One of the scariest and most intimidating things we can encounter in our faith is doubt, regardless of how strong we perceive our faith to be, or whether that doubt comes to us through an external voice or our own internal one. Part of what makes our personal doubts so intimidating is the feelings of inadequacy that tend to come along with it, which, if left unchecked can eventually become despair. But oddly enough, doubt can serve to paradoxically strengthen our faith as long as we deal with it properly and refuse to let our doubts stand in our way when it comes to practicing our faith.
When we give in to feelings of inadequacy and despair during the times we experience doubt we fail to see the opportunity that we have been given to grow in our faith. How so? Well, to boil it down simply, that’s exactly what faith is: belief despite our own doubts; belief without having to fully understand mysteries that are just incomprehensible to the human mind. It gives us an opportunity to tell God “Hey, I'm having a hard time believing this Lord, but I trust you. Grant me the gift of faith.” I'm not going to lie though, that little statement can take a lot of courage and a strong resolve to follow the Lord and truly live our faith to say. As such, it might be helpful to recognize that many of the saints struggled with doubts and crises of faith, with St. Thomas the Apostle probably being the most notable among them.
If you’re unfamiliar with St. Thomas, he was stuck with the unfortunate moniker of “Doubting Thomas” after he refused to believe that the other disciples had encountered the Risen Jesus when they later told him about it. He was not present with them at the time of the encounter and he said to them
“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my fingers in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
This man who spent his past three years following Jesus, walking beside him, listening to and growing from his teachings, doubted that Jesus had risen just as he said he would do. Fortunately, Thomas was able to encounter the Risen Jesus a short while later, exclaiming “My Lord and my God!” when he appeared to the disciples once more (John 20:28).
It took Thomas that personal, face-to-face encounter with Jesus in order to overcome his doubt, and he had already been physically by his side for three years. Thomas got to walk beside Jesus by sight and he still had his doubts, yet Jesus still loved him and called him onwards in his mission.
While we don’t have the luxury of physically walking beside Jesus in this life like St. Thomas did, we still share in that same mission as him: to go out into the world to live and proclaim the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This can be hard because the world is full of doubts no matter where you go, and those doubts can really creep in to affect our spiritual lives, trying to weigh us down to keep us from continuing further along in our journey of faith. St. Teresa of Calcutta, otherwise known as Mother Teresa, was very familiar with her doubts and desolation throughout most of her life. Rather than using those feelings to give in to despair, she offered those feelings up to God so that she may be able to live out her call to holiness, which didn’t make those feelings go away, but it did give her a greater dependence on and thirst for the Lord.
We share in that same calling as St. Thomas and as Mother Teresa: to live our lives in the pursuit of holiness; to live our lives for the Lord. It is okay to experience periods of doubt, be they short or long. It’s what we choose to do with our doubt that matters most. Like Jesus said to Thomas
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).
Blessed are we who have not seen and yet believe. Blessed are we who continue to pursue holiness in the face of our doubt.
Blessed are we.