Christmas is a time that brings many folks to church who don’t usually go. There’s something programmed in “culturally Christian non-church goers” that draws them to the steeple on Christmas and Easter, which likely stems from childhood. Generally, for those who are not part of a faith community, Christmas and Easter may be the extent of attending church for the year. However, because these December weeks draw folks back into church for a Sunday or two, questions arise that we generally may not pay much attention to the rest of the year; questions like: Who is this Jesus guy anyway? A good teacher, a radical activist, God? Or maybe questions of the story of Jesus’ birth, such as: Angels — really, I’m expected to believe that? The Virgin Mary? Impossible. Wise guys and contemplative cows in a stable? I think not. And still, even with these questions of doubt, attendance in our church can double by Christmas eve.
I firmly believe that doubt in God, in Allah, in Jesus, in Judaism, in Christianity, etc., is a natural experience on the faith journey. I teach a class called “Living the Questions” which encourages participants to ask the hard questions and be OK with not having the answers. Many of my students have had epiphanies realizing that they are not alone, there are, in fact, others sitting next to them in worship who also have times of un-belief. Many people feel like phonies when they go to church and sing the songs and recite the prayers and participate in communion because they doubt.
I had dinner with my sister recently. She is not a church-goer but has been doing a little church hopping because my mother wants to go. She confessed over dinner, “You know Sue, sometimes, I doubt. I don’t know whether God is real or not. Sometimes I believe in God, like when I visited you in Alaska, how can you not believe in God with that surrounding? But a lot of times, I just don’t know and I feel like a phony when I go to church.” You should have seen her jaw drop when I emphatically exclaimed “Me too!”
Because Christmas and Easter are considered such holy days and are based on such fantastic stories, it’s natural for people to have questions and doubt the truth of these stories, which, in turn, leads to doubting the truth about God. Be not concerned, my fellow travelers. Doubt is just another pit-stop along the faith journey. Expect it often and use it to your spiritual advantage. Use it as a time to ask hard questions. Use it as a time to explore what others think and feel and believe. Use your doubting times to seek deeper. It has been my personal experience, as well as the experience as pastor to so many, that it is in and through the doubting that faithfulness can be strengthened.
Enjoy this time leading up to Christmas and embrace your doubts, but allow them to fuel your spiritual journey. This is a time to sojourn with others into the kind of peace, joy, faith and love that only God provides.
• Rev. Susan Boegli is the pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.