An Open Letter to Doubt
Originally published on Upwrite Magazine
I can’t pinpoint exactly when you first showed up in my life, but I do remember when we first came face to face. Now that I think about it, it was inevitable that we’d eventually meet; you’d been skulking around the edges of my life for a while.
I was 10, and my friend’s dad was dying. He had been one of those unquestioned adult figures in my life since the pre-memory days of childhood. He was a close family friend and an elder at my dad’s church. Early on, just after his diagnosis, a church group met to pray for him. They prayed for healing, but ended with, “Your will be done.”
“How could this be God’s will?” you whispered from the far corner of the room. I caught a glimpse of you, but we hadn’t been introduced.
With only a decade of life experiences behind me, death was an abstraction. So was God. I was curious and stubborn and not overly fond of attending church, but I’d never really thought to question what I’d been taught about faith. When a friend at school told me matter-of-factly she didn’t believe in heaven or hell, I was shocked.
Within a few months, my friend’s dad was in a wheelchair. He was 40, which seemed old to me at the time, but I knew it was too young for his body to be so rapidly breaking down. Suddenly, I was seeing you everywhere, but I still didn’t know your name.
That September, a week before my 11th birthday, I watched the Twin Towers crumble on TV. The next day, my friend’s dad died. You stepped out of the shadows to formally introduce yourself, and I haven’t been able to shake you since.
Our relationship has been quite a rollercoaster. At times, you’re clingy and needy. I’ll shake you off in one area of my life and you’ll show back up in disguise, often hand in hand with Insecurity. I let the two of you follow me around all through middle school, plaguing me every time I looked in the mirror or spotted a classmate snickering.
During my high school and college years, you mostly sat quietly in the background. But at points, you got downright combative. You stomped around yelling questions and swatting away any answer I tried to give you. I grew up in a religious culture where most people idolize your nemesis, so you always made me feel like an outsider.
I’ve tried running you off — lecturing you with platitudes, with apologetics, with knowledge and experience and reason. I’ll push you away and spend days, weeks, years thinking you’ve gone away for good. But then you’ll whisper a question, and I’ll realize you’ve been there hovering at my elbow all along.
Your constant need to question everything is incredibly frustrating. Would you please leave me alone?
— Tired Skeptic
I’m sorry you feel that way. I was beginning to think we had become good friends — or at least frenemies who secretly appreciate each other. And aren’t we, really?
I know I can be obnoxious and intense at times. And I’m sorry for the times I’ve gotten belligerent in the past. I don’t like being ignored.
But we’ve had some good discussions, haven’t we? Haven’t I made you hungry to learn and explore? Haven’t I helped you appreciate different points of view? Haven’t I taught you to simply listen instead of prescribing a cure?
People vilify me, but I’ve seen Certainty do much more damage. In his absolute forms, Certainty dismisses; I invite. He lectures; I converse. I may be frowned upon in some circles, but a lot of people know me. When you’ve admitted to knowing me, I’ve turned out to be the mutual friend with people you thought you had nothing in common with. Think of all the conversations I’ve helped you have, the relationships and connections I’ve fostered.
I’ll admit, I may have gone too far sometimes. Insecurity and I run in the same circles, and she can be a bully. But I’ve been gentle with you when you needed it. I like to think I’ve helped you appreciate the gray areas, the shades of meaning and color and differing opinions that are a beautiful — albeit messy — part of life.
I’ll probably always be here in some form or another. Pretending you don’t know me will only make things harder. We don’t always have to see eye to eye, but at least we can try to talk things out and make peace with each other.
After all, you don’t have to answer all of my questions. Sometimes I just want you to admit what you don’t know. When you leave room for me, Curiosity, Humility, and Grace often show up too. I question Grace at the door, but I always let her in.