September 23, 2015

Dealing with Doubt

It is Wednesday, and I am sitting on the 3rd floor of the Student Union in the computer/library. It is September the 23rd, and I am thinking that this semester is passing by so slowly. This is week 5 of a 16 week semester, and frankly, I am tired already, just so tired. I feel worn out, wasted, and at times, whipped, mostly by my own feelings of insecurity and my doubt.

Doubt is such a double-edged sword. You know, we doubt our abilities, our beliefs and our convictions all the time, and for the most part, we survive, we shrug our shoulders, shake our head, and just pick up and move on. Then there are those times when doubt cripples us, and we crumble and fall to the floor in a puddle, a mess, and we feel as though we are finished (fineto!)

This past week has be a roller coaster ride with my good friends, doubt and despair. Yes, I have partnered with them for a while now, and while I don't really like them, they do seem to tag along with me most days. Today, is no exception. I felt overwhelmed this morning, and doubt was there, as he is always there, ready to disprove my every thought, feeling and action. Yes, he is a constant companion, happy to remind me how I fail constantly, how I refuse to do "the right, the good, the honorable," and how I am a misfit when it comes to practicing faith, true faith in God.

I read an article today that referenced a popular Internet meme known as "Doubt Your Doubts Instead of Your Faith." This little saying has found its way around the Internet, and I found it today when I googled for a graphic image to post on my blog. I thought the saying was curious so I googled for it and I found that it was attributed to LDS President, Deiter Uchtdorf. Apparently, during an address, he made a statement encouraging his church members to consider doubting their doubt before they doubt their faith. The statement received a great deal of backlash from church members and others who felt the platitude was too empty, simple, and non-specific to be of any use. Of course, the man was using it as a way to show that his approach to doubt is to consider it from a negative perspective, as a message sent to destroy faith, not encourage it. Others who follow rational lines of faith took that to be a straw man, an example of circular reasoning. In truth, I guess how you view doubt is predicated on your worldview. If you see doubting your faith as a negative experience, then you will align your thinking with this man -- head that doubt off at the pass -- don't not give it a foothold to bring you down. Or if you align with the rationalists, then perhaps you see doubt as part of the growth process of spirituality. You may think that doubt is a good thing because it is causing you to think deeply about your faith and your own worldview. In my view, however, doubt is not a good thing, especially not for the Christian who professes faith in Jesus Christ. Let me explain...

I started my blog post with this verse found in Philippians 4. It is oft-quoted and it is a good reminder of how the Bible instructs us to handle anxiety, worry, and yes, doubt.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Paul is laying out one approach to dealing with periods of anxiousness, and that is to remember where you trust lays. When we feel anxious about life, about our problems, or even our fears, we are to remember to pray, to turn to God, and to reconnect our trust to His character and His nature.

Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty or a lack of conviction about something we said we believed. It is a FEELING and as such, it is fueled by our emotional state or well-being. Feelings are attached to positive and negative reactions, which simply means, that we can feel a variety of things, a range of reactions depending on circumstances, events, or even interactions with others. Therefore, when we feel doubt, we can pretty much accept the fact that our emotions are usually involved in the process. This means that we are not thinking 100% rationally or not using our reason or logic. We are reeling, feeling the sway and pull of emotion, and as a result, we are not always thinking clearly, accurately or with a right mindset. It happens, of course, and when we doubt, we most often "feel" bad about something or someone.

How we handle doubt will depend on our belief system, our emotional state at the given time or moment as well as our past experiences. For example, when I doubt, I almost always am under conviction from the enemy. He has accused me of doing something wrong, and that accusation as fueled a pattern of doubting, mostly my own abilities, powers, and experience. He gets me to think about my past failures, and in doing so, I find that I accept doubt as a rational explanation of what is perceived to be true. Note that doubt is often a perception. A perception is a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something, so how we perceive is based upon our mindset or how we see the world, and how we place ourselves within the world.

As I perceive my situation, I will choose one of two mindsets: a Biblical mindset or a worldly, secular mindset. Biblically, my worldview is predicated upon my understanding of the Christian faith. I believe the tenets of Christianity, I hold this conviction that the Bible is true, and that my faith in God is a vital, living, and responsive faith directed toward and upon my relationship with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, my Biblical worldview assures me that my life is purposed and planned, and my place, both temporal and eternal, is fixed and is part of God's overarching goal for my spiritual growth and development. In short, my life is a work in progress as my Creator molds, changes, and moves me toward the fulfillment of His expressed will.

If I choose, conversely to hold a secular humanistic worldview, then my mindset is predicated on my own abilities, my own power structure, and my outcomes are directly the result of my achievement. In short, I am the beginning, the middle and the end of my efforts. There is no hope outside of what I can achieve, and doubt in my abilities is the result of a lack of performance or effort. It is thoroughly up to me to achieve, and failure is a consequence of poor planning, poor application, or poor understanding of a thing or context.

Clearly, my mindset is Biblical, therefore, when I doubt, I allow the enemy the foothold he needs to get me to pay attention to his accusations. I believe what he says is true rather than standing upon my conviction or my belief in the authority of Scripture, the integrity of the Word, and the testimony of others (my witnesses) who say otherwise. My faith rests upon this band of evidence, yet when I doubt, I take my eyes off the evidence, and I look to my own hands, my own mind, for a rational and reasonable answer.

