Doubting God: The Beginning of Faith
I was a freshman in high school, standing with my head bowed behind the cemetery shed, where they stored the lawnmower. It was noon on a late-winter day, and I waited for my cue, a military gun salute.
I leaned against the weather-beaten wooden planks — hard and cold like my faith — while holding a silver trumpet. The family huddled against the cold on folding chairs, under a blue tent, while the preacher read from a pocketsized book of last rites.
The uniformed veterans lifted their guns, clicked and fired. Clicked and fired. Clicked and fired.
And I — the lone bugler — stepped from the behind the shed. I lifted the trumpet to my lips to play “Taps” in honor of the middle-aged man in the wooden box.
The notes rang out, mingling with pained cries. And I felt hollow on the inside.
Fourteen years old, and already I didn’t believe there was life beyond the grave. Not for me, or the man in the coffin, or for the hundreds of other sons and daughters already buried here — with names like Anderson and Benson and Larson.
“Taps,” a song that means “lights out,” was the melodic and literal end of all things. That’s how I saw it anyhow.
Death always exposed my doubt. And from a young age, it came around frequently, like a specter haunting our little Iowa town.
When townfolk died, Mom would walk us down the block to the old Sliefert funeral chapel, where our old friends were laid out in velvet-lined boxes. I peered over the edges of their caskets, and when I thought no one was looking, I would reach a hand in to feel the waxy coldness of death.
Death both repelled and attracted me.
In the summer, my little brother and I would visit the cemetery after the diggers finished making a gaping hole in the earth — before the mourners showed up. Curiosity drew us, and we’d lay on our stomachs giggling nervously as we looked into six-feet-deep holes — dirty holes that swallowed up bodies and my faith.
As I grew older, the funeral home director started asking if I’d play “Taps” at the ceremonies of war heroes. The school principal always let me go. He thought it was a “good community service.” But sometimes, I wished he wouldn’t.
There was no escaping death. Or doubt.
I played the song — time after time — and it felt like these were the last bitter notes on the end of life.
Casket closed. Book closed.
But right there in the pain of doubt — at the edge of opened graves — I took important first steps in my discovery of life and death and faith in God. I began to ask questions that, ultimately, led to answers.
A modern-day Thomas, I doubted the very existence of a Risen Christ for much of my life — despite the fact that I grew up among believers. I remember at age 30, rediscovering Thomas’ story in my Bible.
I wept when I marked in green highlighter these words in my study notes: “Silent doubts rarely find answers.”
My doubting was not a curse, but a step toward a Savior who invites us to get close enough to touch his scars. He doesn’t turns His back on modern-day Thomases, but invites them closer.
And doubt? It isn’t meant to be a place of permanent residence. For me, it was the place from which I could grow, stepping out from behind the weather-worn shack to play a song.
And today, I pray that faith will be my anthem.
“Doubt is one foot lifted, poised to step forward or backward. There is no motion until the foot comes down.”
— The NIV Life Application Bible study notes in John 20
Linking up with Michelle DeRusha today. Michelle’s blog is worth checking out. And may I also suggest linking to her Facebook page by clicking here. … Michelle is a terrific writer whose book will be out as soon as some publisher is wise enough to pick it up.
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Oh my word. Thank you so much for posting this. You have no idea how much this post was needed in my life today. I’ve been struggling with the same doubts you have. Wow. Im just amazing at how timely this post was for me. Almost brought me to tears.
Tay — As a person who desires concrete evidence and firsthand accounts of the truth of Christ, here is one of the verses that really strengthened my own faith:
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16
And then, many of those first believers were willing to die for their beliefs. They would never have died for a lie they’d concocted. They only would have died for what they knew to be true.
Thanks for sharing, Tay. May God bless you as you continue to work through those doubts. Doubt is one foot lifted!
Doubt can be a very good thing but also a very dangerous one. To a “tenative” believer seeking the answers can make one even more sure that there is no God; and no hope. Prayer for that person is so important.
Hum, I like that quote…it makes you think. Thank you for your honest post
Such eloquent sharing, Jennifer!
I have found doubt to be a precious gift. Where would my faith be without it? I’m coming out of a long, dark place, into a new church in a new denomination. When the story of Thomas was preached yesterday, I felt so happy. I felt like I belonged.
Our pastor preached from John 20 this Sunday, too. Perhaps we both attend churches that use the lectionary.
I’m glad you’ve found a church where the questions are welcomed. Jesus didn’t turn his back on those with questions, so why do we as the church do this?
with doubt there is searching and the there is glorious finding!
Oh my gosh, as I read this, I stood right there with you in the cemetary along the headstones. Great writing, Jennifer.
Bless you, and thank you for you encouragement, Amy. It has been a long time since I remembered those days of playing “Taps.” This morning, I started writing about the topic of doubt and — zip — in popped that old memory with the trumpet.
It’s amazing how these pieces of our past are so much a part of who we are, yet until they are brought up and out again, we don’t fully realize the impact of small moments in time. This is one of the reasons I love writing. It helps me remember how I came to be who I am. You know?
Oh death, where is your sting? The death thing had me doubting for a long time. But mostly, it had me afraid. It intrigues me that you were asked to participate in the funerals at such a young age. That image of you behind the shed gives me a chill. But you’re right. The doubt is a beginning – a chance to make a choice.
And you are SO RIGHT about Michelle! SO right!!!
Yeah, it is sort of odd. I guess that hadn’t occured to me before (how a young person was asked to take on such a role). But in a town with only 400 residents (plus 200 more country folk), you sort of end up wearing many hats — and you do so at younger ages, I suppose, because your community needs you to step up.
Thanks for stopping by, friend.
where to step is always a choice …
I am somehow struck by the tension in that tiny sentence. You played it as much as you worked it, that doubt. And that is needful.
