Archives For doubt

When I was in college, I watched many of my youth group friends leave their faith behind.leaving+the+church

As I grew up through my twenties, I realized that I had lived through what had become a massive statistic. It turns out that most kids raised in American Christian churches drop their faith by college graduation.

Plenty of leaders, thinkers and writers have pontificated over this statistic. Most of them look at the “millennial” generation from afar, decades separating them from the people they claim to analyze.

But now that I’m a parent, this is no longer a remote or abstract exercise in analytics. It’s terrifying.

As a parent, I want my child to embrace my most personal and deeply held beliefs. I cannot imagine what it will do to my wife and I if he should reject the faith we are trying to teach him.

And yet, the numbers aren’t good. The odds are stacked against us. It seems that we will more than likely fail.

But I think I know how to beat the odds. Because I think I finally have an answer to why our kids, raised in church-going homes, have largely discarded their faith.

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Everything takes practice, right?

It takes practice to learn how to ride a bike. We have to practice to learn how to play a musical instrument or a backyard sport. We had to practice in order to be able to recite our math facts, or eat an ice cream cone without wearing it.

Practically everything in life, we struggle and wrestle with because we are not born with a natural talent for it.

For some reason, though, faith has escaped that fundamental idea, that it takes practice. 

I think we assume that a bolt of spiritual lightning hits our brains and we then have faith. We believe. And we can be tested to see if we are true believers.

Maybe that was true when we were children. We believed what the adults told us.We believed in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Maybe most awesomely, we believed in ourselves. We believed that we were awesome at everything. There are no three year olds who have body image issues (compared to something like 90% of grown women). There are no three year olds who do not believe that they can “do it themselves.”

But the older we got, the harder everything else became. It was not enough to clumsily throw objects across the room. We had to sharpen and hone our bodies in order to throw accurately. And we could no longer take everything the adults said at face value. We had to learn how to discern important things…like sarcasm. And maybe the hardest of all, we were confronted by this contradiction that God seems to love us, but on the other hand we know what we are. It became harder and harder for us to believe in ourselves, believe we are lovable, acceptable or worthy. Belief in ourselves is like some reflex that we are born with, but lose as we grow up.

One of my favorite departed Christians, Madeline L’Engle wrote in A Wrinkle In Time that believing was like anything else. It takes practice. And I wonder how many times in my life I have avoided stretching and straining my “belief” muscles, either by exercising my cynicism, or just by taking things at face value and forgetting them.


This week, I think I’m gonna stretch my belief muscles. I’m going to try to believe that I’m good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God has made me good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God finds me worthy.

Because if I can’t practice believing those things, then the rest is all up for grabs.

You know, we have a weird relationship with doubt. 

We talk a big game. We like to say that we are very accepting and open-minded toward others. But when it comes to talking about the things that are really important to us, we suddenly change our tune.

Look at how we talk about politics or faith for that matter. We are obsessed with figuring out who is in and who is out. As soon as we band together as believers, we feel the need for a new litmus test, a more stringent set of beliefs to determine who are the true believers and who are the imposters, the fakes, the frauds and saboteurs. When someone around us doubts, it feels like an attack. It makes us afraid, fearful that we might have to start doubting something that we have taken for granted. Maybe we become fearful that we have been duped. The result is that we are more polarized, divided and suspicious of one another than ever.

The truth is that doubt, the most important kinds of doubts about God, about life, about everything around us, are usually not at their heart an intellectual exercise.

Doubt is born of disappointment. 

We believed that life was this way, that God was that way, and then it turns out to not be true. We grieve the loss of this cherished belief. That is why doubt is traumatic and troubling. Our doubts about God do not usually come out of the clear blue sky. They come from some deep hurt that we are grieving. Often, people who are in doubt about their faith are not in attack mode. They are often in survival mode or defense mode.

I found a verse this weekend that I do not think I have ever paid any attention to. I wonder what would happen if we tried to live it this week.


Some of the biggest seasons of doubt I ever experienced were the product of great loss and disappointment. What about you?

What if your church was infested?

After they burned Heretic Steve, the congregation enjoyed their monthly potluck dinner in peace.

After they burned Heretic Steve, the congregation enjoyed their monthly potluck dinner in peace.

Not infested with roaches or termites. What if your church was infested with heretics?

What if there were people who were actually inside your church, people who sat in church every Sunday, who pretended to be like you and me, but they were anything but? What if they were imposters who did not catch the “vision” of your church? What if someone was not so sure about some of the basic faith tenants that your pastor teaches?

Would you round them up?

Would you interrogate them?

Would you “bug bomb” your church to get rid of the heretics once and for all and keep the church pure and clean?

Well here’s the thing, people. Our churches are infested. And it’s up to us to decide what we are going to do about it.

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This last weekend, Sunday afternoon, I had a medical emergency.images

I was home alone, my wife out on a walk with the dogs at the park.

When suddenly, I could not see.

Now, I wasn’t stricken blind like Paul.  I could see…sort of.  But my eyesight was suddenly obscured with blind spots and auras.  The world looked like a broken mirror.  As I struggled to read WebMD (obviously, the first and most reliable course of action in any medical emergency), I realized just how severe the problem was.  I could not make out more than fragments of words and I was beginning to be overtaken by a headache.

I called my brother, a nurse, who told me that I should immediately call 911.  Now, I’ve never called 911 for myself, so this understandably made me more panicked.

The afternoon was filled with my first ambulance ride, my first CT scan, and the first time I have ever been scared that I was having a stroke.  The episode lasted a couple of hours and then went away, as inexplicably as it had arrived.

The doctor had no answer, other than that I did not have a stroke.  I chalk it up to stress, a “quasi-stroke.”  In talking with others, I learned that I’m not the first person to experience something like this.

While being transported by ambulance and laying in my first ER bed, and contemplating the possibility that I might be having a catastrophic event happening to me, I thought about these few things: about life, about suffering and about what I think of God.

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I used to be an alarmist.2010-02-19-ec-peterjpg-93a862e09c069b80_large

I used to read every article, every Barna report with dread and fear.

Millennials are leaving the Church.

Fewer Americans than ever identify as Christians.

“Oh no!” I thought.  The Church is shrinking, losing influence, becoming irrelevant.  Soon, Christians will be a minority on the sidelines of American culture and we’ll all be sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

Last week, I discussed the exodus of millennials from the Church and the oft-repeated idea that is because they are “entitled.”  Today, I want to take on the whole exodus itself.  Because invariably, the statistics come across as some kind of apocalyptic doomsday scenario for the Church.

But one day very recently, I just stopped panicking.  I stopped believing that the world would end if the Church ended.

I started wondering what if it was actually a good thing for a generation to leave the Church. Continue Reading…