The Doubting Faith (This is Not an Oxymoron)

This is a resource you may want to file away and find again for such a time as you are “freaking out” because your child states he/she no longer believes in Jesus. Remember that a teen’s faith is in transition. Remember they are not making adult decisions yet. Remember they are mirroring your faith and sometimes that mirror is to be broken. Remember that doubt is very much a part of a teen’s faith. (And yours too from time to time because life is hard.)

In my local church we sing this song “Jesus I Believe.” It ends with these words:

‘Cause even the impossible is your reality
God even the impossible is your reality
Jesus I believe
Jesus I believe
Help my unbelief God
Jesus I believe

Whoa. Think about that a moment. This is sung in church. With people who believe. Yet they are singing a declaration that they don’t believe. Because for those of us who are brave enough to admit it, there are moments when we doubt and these moments do cause our faith to grow. We have aged wisdom to grow through these painful doubting times. Our faith has grown and stood the test of time.

Not the same for your child. Because he/she is still young.

So when your beloved makes a statement of disbelief or shouts a statement of doubt (because there would be fear and other unspoken emotions in that declaration so the entire statement is going to be emotional enough to cause a shout or other drama), what is behind this statement are these important questions: 

  • Is God real?
  • Why are Christians so messed up?
  • Can I trust the Bible?
  • Is it wrong to doubt God?

You’ve had these questions too, haven’t you? Did you have them when you were 18 too? Having these questions as an adult is tension (probably holy tension) enough but as an 18-year old when so many emotions and complex thoughts are new, these questions can literally rock one’s faith.

Repeat this truth to yourself.

Doubt is not toxic to faith. Silence is.

Research has found that teens who have safe relationships in which to share their questions and struggles tend to have stronger faith, to carry that faith into young adulthood, and to share their faith with others more often. When articulated, teens’ questions open up exploration of both doubt and faith.

Doubt has too often been seen as “bad.” But it’s not. There is a wonderful dance to it. This quote summarizes that well.

“For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites; they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.” –Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God

So maybe you won’t freak out if your beloved decides to express some doubts. You will then freak out when you realize you will be asked to help answer some of these deep questions. I have two responses you can always fall back on:

1. Yes, you can ask that.

2. I don’t know, but…

The simple help is that your child needs to know that all of his/her questions, complaints, doubts, and struggles have a hearing. And that he/she won’t be rejected by you—or God—for putting words to those doubts. They need to know that God is big enough to receive these questions and is not afraid of them (just read the Psalms for example!) They need to know that they are not somehow deficient, unfaithful, or unworthy, and that their questions won’t cause God to love them any less. They need to know it is okay to sing about their unbelief as well as to talk about it.

Second, your child needs to know that you don’t have the answer to every question. It isn’t the goal of mature Christian adulthood to be “answer-people” or to have everything figured out. Whew, right? In fact, the more we lean into faith, the more we realize it is marked at every turn by mystery, unseeing, complexity, and paradox. These features deepen our awe, wonder, and humility before God–not our certainty, arrogance, or pride.

When you are inwardly freaking out over your teen’s questions, remember this time and time again:

Doubt is not toxic to faith. Silence is.

And remember that the burden of your kid’s faith is not all on you. This is on the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can use you to do some of the drawing, teaching, answering, comforting. But this is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit.

Also remember that hopefully you have actively put at least 5 wise and trusting adults in you beloved’s life. Those spiritual mentors can give good answers too. Can be used by the Holy Spirit too. This is just another reason why it is so important to have your teen consistently in church. Your church is full of people who have also struggled with doubt and now appear wise. And who would love to share this with your teen.

Be silent no more. Be freaked out no more. Answer what you can. And rejoice that your teen has a faith that has a pulse, is alive and well, and exploring and searching.

P.S. List of doubting Psalms for you:  Psalm 6, Psalm 10, Psalm 13, Psalm 22, Psalm 77, Psalm 109