Kat Wordsworth felt doubt in her faith but, ashamed and scared, she did all she could to swallow the uncertainty and carry on as if it didn’t exist. Here she explains the importance of discussing doubt and acknowledging it’s a normal part of our faith journey.
For some people, doubt is a fleeting question, easily answered or dismissed. For others, it’s a peripheral issue, but not something that threatens the foundations of their belief. While for others, it’s a total collapse. It’s a term that means different things to different people, that could span; questioning, confusion and disappointment. But regardless of the particular form it takes, doubt seems to carry a universal feature: we don’t talk about it much.
The reasons for this silence, could be fear, misunderstanding or – let’s admit it – the fact that we aren’t always good at talking about difficult things. But the problem is that ignoring doubt doesn’t make it go away. For the individual, suppressing questions can result in doubt becoming infected with shame and isolation. If you’ve never heard a story of doubtful faith being told from the front of church, or by anyone in your community, your understanding of faith might not leave any space for questions. You might believe that you are the only one. Perhaps doubts mean you aren’t a real Christian. Perhaps you will be ostracised if you are honest. Perhaps the only option is to walk away.
Not talking about doubt turns a normal part of a life of faith into something we’re totally unprepared for.
On the communal level, not talking about doubt turns a normal part of a life of faith into something we’re totally unprepared for and threatens to leave us with a collective gap in wisdom. The combination of suppression and silence creates a vicious cycle. You haven’t heard a similar story, so you don’t share yours, and neither do the people around you. The cycle repeats.
My own story followed this pattern. Ashamed and scared, I did all that I could to swallow my uncertainty and carry on as if it didn’t exist. Needless to say, that approach only made things worse. It took years to confront my questions, and even longer before I found a way to accept my doubt while recognising my faith. What haunts me now is how much shorter that process might have been if, from the start, I had absorbed the message that doubt was a common part of faith, rather than a dirty secret that I needed to hide.
I wish I had absorbed the message that doubt was a common part of faith, rather than a dirty secret that I needed to hide.
Fast-forward from those early years of doubt and you find me sharing regularly about my deepest questions, how I view faith and how I am learning to follow Jesus as a doubtful Christian. Let me be clear: I’m not a theologian or an apologist. I don’t hope to answer the specific questions people may have. That’s not the point. Instead, my aim is simply to encourage us to open up the conversation. To break the stigma so that others know they aren’t alone. To point out that although our reactions to doubt often include suspicion, guilt and fear, that doesn’t seem to be the way that God responds. Thomas doubted, and Jesus moved closer, seeing it as an invitation to deepen their relationship. The gospel of Mark recounts a father who looked Jesus in the eye and told him of his unbelief, and yet his ill child was still healed. The Bible is full to the brim with wrestling and wondering, often expressed by those that we hold up as people of great faith. God is big enough to handle our doubts, whatever they might be.
Doubt is normal. It doesn’t mean that your faith has been lost, or that you are a failure. So please, let’s talk about it. The person sat next to you at church on Sunday might thank you.
Kat Wordsworth’s memoir, Let’s Talk About Doubt will be published by John Hunt in early 2023.