IF: Gathering 2018 – Jennie Allens’ vulnerable confession of doubt

February 14, 2018

IF: Gathering 2018

My woman’s group hosts an IF: Gathering each year where we join thousands of women across the world for a weekend of powerful speakers and calls to action (IF is a Christian conference, for more information click here.) This was my second year attending, and after the year of spiritual growth I’ve had, I honestly wasn’t sure if the messages would resonate with me in the same way they had in the past. I approached the weekend cautiously optimistic but with very real reservations.

Friday night we watched remotely as Jennie Allen, founder of IF:Gathering shared her personal struggle with 250,000 women worldwide. She asked us: “What is the darkness that comes against you that threaten the flame of your faith?

And I watched in awe as the leader of this conference in the opening talk continued to say:

“When I lay awake at night…somehow in the pitch black, I am thinking about death. I am thinking about God and the the existence of God… Maybe it’s not 2:55am for you, but I promise you there is something that pushes the darkness in on you. There is something that causes you to sense that God’s presence may or may not be close… Maybe its chemo treatment, or infertility, or loneliness...I believe that the greatest darkness coming against [us] is doubt, and everything in our lives feeds doubt.  And when I think about the doubt… I think about how we’re all fighting this alone, because we can’t talk about it. For so long the church has demonized doubt, and we can’t talk about doubt. I haven’t always known what to do with it, but I see it sucking the faith and the passion out of me.”

Suffering and Doubt. Again.

This resonated so deeply with me. As I’ve said before (and before, and before. Geez girl, find a new soap box, amIright?) suffering sends me sinking swiftly into darkness. A darkness of doubt, and pain, and utter hopelessness.

If I’m honest, when I heard Jennie Allen admit this I thought to myself: “So help me God, If I have to write another post about suffering….” I swear I’m a funny person, always smiling and quick to make a joke. How come I can’t write something filled with hilarity and witty insight??

Nevertheless, sometimes you can’t help what the Spirit shows you. And the Spirit continues to show me how suffering dances with my spirituality. This is the only time I’ve ever heard a religious leader ever admit her own doubt with such vulnerability. I was shocked and comforted.

Are we actually giong to talk about this?  Are we going to tell the truth of the moments of doubt in God’s existence?

 

“I have seen miracles beyond my understanding, but at 2:55am, I still doubt the existence of God…” -Jennie Allen, If Gathering 2018

 

Are we going to admit that we only give the microphone to the people for whom God has answered prayers? And pretend we don’t see the hundreds of us who continue to suffer?

I am speaking from experience in the Christian church, but I think this can apply to many faith or spiritual communities. People of faith struggle with the pain of others.  We just don’t know what to do with it. We pretend not to see it, we cover it up with “I’ll pray for you” or “Everything happens for a reason” and promptly move right along, sighing with relief that our own prayers have been answered.

Acknowledging the pain of others takes us out of our own journey with the divine and costs us something. It forces us to ask “Why is this happening?”, and the half hearted, regurgitated answers only serve to fuel the doubt that keeps us up at night.

I recently heard Jen Hatmaker say that some suffering is long term, and some recovery is slow. If you are still hurting, if you are still doubting, if the pain of loss impacts you long after the time of the first impact your -are not bad PR for your faith!

There is no glory in hiding or denying our doubt. There is no shame in admitting it. The truth is, there is great potential in moments (or months or years) of doubt, how we handle our doubt can bring us closer to the Spirit. The fire of faith is often born in the darkness. 

The roots of my faith taught me that God sits with us in the midst of our suffering and doubt. I know this to be true, God meets us in the darkness.  We are not alone.

 

Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as day, for darkness is as light with you. … I awake, and I am still with you. Psalms 139:12 &18.

 

What do I do with doubt?

Doubt is its most powerful when it is unspeakable. It grows in darkness and breeds shame.

A few months ago I was sitting on the living room floor with one of my dear friends. We had been talking for hours already, but as the conversation turned to spirituality and faith I decided to be vulnerable and admit my own doubt in the face of suffering. It’s a lot easier to write about it then it is for me to say it face to face, especially to a friend whom I’ve always considered to have such strong faith. “Sometimes it feels like all this suffering is a constant weight on my chest, dragging me into darkness. How can I believe in God, when all I see is pain?”

You know what she said?

“Me too”.

Are there two more healing words in the english language?

This women, whose faith I truly envied to the point of criticizing, gave me a beautiful gift of empathy. And so we talked about it. Raw, and real, and hard. And after, I felt better. The doubt I felt didn’t feel so binding anymore, I could see light.

Friends, we have to talk about it. We have to be willing to sit with others in their pain, acknowledge their suffering, and admit that we doubt the goodness of the Divine from time to time. We talk about it with people we trust, and we bring it t0 the Source of everything. We sit with it, write about it, read scriptures, and sing songs. We resist the urge to be apathetic, we move forward and lean into the pain. Its the only way we get through. I’m here to tell you, we can do it together. I see you. And God sees you.

Love,

Alyse


 

 

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