The Good Doctor

An analogy that works well is this one.  If you are sick and feeling ill, you may go to the doctor for diagnosis. The doctor is a skilled professional with many years of experience. He diagnoses your symptoms, prescribes a treatment plan, and suggests steps to alleviate your suffering. You, in turn, thank him for his efforts, but choose instead to doubt the veracity of his diagnosis. You do not believe he knows what he is saying so you go about getting second, third, and fourth opinions. Even in this way, you receive testimony that supports the doctor's diagnosis of your condition, but you refuse to accept them, believing instead that you know better, know more or you 'feel' that there is a better answer out there to be found. In the end, you consult other sources, never finding the truth, but seeking nonetheless to discover it. All the while, your condition worsens because you have chosen to pursue the path of disbelief and doubt rather than follow the path of truth and faith. Yes, you have chosen to prolong your suffering by choosing to doubt what you have heard, the testimony you have received, and the information provided. You would rather figure out the answer on your own, so you continue to dig, yet you find no relief. In the end, you either suffer without cause or you realize that the treatment offered initially was true. If you are fortunate, you return to the doctor, and this time you follow his advice. You recover, and you understand that your lack of faith in the doctor, his character, his witness, and his experience, would have saved you much pain and hardship.

God is our Good Doctor, and His word is our diagnosis for every ill, every worry, every fear. When we doubt, often we are doubting God's word to us. He has shown us the way to go, provided a plan, and given us everything we need to live rightly. Yet, we doubt this provision, often because of material or superficial lack. Yes, we often discount God's word to us because we fail to see the sufficiency of His provision. We expect more, want more, desire more, and our need is driven by something outside of God's will. We want an easier way, a more comfortable walk, or a higher standard of living. We want to be comfortable, to be kept in a way that is not quite as hard on us physically, spiritually or emotionally. We want to be cuddled, coddled, and comforted the way a parent comforts a small child. We don't want to be a grown up, we don't want to experience discomfort or pain, so we seek the easy way out of our troubles. In doing so, we often lose the benefit of staying the course, seeing the trial through, and enduring the discomfort in order to produce vitality, strength and boldness.

Doubt comes in all shapes and sizes, and while we doubt often, sometimes our doubts are fleeting and sometimes, our doubts are magnified by our extenuating circumstances. Yes, doubt can cripple us easily especially if we are in the midst of a strong or difficult trial. We can find that the process of constant faith drains us, and we give into doubt because it is easier to do so. I mean, after a while, even Moses needed help to keep his arms up so that the Israelite army would find success in battle. Yes, at times, we become so tired, so worn, that we need the help of others to keep us focused and to keep us primed for battle. And in this way, we are supported and encouraged by others who remind us to not lose hope, to not shift our focus, to not give sway to the enemy.

Today is a perfect day to explore this concept because I was filled with doubts all day long. I had it "bad," so to speak, so much so that I felt overwhelmed, depleted emotionally, and left feeling as though I was unable to do anything of value. I didn't really sulk, but I certainly walked around campus feeling depressed. I was condemned and I was suffering emotionally from my enemy's accusations. After my morning class, I tried very hard to pull myself up out of the blue funk I was in, but nothing really happened to me until lunch time. I had been complaining, and I was trying hard to change my attitude. I was praying about it when all of a sudden when of my former students stopped by and gave me a hug. She was on her way to a meeting, and she stopped to say hello and ask how I was doing. Her smile reminded me that I was admired, appreciated, and that she remembered me from class. Her little gesture felt so good, and I started to feel better about myself as the day turned toward afternoon.

After my 12:30 class, as I was headed over to the other building, I had another blessed encounter with a student. One of my former students called out to me from across the walkway. He waved and said "Hello, Dr. Hepburn," which made me feel special -- again -- that he was happy to see me. And, then if that wasn't enough testimony, as I finished my last class of the day, I bumped into a third former student. This time, we stopped and chatted for about 20 minutes. He asked me for some marital advice, on communication no doubt, so I shared some thoughts about how he might improve his communication with his wife. He was one of my favorite students from last semester, and we occasionally run into each other on campus. His smile is infectious, and he is such a gracious young man.

As I walked away, heading back to my car, I thought to myself, "Now, see? You have seen three students whom you impacted in some way here at GCU." I know it wasn't monumental or mind blowing, but to me, it reminded me that I am surviving the challenge this semester, and I am moving on with the best of my ability. Yes, it is true, I am doubting my proficiency again, doubting my abilities, and doubting my efforts. The funny thing, not as ha ha funny, but as curious -- is the fact that I am not condemned by God for my efforts -- Nope, He knows I am sincerely trying to do my best, and that while I struggle, I am working hard to be a good teacher. I may not be great, but I am trying very hard each day to do my best. God sees my effort, and He knows it is "enough."

Today, I am worn out, used up, and feeling so tired, but I am praising God because He is good, so very good, and He approves of me just the way I am. Selah!

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