I remember the day like it was yesterday. I suppose it will be forever seared into my memory. I was at the doctor’s office trying to locate my tiny baby’s heartbeat. The technician had a puzzled look on her face and called another technician in to help out. They searched and pointed and searched some more. They found his heart barely beating and switched their machine over to look at the blood flow in and out of his heart, trying to find where the problem might be. As we watched, the flow stopped. I witnessed what would be the last beats of my son’s heart. It felt as if my own heart had stopped but at the same time it wouldn’t stop racing with fear. The technicians continued to monitor his heart, hoping with me that it would start beating again, and that maybe, just maybe, we didn’t see what we just saw. His heart remained still, as did he. They gave their condolences and after consulting with the doctor I was sent on my way home.
How in the world I was able to drive the hour home I’m not sure. I called my husband and told him the news. Next I would call our priest to ask him to pray for us and if I could receive the Anointing of the Sick. Then I cried. I just drove and cried. As I neared our house I decided I couldn’t go home and face the kids. As soon as I walked in the door I knew they would want to see my ultrasound pictures and hear about the baby. They did this every time I went to the doctor’s. I couldn’t face them just yet. Instead of going home I went to a nearby park and sat in my car for 3 hours crying. I called a few people to let them know and ask for prayers but mostly I just cried. I cried as if my soul had been ripped out of me. I cried until my body shook and my eyes burned. I cried until I couldn’t breathe. I cried out to God… but I didn’t hear an answer.
That day I entered into a spiritual place where I had never been before. It was a dark place. It was a lonely place. I was heartbroken and sad but even more I was mad at God. How could He allow this to happen? Why was He doing this to me… to my family? I just couldn’t understand. I would question even more when our son Joseph was delivered and I held his still body in my hands. Why, oh why, did God abandon me?
During this time I had a very hard time praying. God seemed so distant to me. Why would I want to pray to a God that let my son die? A God who, with all His powers, could have easily saved him? As I buried my son I felt even more alone. Later, when we had our first heavy thunderstorm I cried all night thinking of him alone in the dark with the rain and thunder all around him. It was too much to bear. My anger at God increased. No matter how hard I tried I found that I just couldn’t turn to Him for guidance or comfort. I started to have thoughts of doubt creep into my life. I didn’t like feeling that way but I didn’t seem to know how to stop it from happening.
It’s funny, to those around me, I’m sure I looked like I was handling it just fine. They would have never guessed how my faith was being attacked. I still went to Mass, I still helped with all the church functions, and I was still able to pray for other people. But in my own life I questioned, worried, and wondered if I had it right or if I had been deceiving myself all this time. Was God really there? If He was, did He really abandon me? People would tell me (as I had told others beforehand) that in times of trouble God was always there, holding you safe in His arms. I wondered if that was true. I didn’t feel His strong arms protecting me, holding me. I didn’t like doubting but I felt so alone.
As I walked through this hell, and it was hell, I would find myself still craving God. I didn’t want to doubt. I wanted to believe. I had to stop and reevaluate not only my faith but my life. All I had in my life I attributed to God’s love and grace. If He wasn’t truly there, or if He had abandoned me, where did that leave me? Could I really look at my living children and not see God’s hand in their creation? Could I look at my husband and not see God’s love flowing through him? Surely He had to still be there.
I knew that I needed to reconnect with God. I started with my memorized prayers. They were the only way I felt like I could talk to God at that time. I relied on the Our Father and prayed it frequently. Soon I would be able to “talk” to God again in my own words but to be able to rely on those prayers that I learned as a child saved my relationship with God I believe. I also tried to find God in everything I encountered… the night sky, my children’s laughs, the flowers that were blooming, a gentle hug from a friend. When I focused on finding God I could see that He didn’t abandon me but was everywhere around me and that made me feel better.
I can’t say that it was an easy process. On the contrary, as time would go on and we would lose another baby, Sarah, just months later followed by our devastating loss of William, I found that I would question God’s ways and His insights. How could He allow for so much loss, so much suffering, and so much pain in our lives? Still, I remembered that craving I felt for God and focused on the areas where I knew I could still see God in our lives. It helped tremendously. I made it through those trials in my life a little better off. I knew from my previous experience that I needed God to help me through. I knew without Him I was definitely going to be lost, so. I clung to God. I prayed as I have never prayed before. I still had times of doubt but they were different than when I lost Joseph. I would come to believe that my loss of Joseph and the hell I went through spiritually helped prepare me for my loss with William.
So the question remains, is it ok to have doubts within your faith? The answer is yes. We only have to look towards Christ to know that it is ok to doubt. As he knelt in the garden praying, he was scared and asked not once but three times for God to spare him of what was to come. In Matthew 26:38 we see that Christ is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Likewise, as he hung from the cross he cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) If our Savior could know times of doubt why would we question if we, just mere humans, would not also doubt at some point in our lives? If Christ, who is a part of the Blessed Trinity, asked God why He had abandoned him, then surely God understands when we also cry out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus welcomes the doubters. He welcomed Thomas who would not believe in the risen Christ unless he was able to put his fingers through the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet. There are times that we are like Thomas, needing to feel the holes where nails pierced through Christ’s hands. There are times where we feel overcome with doubt and sorrow just as Jesus was in the garden. What we do during those times though is what is truly important.
Doubt can be the catalyst to digging deeper into our faith. It can be what helps us draw nearer to God in the end. It can ultimately help us live more faithful lives. It is said that many saints often doubted. Those like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross were said to have “dark nights of the soul”. Blessed Mother Teresa would also admit to having doubts of where God was at certain times in her life. When those thoughts of abandonment and loneliness creep into our lives how we deal with them is extremely important.
- Read the Bible– know that there are those, including Christ who have doubted. Read their stories.
- Pray- talk to God. Keep the lines of communication open. Tell Him how upset you are. Ask Him to help you through the pain even though you may not feel He’s there holding your hand. Trust that he hears you and is listening and answering your prayers.
- Talk with someone you trust- find a friend, a priest, your spouse or someone you can trust and tell them how you feel. They will more than likely tell you they understand and have been there too.
- Focus on seeing God in things around you- the big things, the little things, the mundane, the amazing. See that God is everywhere and if that is the case that means He is also with you.
- Cry- Christ cried, Mary cried, the saints cried… know that God sees each and every tear that falls.
Perhaps as we work through our doubts we will find that they are indeed blessings in disguise. They have the ability to draw us nearer to God. They can help us find a deeper and more lasting relationship with God. After fighting our way through those feelings of abandonment and loneliness we find God waiting for us, as He always was, with outstretched hands eager to pull us to Him. We were never truly alone nor abandoned. We were lost. Thankfully God always provides a way back to Him. Sometimes we must be lost before we are found.