I am eight. I tell my parents I want to be baptized. They ask me why and I have all the right answers; I’ve been in the church for as long as I can remember, after all, and I am an observant child. The words rattle off my tongue.
Some time later, I answer the same questions as I stand nervously in the baptistery. Our pastor plunges me beneath the water. As he lifts me up again, he declares me a new creation. My parents hand me a new bible, beaming, and we all go out for a celebratory lunch.
I am eight. How much do I understand? What do I believe? It’s hard to say for sure.
But I want to believe. Desperately. I’ve always wanted to believe.
I am sixteen. Our church is preparing for its first short-term missions trip, a ten-day church-building venture to Chiapas, Mexico. They make an announcement on Sunday morning, encouraging people to apply. I want to go. My parents give permission. My application is accepted. It’s a done deal.
It’s a done deal, except for the niggling voice in the back of my mind, the one that questions whether any of this is real. My conscience nags at me, telling me I can’t possibly go on a missions trip unless I am certain of my faith. I tell my parents first, unable to meet their eyes, afraid of letting them down.
“I don’t know if I believe in God.”
I repeat these words a short time later as I sit in the passenger seat of my parent’s Suburban. My mom is in the driver’s seat. The leader of the trip, a man who is my friend and mentor, is in the back. We’re at a Sonic Drive-In, half-eaten hamburgers in our laps, when the words stutter out of me, my voice quiet.
To my surprise, he shows no visible sign of shock, no gasps or frowns or narrowed eyes. He asks me whether I am open to the possibility of God. I hasten to assure him – Yes. Yes. I want to believe in God – and he tells me for now, for this trip, that is enough.
I am sixteen. Dad hands me a letter. “You don’t have a clue who I am,” it starts, “and I’ve never met your dad face-to-face, but he and I have discovered we have several things in common, the most important of which is our faith in God.”
The writer – a man named Lynn – goes on to talk about doubt. How we all face it. Even John the Baptist. Even Jesus. Lynn tells me the best way to get out of the cycle of doubt and discouragement is to witness answered prayer. He closes by asking how he can pray for me, saying he can think of no one he’d rather see experience a miracle than the daughter of a friend, and I long for his prayers to be answered. I want my miracle.
I fold his letter into thirds and tuck it between the pages of my bible. In the months and years to come, I will pull it out and read it again and again, until the words along the creases are barely legible. I find encouragement here. A recognition that I am not alone. But still, the doubt lingers.
I am twenty-nine. It is the most emotionally and spiritually draining summer of my life, and I pray constantly. My brain cannot handle deep, theological prayers, but holding up every thought is a constant undercurrent of Help, God. Please, God. I pray more consistently than I ever have before. I am confident God will hear, will respond, will step in on my behalf and on the behalf of those I love.
In the aftermath, as I am sifting through everything I thought I believed about prayer and faith and God, the old questions come back, stronger than ever before. Part of me wants to walk away from faith altogether.
But friends and family hold me as I mourn, pointing to the hope that is beyond the sorrows of this world. They carry this faith for me when I cannot bear it on my own.
I am thirty-two. I wonder how I can hope to raise these two precious girls entrusted to my care, how I can give them a solid foundation, how I can point them toward a God of goodness and love when doubt is my constant companion. I read bible stories and I sing hymns and I pray, and sometimes I know how important all of this is and sometimes I wonder if it isn’t all a farce.
I sit in church on a Sunday morning and the questions swirl. But then we sing. As my voice joins the others in the room, as we declare, together, this communal faith – My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness – something in me rises up in agreement.
We take communion. I hold the bit of cracker and the tiny plastic cup of grape juice in my hands and think about the physicality of this ancient faith, about how the God who became flesh and blood established something so natural, so elemental – eating and drinking – as one of His sacraments, and the reality of it grabs me.
Nate stands to preach. At one point, he says, “We don’t want to be Christians because of what God does for us – even eternally. We want to be Christians because God is worthy of our worship.” His simple statement strikes a chord, and I jot it down, nodding as I do.
And I believe, at least for this moment. Another like it might not come for weeks, or even months, but it is enough.