On Making Room for Doubt
I'm over at Bedlam Magazine today to start off the month by opening up about doubt—the questions and emotions we often don't allow ourselves to speak out loud. I've included an excerpt below, and hope you'll hop onto Bedlam to read the rest. To the ones who are angry; to the ones who weep; to the ones who don't quite know which way to go, I stoop low in the trenches with you. May peace find us on such holy ground.
Image above courtesy of Bedlam Magazine
The pastor says, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit,” and I’m not sure I want to be.
It’s a Sunday morning—the 10 a.m. service—all of us sitting inside a dimly lit middle school amphitheater as the pastor wraps up a sermon on all the ways God can manifest Himself in His church and His people. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit,” he prays again, and my eyes snap open. I lift my head and look around, searching the darkness for anyone not persuaded by the incantation.
But heads are bowed and hands are raised. I’m the only one trying to peer through the darkness.
The sermon was about doctrine, the lines drawn in the sand between denominations with different ways of seeing God. Evangelicals to Pentecostals, Anglicans to Southern Baptists—we talk about tongues and we talk about worship. We talk about communion; we talk of being washed by the water. When the pastor says God can be bigger than the doctrine we so often place Him in, I feel myself nodding in agreement; so often, He shows Himself to different people in different ways.
Mid-way through, the pastor asks us to flip to Ephesians, and I leaf through pages until we stop at chapter five, verses 19-20. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,” it reads. “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The pastor continues on, but my eyes stay glued to verse 20: “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” I search my heart but I can’t find a melody, no hymns to lay at the feet of my Father. Instead, I am overcome by the grief bubbling beneath the surface—the pain, confusion and anger overflowing from months spent toiling in the space between doctrine and my Redeemer.
“Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The pastor’s voice breaks the silence. “Ask for more, ask Him to fill you MORE.”
But I don’t even want to be filled.
I don’t want to be inhabited by a Spirit they say draws lines in the sand based on performance and hierarchy; a Spirit defined by doctrine I can’t seem to reconcile with the wild grace that’s always lined my periphery. Was He who they said He was? I still had no clear answer, so I stood quiet with hands clasped in front of me for the rest of the service, head bowed to the floor just waiting for the pastor to finish.
I stayed quiet in the weeks and months that followed—impassioned emotion feeling like a secret to hide. I identified with the grief and anger strewn across pages written by Jeremiah—“This is it. I’m finished.”—but couldn’t bring myself to admit such feelings out loud. We’ve conditioned ourselves on keeping up appearances; sometimes it feels like church is no longer a building but a facade.
Why is it that we herald the steadfast faith of Job but brush right past the acknowledgement of doubt and suffering in Lamentations?