Mothers Who Doubt

We are a “people of the word.” In our culture, women like to decorate their homes with words; words such as FAITH, BELIEVE, SIMPLIFY or in my case RELAX are displayed prominently around our homes. Cut from wood, stuck to walls with vinyl and cross-stitched by those with more patience, they are subtle reminders of values we hold dear. There is one word, though, that is often maligned and frequently misunderstood that you mostly likely will not find being sold at Mormon Handicraft, but if I was proficient with a jigsaw, I think I would make one for my mantle. The word is DOUBT. Like the alloy added to gold to give it strength, doubt must be added to faith to make it strong enough to withstand the wear and tear of mortal life.

 This month, many of the dear women in my life, mothers, sisters and daughters will share a message as they visit in each other’s homes. They will remind each other and themselves not to doubt and how by being valiant and courageous they can protect their children from these challenging times. And, I am afraid in the back of their minds they may think of those who have “doubted” and “not kept with precision certain covenants.” Perhaps, there will even be some pain as they reflect on this perceived lack of courage. So, for this reason, I will share my love of a word, a word often kept outside of conversations, a word often left on the fringe of discussions of belief, but yet a word deeply experienced by any seeker of truth.

 Paul Tillich, considered by many to be the greatest theologian of the twentieth century, would often remind us that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but it is an element of faith. Doubt is part of all religions and all religious thinkers were doubters. To understand doubt we must first understand faith. I love this definition by Wilfred Smith:

Faith is a quality of human living. At its best it has taken the form of serenity and courage and loyalty and service: a quiet confidence and joy which enable one to feel at home in the universe, and to find meaning in the world and in one’s own life, a meaning that is profound and ultimate, and is stable no matter what may happen to oneself at the level of  immediate event. Men and women of this kind of faith face catastrophe and confusion, affluence and sorrow, unperturbed; face opportunity with conviction and drive; and face others with cheerful charity.

The opposite of this kind of faith is not doubt but nihilism or the belief that life is without meaning, purpose or value.

 As summer wanes, I find myself spending more and more time outdoors, clinging to the blossoms in my garden, soaking in their beauty, taking a few minutes each day to smell the roses and simply sitting and enjoying the fruits of this year’s gardening season. I remain aware that in a few weeks, a cold snap will in one day kill almost every plant. I will then have to pull out the dead, rake, turn over the soil and cover it with compost while the cold of winter moves me indoors. Yet, through those cold dark months, the tulip bulbs, that last year had one bloom, will divide and multiply to put forth a show in spring-double what it was last year. My roses will be taller and more prolific and my canna lilies will eventually fill the entire space under my windows. As Jesus taught, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” I don’t know if that makes it easier or not. Winter brings growth to my garden, nighttime restores a tired body and “the dark night of the soul” has expanded and renewed my spirit.

 Growth always comes from letting go; doubt helps us to do this. Like the grief cycle, with all of her messy children-denial, anger, bargaining and depression; the faith cycle can also bring healing, acceptance and growth. Growth must continue through all the years of our life. Is there ever a time when we can declare, “I am all grown up now?” “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a woman I put aside childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Seeing through a glass darkly means not everything is done with exactness, but as Paul prefaced his remarks, it is done with charity, especially for ourselves. As an adult, I have learned to not be afraid of the dark. I have learned that spring follows winter. And as Richard Rohr shares in his book, Falling Upward, I have learned that “to hold the full mystery of life is always to endure its other half, which is the equal mystery of death and doubt. To know anything in full is always to hold that part of it which is mysterious and unknowable.” I have learned that I feel much closer to God sitting in the cloud of unknowing than I ever did as a “mother who knew.”

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13 Responses to Mothers Who Doubt

  1. Jessica Gregory says:

    I don’t know if I am down to decorate with “doubt”…b/c that’s depressing;) I much prefer “search”..and to focus on “doubting not, fearing not, and looking to the savior in every thought.” I have a long way to go with that, but it is what I want to strive to do… Something you do better than me, …Hello, I blog about bikes…you blog much bigger things;) Anyways I like this post and I am thankful for your encouragement to doubt and search things out in my mind and develop my own beliefs and relationship with my Heavenly Father.
    I really miss you guys today. Just saying. XOXO

  2. Jessica Gregory says:

    p.s. I love all the pretty pictures. I’d probably hang one of those in my house, with the cool quotes;)

  3. colleendown says:

    Your’re right Jessica–SEARCH would be a great word for the mantlepiece (but then it would be a subtle reminder that Jake’s shoes or the car keys are always missing). As far as the pictures go, I have you and Katelyn to thank for most of them–still living that Hawaiian Beach vicariously. I did Picassa the words on the pictures though–making progress. We miss you everyday!

  4. sullivanh says:

    I think this is beautiful and profound. Perhaps any differences I have with you here boil down to semantics. I, like Jessica, don’t love the word doubt to describe this concept, to me that connotes a lack of hope exemplified by the thesaurus with words like “mistrust, confusion, dubiety” Whereas the meaning you ascribe to it I read to be more understanding that one doesn’t understand and thereby having the faith to trust the Lord. To me the usage of “not doubt” in the article is more synonymous with trust. If the stripling warriors trusted in God he would deliver them. I hope my sons realize that I don’t know it all, but that they still trust me when it comes to my convictions, as the young men trusted their mother’s. Similarly, I have come to peace with my family leaving the faith I was brought up in as I have learned to trust you to make that decision.

