She said this to me with such painful expression. I had really let her down by wondering aloud if another one of our mutual friends was really going to follow through on what he promised to do. I can still hear the pain and disappointment in her voice “you ‘doubting Thomas!'”
So what is it about doubt that derails confidence? Well, past experience is a powerful image of future performance. It isn’t wise to ignore the painful reality of past promises unkept. But neither is it wise or even helpful to always expect the worst from someone else. Where’s the balance? How do we protect our hearts from the debilitating power of doubt?
Look at John 20:19-31. We won’t quote the whole pericope, but I do want to focus on this one section:
Eight days later, His disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said: “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to Him: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:26-29
The path to keep doubt from becoming caustic in your soul requires you to hold the past, present, AND the future all together! Notice how the Lord deals with Thomas’ moment of doubt. The Lord doesn’t scold Thomas; He invites him to examine his heart through a question and a comment! “Have you believed because you have seen me?”
Doubt can be kept from becoming a sickness in your heart if you will embrace three truths: First, the Truth of Experience. It is completely legitimate to look at a track record of behavior and postulate future performance. That’s just reality. I have about a C- when it comes to paying attention to my diet (however, I do grade myself on a curve!) so, it’s fair to say I will continue to struggle with this aspect of my health. But, past experience will never protect your heart from the darker side of doubt. You CAN’T stop there.
Next, you have to embrace the Truth of Expectation. Not your expectation of yourself or of your friends and family, but your expectation of God’s grace and mercy! You see, forgetting to add God and His mercy and love to the equation will always lead you to despair, doubt, cynicism, and sadness. The Truth of Expectation allows you to joyously expect the best from yourself and others because God’s grace is always present. It’s just a matter of having the courage to appropriate Him for your life. It’s called “faith.”
Finally, if you are going to avoid the darker side of doubt, you must embrace the Truth of Execution. When I act as if God can’t rescue, my behavior reflects my lack of faith. When I fail to act in a faithful manner, my heart and my words reflect my lack of belief! But if I act out the reality of God’s love and power in my life I can execute a pattern of faithfulness that dispels the darkness of doubt because of my confidence, not in myself or those around me, but in God’s ability to make up for the deficiencies of my life and those around me!
Today, we all have doubts. They are natural, understandable, and expected. But doubt doesn’t have to be the final word in your life. Doubt can be kept from becoming a paralyzing influence on your spiritual progress, if only you’ll allow doubt to not grow into disbelief! By holding the past, present, and the future together in light of God’s grace, His mercy, His love and forgiveness, you can doubt and not stumble, just like St. Thomas! He ended his earthly life as Thomas the Believer because he was Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. What an amazing few days! I am so grateful to God to have participated in the “Bringing Orthodoxy to America” Conference in Portland. Now we are called to implement this wisdom in our parishes. Would you like a tool to help your parish share the faith with the average person” Check out the 16 part video series and workbook called “A Journey to Fullness.” Go here to find out more.