts a different way. There may be quite a bit of back and forth as everyone tries to understand what the other people are thinking, but that is quite normal for this sort of serious discussion. Just make sure you stay calm and do not get frustrated.
Don’t Accept PlatitudesTalking about faith and spiritual doubts can be very uncomfortable for some people. As such, people have a tendency to sweep the issue under the rug with meaningless platitudes. This is especially true if someone does not want to admit that they do not have an answer to a spiritual question. Platitudes, however, do not help someone dealing with spiritual doubts. Even when platitudes are well-intentioned, they often ring hollow for someone already dealing with doubt. As such, do not accept them when you talk with your family. Demand a more complete answer instead, or, at least, an honest “I don’t know.” Your family members might share some platitudes anyway. As long as they say things other than platitudes as well, there is nothing wrong with a few comforting cliché phrases. Just be sure that you are getting more than platitudes. Serious conversations about faith are no place for a dismissive pat on the head.
Don’t Be IntimidatedFamily members do not always take well to dealing with questions about faith. As you push for advice or ask for more than platitudes, you might well find that your family members do not want to reveal that they do not have answers or are not as secure in or knowledgeable about their faith as they project. They may not like the feeling that you are questioning them or their beliefs and attempt to shut down the conversation. If this happens, do not be intimidated. Address the fact that they are trying to intimidate you and that you do not appreciate it. Then you can decide whether you feel their potential advice is worth continuing an uncomfortable conversation or if you would prefer to walk away and get advice from a less irritable source.
Talking about faith is not always easy, and sometimes speaking with loved ones is even more difficult than talking to strangers. Family members, however, have the advantage of having known you for many years and having seen your faith develop. They know who you are and what you are like. This can help them understand what your spiritual doubts are and why you are having them. Your family may not be able to give you the best spiritual advice, but they are often your best, closest and most understanding confidants. Advice you can get from many places, but when it comes to spiritual doubts, love and trust are sometimes all you need to give you the energy to find the answers for yourself.