Don’t be afraid of your doubts
Wrestle with them.
I ran across this concept in a book called The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. He suggests that it is healthy to wrestle with doubts:
People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.
This may sound like risky advice, but Dr. Keller goes on to say:
All doubts, however skeptical or cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B.
In other words, my doubts are based on underlying assumptions which may or not be more valid than those of my current beliefs. Dr. Keller is writing specifically about religious beliefs, but I think the concept applies to other areas as well. What if, instead of listening to our doubts, we took a good hard look at them? What if, when we do, it turns out we don’t believe them? What if our doubts are incorrect and listening to them will mislead us? What if believing our doubts is the worst thing we can do?
Just me and my doubts
One area where I experience doubt is my writing. What if no one likes my work? What if I can’t hack the marketing required to get my work out there? What if I’m wasting my time?
Let’s look at that last one. If it is true that I am wasting my time, it implies one or more of the following assumptions:
- I am fooling myself about my talent
- Unless my writing provides income, it is a waste of time
- There are more worthwhile or impactful things I should be doing instead
- Writing is not God’s will for my life
Now I’ll take a look at each one: Assumption One, I have no real talent. Feedback from many sources—including professional authors—indicates that I do. I may need more practice before I am good enough to compete with successful authors, but I do have talent.
Assumption Two is more a question of philosophy: how do I attach value to a given activity? I personally do not believe that an activity’s value is determined by income. Creativity has its own rewards, as does volunteer service, parenting, and other non-income-producing types of activities. True, the realities of life force many people to spend their time earning income rather than pursuing less lucrative endeavors, but it is often a lifestyle choice rather than an out-and-out necessity. I know many families who sacrifice income so one parent can stay home with the children. There are others who sacrifice in order to pursue a dream, whether that dream is starting a coffee shop or pursuing a passion for sculpture. You can’t assign a dollar value to that kind of thing, can you? But you can decide that going for the dream is worth the risk. There is more to worth than money.
Assumption Three is a question of value and purpose. Each of us must make up our own minds about our purpose in life, and will prioritize activities accordingly. There are hundreds of worthy causes clamoring for our attention (and our money.) We must make choices. I believe that I can make a difference in this world through my writing, therefore I choose writing as one of my worthwhile activities. (Five years ago I had other priorities. Five years from now they may change yet again. For now, I will write.)
Assumption Four can be a tricky one. How can we be sure of God’s will when he so rarely provides us with burning bushes or blinding lights and a voice from Heaven? The way I see it, God placed specific talents and passions in each of us. Writing is one of my talents. Stories are one of my passions. The act of writing brings me joy. My output brings joy or encouragement to others. I am not shirking other responsibilities in order to write. (Hooray for an empty nest!) I will continue to pray that I am hearing correctly, but until I hear otherwise, I can assume that writing is part of God’s will for me right now. (Not the only part, of course. If I place writing on a pedestal above all else, I will be out of line.)
Bottom line: that doubt is unfounded. For me in my current stage of life, writing is not a waste of time. So I can stop entertaining this doubt and get on with it!
Do you have doubts?
Of course you do, although yours are probably different than mine. Where do doubts assail you in your life? Do you wonder if you’re a good parent? Are you unsure you’ve made the right career choice? Do you question your creative abilities? Maybe it’s time to face those doubts, to look them squarely in the face and begin to question what assumptions they are based on. Who knows, you might discover your doubts aren’t nearly as persuasive as you thought. You might even find new power to ignore them.
But what if you discover your doubts are valid? What then?
In that case it may be time to listen to them. Not all doubts are bad. Sometimes doubt saves us from making mistakes. If, in the process of unearthing the underlying assumptions, you decide your doubt is valid then you had better take a good look at your current thinking–maybe it is not as valid, or as true to your core beliefs, as you thought. If so, it’s time to embrace change. Who wants to waste time, effort and money on something that does not line up with our purpose and values?
I’m choosing to to give myself permission to doubt my doubts. What about you?