Photo by Amanda Tipton
We had dated for one month, and I knew there was a problem.
She had mannerisms I didn’t like.
She was so head-over-heels for me (or at least that’s what I thought), it was actually quite annoying. She wanted to spend every spare moment together; I wanted to hang with my friends.
I was a high school senior and I had major doubts about this romance I found myself in.
But I kept those doubts to myself. I endured a few more months of this relationship and then ... I couldn’t handle it any longer and broke up with her. She was devastated, and completely surprised.
In our important relationships, whether with friends, spouses, co-workers, or even God, why do so many people keep doubt inside?
Doubt should evolve in any serious follower of Jesus. In that sense, doubt is good news. Only someone wrestling with faith on a deeper level will care enough to ask some of the faith’s toughest questions.
But, like a senior boy who hasn’t figured out how to express himself, we often keep it inside. It’s not all relational naiveté though. There are some legitimate reasons we fear expressing our doubt:
- Doubt produces conflict. Admitting doubt almost always leads to hard conversations. For those who fear conflict, doubt means submitting yourself to potential discomfort.
- Doubt admits the relationship is in jeopardy. Most of us realize that relational doubts can lead to the end of a relationship. Doubts usually mean we are saying something is (potentially) wrong and, if not satisfactorily addressed, the relationship will change or end.
- Doubt opens the doubter to potential criticism. Expressing doubt could lead to feeling like an outsider in community. The friends of this high school girlfriend were my friends too. If the relationship didn’t go well, it could mean the end of the community that I was a part of.
The same three barriers attempt to prevent us from verbalizing doubt in the church. We fear the energy required in the conflict of doubt, the admission that seriously addressing doubt has negative ramifications, and the potential of being excluded from the community we love. So we keep our mouths shut.
A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine pulled me aside. This friend was seen as a leader in the church, a “pillar.” She was someone people respected—she got things done and worked tirelessly for the cause of the church.
“I don’t think I believe in God, really,” she said to me in a hushed tone, even though no one was nearby. “I don’t know who else to tell, but I’ve never really experienced God in any way that would make me sure life isn’t just a random accident.”
I thought about my response for a moment, then offered, “Tell me more.”
Her courage to be vulnerable, combined with a response that didn’t shame, led to a healthy and hopeful dialogue about faith.
Could this conversation happen in your ministry? What kind of environment are you creating for young people’s big questions?
The death of my high school romance started with silence, not doubt. Silence kills. Choosing silence results in the very harm we were trying to avoid in the first place.
Don’t let silence be the story teenagers tell later in life.