I doubt my faith. What should I do?
By William J. Byron, S.J.
As I grow older and experience more physical suffering and the deaths of loved ones, I feel that my faith is waning and not increasing. Sometimes I worry that there really is no afterlife and doubt God's existence amid the many trials I’ve seen. I know that faith is a gift, but lately I’m feeling as though I have not received it. Since I’m struggling with belief, won’t I be condemned? I don’t want to believe just to ensure my salvation. I want to believe because it is what I really and truly believe. I feel lost.
- A.M., WISCONSIN
Doubt has never disqualified anyone from the community of believers. We all have doubts, and we all have our pessimistic moments. You’re not lost; you’re simply a completely human being trying to make your way through life with the help of a God you cannot see.
Put yourself in the sandals of Jesus: He had more than a few dark moments. Recognizing that, the Divine Office — the official prayer of the Church — invites us to say: “Lord Jesus, You were rejected by your people, betrayed by the kiss of a friend, and deserted by your disciples. Give us the confidence that You had in the Father, and our salvation will be assured.”
Pray that you can have the “confidence” (the word con-fide means “with faith”) that Jesus had in the Father. You’ve been given that faith. You’ve reached a point in your life when all you can do is fall back on that faith. Jesus did that in his so-called Agony in the Garden; you can do it now, and if you do, as this prayer of the Church puts it, your “salvation will be assured.”
Take a moment to go to Mark 9:24 in your New Testament. You’ll find there, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.” The person speaking is the father of a young boy who is possessed by an evil spirit. The boy’s father has asked Jesus to heal his son and Jesus told him to believe and his son would recover. The poor fellow, like the rest of us, had his doubts; so he said, in effect, “I’ll do my best, but while you’re attending to my son, please cure my unbelief.” The boy was cured; the father’s faith was strengthened by Jesus, who reminded him, “Everything is possible to one who has faith.”
Many years ago, a woman who was seriously ill invited me to visit her so that we together could plan her funeral. She told me that she didn’t want any “doom and gloom” associated with her funeral Mass and burial. For many years, she said, she had been reading the Bible and, as she did, she underlined all the promises God has made to us. “If God is God,” she said, “He can’t be anything but faithful to his promises. So I’m not worried and I want to have a joyful funeral.”
It would be a good idea for you to pick up the Scriptures every day and “listen” to what you read on the page. Ponder God’s word. Let it speak to you, and use it to speak to God. Pray to God in the words of the psalms; climb inside the skin of those whom you see Jesus heal in his public ministry. Feel his hands rest upon you; hear his words as if they were spoken to you. Don’t read them as you read the morning paper, but listen to them as part of your morning prayer.
In other words, stop struggling and just entrust yourself to God. CD