L.L. — You always see more than I knew was there. Thanks for that, friend.
“For me, it was the place from which I could grow, stepping out from behind the weather-worn shack to play a song.”
If I were reading this post in a book, I would pencil “BOOM!” in the margin next to that sentence.
Wonderful, honest post, Jennifer. Thank you.
Thank you, Jeanne. Truly. xoxo
You know, I don’t think I knew this about you, Jennifer — that you endured a long and painful period of doubt. It makes me love and respect you even more, knowing that we share a bit of a similar struggle. Oh man, I could tell a lot of stories about death and fear of dying from my youth!
And thank YOU so much for the lovely shout-out and link to facebook — you are so very, very sweet and kind. Big hugs from Nebraska to Iowa!
That’s one of the (many) reasons I’m eager to read your book, Michelle. I know it will resonate. And even if it didn’t, I’d read it just because of your terrific writing. 🙂 Keep up the good work, Michelle! Cheering for you here in Iowa!
In hindsight, I bet you are amazed at how God wove and worked people into your life at just the right time.
So true, Darlene.
This life, it is a fabric of people and words and stories, all of them interwoven into a patchwork. My faith was not built in a vacuum. I met Jesus through people.
Tomorrow when you and I hear those taps being played, we can think of how far we have come since those days of youth, and yet how far we hopefully still have to go until we step UP!!!They always make me shudder, but what a tribute they are for the one they are saluting.
Yes — a place from which to grow. Doubt is definitely scary, but it’s defining if you work through it. Great post.
We have a doubter at home. It is hard, hard, to remain quiet and let the doubting do its work in his heart.
Oh. And I felt the cold of that trumpet’s mouthpiece, early in the afternoon on a late-winter day, as you stepped out from behind the shed.
It made me shiver.
I forgot you played the trumpet. Thanks for your vivid description of our past.
Years ago when I was in youth ministry, I used to teach that doubt was the opposite of faith. It seemed pretty black and white and I liked black and white. For the last several years I have not said during our worship experiences or in private conversations with others that doubt is the opposite of faith. I no longer believe such is the case. Doubt is, as you have written, a part of faith. It’s not terribly likely a person can live in our world and not doubt some of the time. It’s not terribly likely a person can live in our world and not have faith some of the time as well.
The Bible is a collection of stories of people who doubted: Sarah, David, Peter, Thomas, etc… I don’t think we are much different.
“And it felt like these were the last bitter notes on the end of life.” That is brilliant writing. After the military part of graveside services, I always close with prayer. The last notes shouldn’t be about service to a country, rather words of God: We are saved by grace through faith and the end is not death, the end is life.
I’d love to hear you preach a sermon on it now. Also, I’m so curious about your own faith journey. Did it include periods of doubt? I was too wrapped up in teenage “stuff” to ever sit down and talk faith with you. Someday, brother, someday … we’ll have that talk.
Blessings to you. Keep on keepin’ it real at Waters Edge — and wherever you roam.
This is simply lovely. Thank you so much. Doubt is never the opposite of faith, is it? Rather…certainty is. That’s why it’s called faith, I think. Questions are a good and natural part of the maturation process, that process that continues until we die to this life and rise to the new one.
I have a great quote from the German poet Rilke that my sister-in-law calligraphied for me (I just blogged about it a couple of days ago, actually) and I’ll write it out for you here. It’s from a slim little book called, “Letters to a Young Poet,” and I had her change the word ‘sir’ to ‘one’ so that anyone coming into my office would feel included in this lovely word of wisdom:
“You are so young,
you have not even begun,
and I would like to beg you, dear one,
as well as I can,
to have patience with everything
that is unsolved in your heart and to
try to cherish the questions themselves,
like closed rooms and
like books written in a very strange tongue.
Do not search now for the answers,
which cannot be given to you
because you could not live them.
It is a matter of living everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually,
without noticing it,
one distant day,
live right into the answers.”
God bless you, Jennifer, as you continue to write such wonderful, encouraging words for all of us to learn from.
And RIGHT ON about Michelle.
This was so well written Jennifer. It held my attention throughout the entire piece and I was sad when it ended.
That’s good writing.
I was always scared of death. I’ve never touched a body in a casket. However, I have touched a cadaver and somehow, that isn’t the same.
Wow Jennifer! This was just what I needed to hear today! When someone we love is doubting or questioning their faith, it is so easy to become discouraged and sad. However, when you quoted, “Silent doubts rarely find answers” my heart was so encouraged! Thank you for this powerful word today!
Living for Him, Joan
Through your rich details, I can hear the mournful notes and feel those empty years.
Never imagined you a trumpet player. My brother is stationed as a chaplain at Arlington Cemetery and has been for the past year. 400 funerals in 365 days. I can’t imagine it, but it’s his calling. Isn’t it amazing how God weaves the tapestry to bring us to Him?
Such a responsibility for one so young! How difficult it must have been for you–all those conflicting emotions swirling inside. I’m glad you held on through that doubt. I’m glad you didn’t leave it silent. Because your faith inspires, Jennifer.
Didn’t know you played the trumpet. When we were home for that funeral in March we noticed that the person wasn’t really playing taps. There was some sort of speaker on the trumpet and the person just pushed a button.
I loved the line, “silent doubts rarely find answers.” My oldest went through a long period of doubt but is starting to find answers and is in a much better place than she was a year ago.
I’m so glad God brought you through that doubting period and worked in your life and as you’ve grown you’ve been able to bless so many people’s lives. Thanks for being obedient to share the things God lays on your heart.
Great post. Thanks for this, Jennifer.
Why is it that some of us need to lean hard into doubt before we’re able to take any steps forward in faith? “Need,” like, it really does seem like a requirement before we can feel comfortable with moving on.