We rarely see doubt as a good thing. It’s been called a dream-killer. Something to overcome or push through. And certainly, doubt can be destructive. But I propose we take another look at the gift of doubt.
Doubt can be hard to define but it plays out in indecision, hesitation, busywork, loss of enthusiasm, etc.
When we encounter doubt, the first response is often fear. Panic can set in.
Sometimes you start something and find it’s a completely different animal than what you prepared for. In 2006, I co-founded a non-profit, and by 2012 I was desperate to leave it. The ONLY reason I stayed was because I knew God had called me into this. I couldn’t leave. In my case, the presumptions I had at the beginning were not adequate for the task at hand. I had to check my assumptions. Today, that ministry is radically different from anything we imagined when we launched. And I feel privileged to be a part of what God is doing through it.
How is doubt a gift?
I say doubt is a gift because it alerts us when something’s amiss. There’s an inconsistency somewhere. Something differs from our understanding. Doubt calls us to examine things more closely.
It’s normal and okay to have doubts, especially when you are in unfamiliar territory, or when you’re doing something new to you, or new to the world.
In the Bible, the disciples didn’t believe the women who came back and reported Jesus was no longer in the grave. It was a new thing. Nobody had walked out of a grave before.
Thomas, or “Doubting” Thomas, gets a bad rep for asking for proof of the resurrected Christ, but Jesus doesn’t rebuke him for it. Instead, he invites Thomas to test and see. He didn’t push Thomas away; Jesus invited Thomas to come closer.
How we respond to doubt is important.
If we fear doubt, we push it away or ignore it. We cover it with platitudes and affirmations. So there’s this big monster doubt over in the corner, and we start moving around it, avoiding it, tip-toeing past so we don’t wake it up. We leave larger and larger chunks of our lives unexplored, masked, and dangerous.
If we give it freedom to roam about unchecked, it steals from us. It nags and worries. It criticizes. Like a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.
Like fire, if we set boundaries and engage doubt with respect, it can work for us. It can be a good thing, when properly contained.
Think for a moment about a beef brisket. It’s tough. It comes from an unglamorous part of the cow. But if you apply a slow, gentle fire, that meat turns into something tender that melts in your mouth. It becomes memorable, rich, and flavorful. And what about sugar? It has one flavor. Sweet. Just sweet. Nothing but sweet. It has no aroma, it’s only one-dimensional. But when you apply heat, it browns and caramelizes and it develops over 100 flavor compounds.
That process is permanent. Fire (heat) forever changes that food. You cook something, and it never goes back to the way it was.
If doubt is like fire, then it can help us engage our ideas at a deeper level. Look at things from different angles, check our assumptions. And, properly engaged, that can lead to innovation, growth, breakthrough, and discovery.
How to engage doubt without getting burned:
Get the right people in the kitchen. Relationships help us see truth. Explore the doubt with people you can trust. Not the people who will tell you they never believed in your dream, anyway. They could’ve told you it would never work. That’s like throwing gasoline on the fire, and somebody will get burned.
But you also don’t want to go to the people who just tell you how great you are and how it’ll all work out. They’ll make you feel better, but it will not be helpful. You won’t get that rich flavor profile because they won’t let the fire burn hot enough.
And please, don’t let people in your kitchen who don’t know anything about cooking!
You need people with the knowledge and stamina to stay in a hot kitchen long enough to help you draw all the flavor out of this thing. You might need an expert in your field, or someone with more experience, or you may just need a great coach.
Are there missing ingredients? Are you using the wrong tools? Do you need to adjust your systems? Are you basing decisions on dependable information?
These people can help you sort truth from fiction: culture, assumptions & misconceptions. Exploring these things demands honesty and vulnerability. If your perceptions or assumptions turn out to be wrong, then changing them can take courage. You may actually benefit from the false assumption, but that false assumption is still leading you down the wrong path. If that’s the case, change is even more difficult, and you’ll need help to face it.
Facing doubt? Ask yourself, How must I change to hold truth?
Are you facing doubt? Don’t fear it.
There are still new frontiers—new discoveries ahead.
Are you called? Yes.
Stuck and doubting? Engage.
Fire-tested? You were made for this!