Sunday, January 4, 2015

"The Devil of Doubt"

Ok, I looked back and it's been almost exactly four months since I last appeared here. So where have I been??

Let me explain it this way. I have to feel a certain level of inspiration before I can write. I can feel it start to tingle in my bones and finally after several days of building intensity I have to sit down and put it down on paper.

Well, it hasn't happened. Several times I thought it was getting close and then the feelings went away.  And also there are things like stress and discouragement (ahem, depression maybe?) that can pull you down until you feel like you don't have anything in you to give.

  Let's put it another way; on that often used "scale of one to ten". (Which I hate because it oversimplifies things, and plus, the stress of trying to figure out where I am on the scale can knock me down one number just in itself.)

Let's just say, for oversimplifing's sake, that I need to be a "5.5" on the scale before having enough "energy" to write. Now let me be honest here; I don't have many days that get that good on the scale. Melancholy runs strong in the Yoder clan; we're steady but not given to emotional highs.

I meet in a small group with three younger guys who have either a mom or a dad that are  double first cousins of mine. And all four of us are melancholies. I said recently when talking about our group, that sometimes when we get together the melancholy is so thick you could spread it like peanut butter.

I've always sort of envied the people that seem to have those "great" days. (Of course I've also always been suspicious that somewhere there's a dark part of the picture that they're not seeing)

We once had a young lady that boarded with us while she taught at our school and she had a marvelously upbeat personality. I remember well hearing her come in the door after what (as I recall) was a fairly normal school day and Mary asking her how her day had gone. "Oh, it was WON-DER-FULLLLL!!," she said. I was in the background thinking to myself  how I would like to, just even once, experience a day like that to see what it would be like. (Thinking back now, maybe this was one of those days when she might have had two Mountain Dews before breakfast and that kept her cheered up) Seriously though, she was almost always like this. Except on rare occasions  when she was sad, and then she was frightfully sad.

So where she had a delightful range of emotion (from 0-10.5), I tend to be steady in the 3.5 to 4.5 range. Stinking boring, I know.  Especially for the people that have to live with us.

But I used to be higher on the scale. It seems the cares of life have worn me down and the last number of years I've struggled more and more with doubt. When God allows some things to happen that you really, really, really, really, really can't understand, that creates a fertile field for doubt to grow.

I used to laugh and make jokes about the atheists and agnostics. I don't anymore.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't believe they are right. It's just that I now sympathize a little more with people that look down inside themselves and just can't seem to find that germ of faith to reach out and believe.

I've been somewhat honest about my struggle with doubt. A number of years ago I stood up to teach our men's Sunday school class with the lesson  including the verse "Without faith it is impossible to please God". I told the class if I did what I felt like doing, I would quote that verse and then walk out. (I didn't. So maybe that shows a germ of faith)

I've been thinking of a quote lately that goes "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds". I had in mind it was a C.S. Lewis quote but looking it up this evening found out it came from Alfred Lord Tennyson in a long poem he wrote after his best friend (who was engaged to his sister) died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage. I think what he's trying to say is that a person who is grappling with the issues is closer to faith than the person who glibly quotes a creed before having to face the hard questions of life.

Some of my favorite lines in the poem were these:
                                            I falter where I firmly trod,
                                            and falling with my weight of cares
                                            upon the great world's altar stairs
                                             that slope thru darkness up to God.

I came up with a poem myself recently entitled "Fear and Doubt". Now both can destroy your faith and your joy, but of the two, I think doubt is the most insidious.

                                              "Fear and Doubt"
Verse 1- (with loud bravado)
Now fear, he comes a bustin', right up to yer door
A rattlin' at the winders and a shakin' the floor
A bluffin' and a threatnin' to blow yer house in
It's like the big bad wolf all over agin.

Verse 2- (in a sneaky whisper)
But doubt, he comes a creepin' on some sly fox feet
Like a fog up the holler while yer fast asleep
A slippin' and slidin' thru forest and glen
Till it feels like darkness with the sun shine-en'

/Verse 3
So whatever yer a facin', whether tiny or tallish
Whether blowin' in big or sneakin' in smallish
(If the fearin' and the doubtin's got you driv up the wallish)
Keep yer eyes wide open in front and back sections
And yer ears perked up in most every direction
And last but not least, the most important of all
Let yer faith run deep when fear and doubt come to call.

I've resigned myself to the idea that I'll probably always have trouble with doubt. Maybe you think I'm like so pessimistic.  But I also plan to keep putting one foot steadily in front of the other one and keeping my name signed on the dotted line of "I believe".

And just a couple days ago I was thinking of what it would feel like to embrace the philosophy of an agnostic. I let the feeling sink in just for a little and I realized something. I would have DOUBTS! I would have big time doubts wondering if I was right. Way bigger doubts than what I have now.

And those thoughts gave me great  joy and pushed me all the way up to, let's say, a 6.5.


  1. Melancholy has its own inspiration, as is evidenced by your writing. On a scale of 1-10; for sad-to-happy, pondering-to-laughing, you hit all the numbers. Thanks for the laugh and the encouragement. Please greet Mary for me. :-) ~Pam J

  2. So maybe in smoe strange way, it's the "angel" of doubt.