    I liked how Richard Bushman described “just believing” as a Mormon in this blog:

    I do not know everything, nor will I ever know everything, but I do know that the Lord lives and that I am known by him, and while I have doubts (meaning lack of understanding) about how it all works out, I absolutely trust that it will.

    I hope this doesn’t sound preachy, that is not my intent. I’m trying to say that I agree with what you are saying.

  5. sullivanh says:

    (Whoops, pushed post too soon)

    …and I don’t think Sis Beck’s message is necessarily counter to it.

  6. colleendown says:

    Thanks for your well thought out comments girls–I love you both so much. It is a semantic issue, but since I have been collecting quotes for so many years, I had to go with what I had 🙂 I was also influenced by the book “Doubt a History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson” (Hey if it is good enough for Emily it is good enough for me–she was known for being a odd-duck). I still haven’t read the book only excerpts, but the author says of doubt, “Doubt is revealed to be the subtle stirring that has precipitated many of the more widely remembered innovations in politics, religion and science, such as medieval Jewish philosopher Gersonides’s doubt of Ptolemaic cosmology 200-300 years before Copernicus, Kepler or Galileo.” I certainly know “the subtle stirrings” that say, think this through and look at it from all angles. I think that the trust aspect is eloquently expressed in the quote on faith–which includes a meaning that is “profound, ultimate and stable no matter what happens”–(perhaps similar to a mother’s love).

    P.S. I have always appreciated that Richard Bushman is willing to paint Mormons with broad brushstrokes–and I would like to see the musical-I think Billy Elliot probably cursed 2:1 more than Elder Price 🙂

    • Cathy says:

      Wow! It’s awesome to read what the Down ladies can write! I don’t love the doubt word but tried to keep an open mind…however, the idea of it being more a difference of semantics helped clear things up for me! I don’t consider myself a “mother who knows” everything, but I do have faith and hope in my Savior and want my children to have it, too. Colleen, thanks for having thought provoking ideas and taking the time to write them so well…even if my comments are brief, you keep me thinking long after I read/comment on your blog!

      • colleendown says:

        Brief or not, I always love it when you drop by Cathy–besides you flatter me! I wonder if someday, well into the future, we will look at each other and say, “Whoa, this is not the way I pictured it!”

  7. Camille says:

    As a gal who has had doubt in my blood my whole life, I embrace the world I live in now which allows me to genuinely contemplate that doubt with the freedom to search for an authentic meaning for me. Thank you Colleen for being one of the few who ‘get’ it and even bigger thanks for your eloquent description and for providing some words to ponder.

    • colleendown says:

      Love seeing you here Camille–I think one of my other favorite words is authentic (it would take me two lifetimes to cross-stitch it though). Could it be that sometimes when we doubt ourselves it is that we are really just not being true to ourselves and need to make a correction–so much to talk about, I may need to fly there for a haircut! Love you!

  8. brooke says:

    i appreciate this because i think i am a doubter.

    faith is hard for me to come by and i have to work at it. my natural inclination is to be cynical and analytical about anything, but i am different than you in that i don’t feel closer to god in those moments at all. faith, to me, is letting go; doubt is holding on for dear life to the things that don’t make sense to me. faith is freedom from having to doubt; doubt is confusion.

    there is a quietness and peace to my heart when i believe that god knows me and knows who i am and smiles down upon me. when i doubt, i don’t know how to access him.

    still… i DO doubt sometimes. and i regard my doubts like rilke who said to learn to love the questions themselves– the doubts and questions are a part of me.

    but so is belief.


  9. colleendown says:

    i love the little i’s Brooke-it is your signature and I always know it it you–I waited for a day to answer because you gave me so much to ponder. It is funny you quote Marie Rilke because I wanted to make a quote of her, but it was too big to fit on my picture, she says:

    “I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
    Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903; in Letters to a Young Poet

    I don’t think I mean that doubt makes me feel closer to God-but the “cloud of unknowing” (another one of those great literary terms) It is an empty feeling, longing to be filled, empty of answers and pre-conceptions of a God I may have created in my own image. The doubt, as described in the other post, is the stirrings that move me towards the “unknowing”–if that makes any sense. I have also learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Doubt like cognitive dissonance as you said, is a place you don’t enjoy being, but sometimes it motivates you to do something about it. Perhaps, what I wanted to express most is just like those feelings, when you must go through grief, of anger, depression, etc. that we might think of as “bad” emotions–can be healing emotions as well. I would so love to see you in “real life” soon. I am so glad you stopped by my blog!

  10. colleendown says:

    P.S. Brooke–I love your last line-I may have to steal it! Doubt is a part of me, but then so is belief!! I think you put it better than Tillich. It will look great “Picassaed” on a picture!

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