doubt & the impermanence of words
About a year and a half ago, I got my first tattoo. It was a physical illustration of how I planned on devoting the rest of my life to Christ, to share the great joy and purpose He has brought in my life. I felt like with God, I truly could conquer anything.
A couple weeks into getting my tattoo, it disappeared as quickly it was engraved into my skin, probably because the skin is thicker at the heel. I went back to get it touched up, and somehow hurt a lot more the second time (perhaps because I anticipated the pain?). I had to call a friend to get me through it and distract me from the pain as I drove home…. But just the same, the tattoo didn’t last long. I was warned from the beginning that a tattoo at the Achilles heel wouldn’t stick, but I was stubborn in preserving the significance of having it at the Achilles heel that I didn’t want it anywhere else.
Even though from the outside, it’s weird for anyone to see the faded black ink on my heels barely resembling letters, these faded letters remind me of how easily words can thrown around without producing much action.
Though getting a tattoo on my heels saying “send me” was an action in and of itself, it did not suffice to show my heart or tangibly WHAT I was doing to fulfill this calling. While outwardly I had this display, was my heart just as earnest and willing to be sent, or being honest with myself, was it partly for show?
I grew up in the church, so I haven’t really experienced what it’s like to not to have God in my life. Being a follower of Christ has become my identity, purpose, and life. It is God who comforts me, strengthens me, empowers me to love when I feel like I can’t, and give me hope when there seems to be no hope to be found.
These past two years, I’ve built deeper relationships with non-Christians, a blessing I had not had as much in the past. We’ve had silly talks and serious talks, sharing our common and diverging beliefs and sentiments about life’s peculiarities and pleasures. These times of sharing have been wonderful and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
They have also brought to me many difficult questions that I could not answer as well as I wanted. Questions I would try my best to answer, but in the end, would just say, “I don’t know how to answer your question, but I can tell you how God has worked in my life.” It culminated in making a friend who thought he would devote the rest of his life to ministry, but ending up turning away from the faith completely. He told me process was hard, but once he removed his faith, piece by piece, nothing was left.
What if the same happened to me?
One night, I broke down completely. I called one of my friends who worked through a period of doubt in her faith.
I was so scared. Scared that my whole identity, purpose and life would be taken away from me.
What if God weren’t real? What if I’ve been making all of this up?
Keep holding on, sister, she said. Give your doubts to Jesus, even when you feel like you can’t.
So I continued to cling on, even when it felt like my fingers were slipping off the ledge. I listened to Streetlights Bible, where the scriptures are spoken to the beat and rhythm of hip hop. There were many times I didn’t understand, but I prayed that God would speak in the midst of my doubt. I also listened to Reason for God, which explores different worldviews and addresses a lot of the doubts I had. It’s like I had to relearn all the basics again, the basics of walking, step by step, even though many, many times before I had walked on water.
The other night I just lying in bed, praying, or trying to pray, praying that God could just reveal Himself to me. Still I was scared. I asked God to show me His presence.
I felt like my friend’s 3-month kitten, little Rio Camomile.
Rio had fallen asleep on my stomach, and even though she had her eyes closed she was curled in a little ball like a baby, murmuring as if she was having a bad dream. I took a blanket and placed it over her body, afraid to move an inch to wake her up. Trying to comfort her without waking her up.
I imagine that is our relationship with God. Sometimes we are so caught up in our nightmare which appears to be reality, that we don’t even realize God is there holding us, comforting us with His warm embrace. In my panic and dread, there He was holding me, holding my heart, as I trembled in fear.
Even at a recent retreat, I struggled with going through the motions and not “feeling” God…. but still, I cried out to God to show me His presence as He had many times before. He did not answer immediately when I called, but on the third day of the retreat, He made me aware of His presence. He reminded that all my encounters with God up until this point were completely beyond myself, beyond the confines of my limited understanding.
“Rachel, I am here,” He said. “Rachel, I am here, I am listening, know that I am God.”
Though I have not necessarily resolved my all questions, through it all, I have learned that while knowledge can be power, it is not all-powerful, nor does it explain all things. I can have all the knowledge in the world, but if I have not love, I have nothing. And as God IS Love, if I have all the knowledge in the world but have not God, I too have nothing.
I have learned to hold fast to the times God has been faithful to me. When He rescued me from the pits of despair and loneliness, when he turned my heart 180 degrees when I thought it was impossible, for being my joy and my strength when I had none… I must hold onto to these things. I must hold onto every time I used His Word as my sword to fight against my inner battles and God pulled through. Every time, I must remember. I must remember over 300 prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus from being born a virgin to coming from the line of David, I must remember these things.
I have learned to still be obedient, even when I don’t “feel” like it or “feel” God’s presence. And the rest will come. He will help us in the midst of our lack of emotion and bridge the widening gap between you and Him.
Again and again, I think back to the man who asked Jesus to heal his son possessed by an evil spirit:
The man brings his son to Jesus and says, “Jesus, if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“IF you can?” Jesus echoes, questioning the man’s uncertainty. “Everything is possible for the one who believes.”
Recognizing his unbelief, the man proclaims: “I do believe, O Lord, help me overcome my unbelief!”
May we in the same way ask for God to help us overcome our unbelief. Keep holding on, my dear brothers and sisters.