I don’t want to write this blog post, however for two reasons I feel that I must. Firstly, I have been accompanied by a persistent undercurrent of doubt, especially over the last three years, to the point where I’ve had a couple of occasions where I’ve almost exited Christianity. Doubt is a crunchy issue for me as I write this, and I think it will be healthy to map out my long-term relationship with it. Secondly, it would be hypocritical for me to be writing on transparency if I weren’t willing to be candid with this. I suspect doubt is a significant barrier for all people as we seek integration and understanding.
Let me draw up a rudimentary chart of my relationship with belief and reality, then, hopefully, I can provide some insight/empathy into the emotionally knotty disruption that is doubt.
I assume adolescence is confusing for everyone, it wasn’t just me? I had much confusion about my identity as a teenager. My teen years were defined by a deep-seated fear of being found out. I didn’t want anyone to look too closely at me and I didn’t want to come face-to-face with my own inner being. My antidote to this anxious situation was to stare at the clouds; chronic escapism. I filled up the gap between what I said, how I acted and what I didn’t want to acknowledge with books, gaming, TV, imaginary relationships.
Escapism was a home brand band-aid with crappy adhesive which, ultimately, couldn’t withstand the constant picking and fidgeting of my brain. I have a permanently situated need to understand myself and everything related to me. It’s a nervous, inquisitive chicken that lives in my head, forever scratching the ground, shuffling dirt and straw. So as much as I could avoid opening up to other people, that nuisance chicken wouldn’t allow me to live in genuine denial about what occupied my inner life (e.g. my homosexual orientation).
But the escapist patterns were there, and they were firmly entrenched. My mode of operating was fairly separate from the realm of reality, and anything that pulled me towards doing anything in the material world seemed hostile. Even my parents pulling me away from the couch to go swimming up the road felt like an invasion on my precariously balanced little world.
This was a deeply unsatisfying way of living life and I knew it. I moved past it somewhat: started to engage with my classmates more, started wanting to work harder at my studies (though I remained an awful student), became more confident, had the horrifying revelation that I was actually an extrovert… stuff like that.
But my sense of solidity and connection to life remained rather thin.
In the persistence of this feeling of distance and depersonalisation I became a Christian. I had what Christians refer to as a “conversion experience”; i.e. an observable moment in time which I can identify as the moment I became a Christian. I was quietly reading a book when I realised that the concrete reality I hungered for and was severely lacking was actually pointing me towards God and heaven.
I wrote a couple of years later, after always considering God to be far-off, vague and ethereal I was rocked by the realisation that this was actually an accurate description of me.
I had created a God in the image of my own brokenness and the God that introduced Himself to me was quite dissimilar to the one that I’d designed.
The results of this conversion were observable to my family, friends, and the ministry leaders at my church so I found my way to the ministry pathway pretty quickly. Even though I was socially awkward, generally unformed and uninformed, I was confident in my convictions about God’s existence, who He was and who I was in relation to Him, and I was clearly being changed by this relationship. I was a demonstrable example of growth, of the power of Jesus to redeem thinking and conduct.
Fast forward half a decade to find that that confidence and eagerness for growth has been shorn off. It’s been replaced with a limping, bedraggled faith.