Doubting in Community: An Unexpected Gift

Last week I posted on Chris Heuertz’s new book Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community. One of my favorite chapters is about doubt. Specifically, the way that community helps us hold our faith through doubt. 

Doubt is something we’ve explored in our Sticky Faith research. In the midst of adolescence, young people often experience significant doubts about God and their faith. Yet while over 70 percent of students in our study admitted to such doubts, less than a quarter of them shared them with anyone. Too often doubts go unexpressed, and unexpressed doubt can be toxic to faith. 

Heuertz relays advice from a priest in seasons of doubt: “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt but certainty.” In other words, faith is sometimes reduced to intellectual assent to a reasonable set of beliefs. That doesn’t actually require faith. Faith requires humility and courage to hold something mysterious, something beyond our understanding. 

Heuertz goes so far as to suggest that “doubt is necessary for faith. Being out of touch with our doubts is an indication that we’re probably not in touch with the gift of faith” (p 27). This can be argued from the perspective of identity formation as well, as we touch on in Sticky Faith. Without a period of questioning and exploring our belief, we continue to carry a faith that has been given to us by someone else rather than a faith we’ve wrestled with and internalized. 

When intellectual faith comes up against real-life tragedy or exposure to injustice, the walls often come crashing down. This is the experience of many of our students after high school. 

Here’s the unexpected gift tied to doubt within community: others hold faith for us when we struggle to believe. Heuertz writes, “One of the surprising gifts of faith, then, is that it’s often not for yourself but for someone else” (p 23). And by remaining faithful to God and to community through doubt, we often discover new depths of faith. 

The life of Mother Teresa is an example of this. When her personal writings and confessions were published after her death they revealed more than fifty years of darkness and doubt. What’s amazing is how she remained committed to God and to her community throughout that doubt. She never ran away, and she never stopped serving diligently day after day among the poor. Mother Teresa had doubts, but she never stopped having faith. 

Heuertz suggests that “Community is an incubator in which faith and doubt can coexist” (p 30). How have you seen this play out in your own ministry with young people?