Does this year have you struggling in your faith? Laura Range shares three things that helped her stay afloat in a time of doubt.
The tears slipped out unbidden as I cradled the phone to my ear, pacing around trying to get the baby in my arms to sleep as I talked to my sister.
"I feel such a deep loneliness," I admitted with a crack in my voice. "I didn't realize how much I talked to God throughout the day and now I'm left wondering if He's even there."
While dry feelings weren't uncommon in my faith journey, this was one of the first times I actually questioned if there truly was a God listening to my prayer. My oldest daughter was struggling with a newly diagnosed chronic illness and I was struggling with the age-old question of why God allows suffering, particularly in our innocent children. Doubt in God's goodness crept in and before I knew it, I was even experiencing thoughts of doubt in whether God existed at all. I did my best not to dwell on them but I couldn't help but feel like I was praying to thin air, especially at a time when I felt so in need of tangible reassurance and conviction of God's presence and providence.
Looking back now months later, I see the ways God was so very present and providing for me during that time. I recognize some of the traps my mind and heart fell into as well as certain steps I took that protected my soul in a time of desolation.
Doubts can and likely will come to everyone at some point in their lives. The thoughts themselves are not a sin but only if we latch on to them and willfully reject our faith and beliefs. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) differentiates this as involuntary vs voluntary doubt (CCC 2080). Wrestling with the questions and experiencing the feelings of doubt are simply temptations the devil can use to discourage us and drive us farther from God and from His truths that ultimately give meaning and purpose to the difficult moments of our lives.
If you are going through a tough time (2020, anyone?) and struggling with doubt in God’s presence and providence, here are three steps to help you walk in faith.
1. Keep up with your prayers and the sacraments.
Although spiritual dryness and doubt will tempt us to let our prayer life slide, keep going. Feelings of warmth and faith are not required for prayer to be real and effective -- only the will is necessary to make the choice. One of the most beautiful and comforting things about the Catholic Church is that it is always praying. All throughout the world, there are Masses being said, Liturgy of the Hours being recited, litanies being prayed. Step into that current of prayer with your will and let it carry you through until your feelings of faith return. Say that morning offering. Pray those Rosaries (or just a Hail Mary!). Go to Mass as often as you can. Read Scripture and believe in the power of God's Word to protect and strengthen you during this time.
My ultimate healing and freedom from the oppressive doubt I experienced this year came from receiving the Sacrament of Confession. Though I had intended to go monthly this year, a new baby and a pandemic (and let's be honest, a hefty dose of spiritual laziness) had lengthened the time since my last confession into several months. After receiving the cleansing grace from the sacrament, I was amazed at the lightness, clarity, and peace that filled my soul once again.
2. Reach out to a trusted and faith-filled friend who has been through hard times.
Do not be afraid to share your struggles. The devil loves to keep us isolated and ashamed of our feelings. When my daughter was diagnosed with her neurological disorder, my faith was tested in a way it had never been previously-- by watching my child suffer and knowing this would continue for no known reason and with no known cure. The Catholic teaching of redemptive suffering suddenly was harder to accept as it became reality instead of a concept.
I sought counsel from two Catholic friends who had known deep suffering -- one who lost her child shortly after birth and another whose daughter underwent chemotherapy for cancer at a young age. Both women have a beautiful, enduring faith -- something I admired deeply. I needed to hear their real stories of how they made it through without questioning God's goodness, His love, or His will for their lives. They were able to remind me that trusting God is a decision, not a feeling, and a decision that must be renewed every day.
3. Read about the saints who have gone before you, made it through, and are rooting for you.
Reflecting on the saints grounded me in the reality that for hundreds of years, real people have had the same struggles that I was having yet still clung to a solid belief in our God and in His goodness. The saints struggled with dark times and heavy crosses and the temptation to doubt. St. John of the Cross and Mother Teresa are both well-known for their "dark nights of the soul" but used their wills to continue their walk of faith through dryness or doubt.
This past year I read With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me, both by Fr. Walter Ciszek. Fr. Walter was a priest during World War 2 who was captured by the Soviets and a prisoner for over 20 years. His writings are a powerful testament to faith when all seems dark. I have learned so much from him and hope that he becomes a canonized saint someday.
I also find strength and encouragement from "the mama saints" as I like to call them: St. Anne, Blessed Chiara Corbella, St. Zelie Martin, St. Gianna Molla, and of course Our Lady herself. These women have stories of loss, longing, and deep suffering but their faith prevailed and their holiness shines forth.
I no longer feel an emptiness or loneliness when I pray. God feels real and near to me these days and I relish His presence and the evidence of His grace all around me. But I know that this is a time of consolation, as St. Ignatius would say. There will be seasons of desolation ahead once again. And so while I enjoy these moments of "feeling" my faith, I do not take them for granted. Instead I take them as preparation, a time to deepen my roots of faith for whatever lies ahead by being disciplined in prayer, trying to grow in virtue, and growing my friendship with the saints.
God is real and He longs to walk with us through every season, every emotion, every temptation -- even and especially doubt. Hold on to Him, whether you feel Him or not, and know that He is holding onto you.
Copyright 2020 Laura Range
Image: Pixabay (2020)
About the Author
Laura Range is an RN-turned-SAHM living in rural Ohio. A wife and mother of 3 (plus one in heaven), she is passionate about marriage and family life, redeeming the culture, and cultivating community. She enjoys cooking (and eating) tasty food, crafting and DIY, good books, little moments, and keeping it real. She runs a local miscarriage ministry and blogs at Life is Beautiful.