Can Faith and Doubt Co-Exist?

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Well, hello and welcome to another edition of the Christian Book Blob podcast.
This is the podcast that aims to encourage you in your discipleship as we meet some amazing Christian authors and learn about their books, their lives and their faith on this twice monthly podcast.

I’m your host, Matt McChlery.

Hi there. Thank you so much for joining me again for this episode.
And today we are going to be talking about the topic of or rather trying to answer the question: Can faith and doubt coexist? And today I’m speaking with the author Kat Wordsworth.
So let’s welcome her to the show.
Hi, Kat.

Hi, Matt.
Thank you for having me.

Thank you for joining me today.
It’s so great to have you with us.

Now, this topic about doubt and faith, we don’t often hear doubt, being openly talked about very much in church circles. Well, I know I certainly don’t, if you are a listener and you do well, drop me a line and let me know, but I don’t really hear conversations around doubt being discussed, or acknowledged even in church circles. Why do you think this is?

Yeah, it’s a really tricky one, isn’t it? We can only ever speak from our own experience.
And like you, it’s not really been something that I’ve heard of being discussed openly, but I know other people who it is the opposite for them. But I think what I have, what I’ve picked up in my journey is that there just seems to be this massive stigma around it kind of fuelled by this fear and suspicion of what it is and what it means. And it turns into a bit of a vicious circle.

I think if you don’t hear it talked about, then you don’t talk about it and that impacts kind of everyone for people that are experiencing doubt they don’t know who to turn to, to talk about it because they’ve never heard it spoken about.
But for people who haven’t experienced it, it kind of feels like this kind of gap in wisdom because if no one’s talking about it, then we’re not learning from each other about it regardless of if you’ve experienced it or not.

So it’s just this kind of whole body of knowledge that we’re not really admitting to and do you think that kind of feeds into the assumption that doubt is a threat to faith?

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, as soon as fear and suspicion are part of the equation then there’s going to be all sorts of concerns about it. As to whether doubt is a threat to faith. I think what I have come up against quite a few times as I talk about it is that doubt means different things to different people.

It’s a really wide word with an umbrella of different meaning, you know. It can be disappointment, unanswered prayer,
disillusionment, or it can be questions about specific doctrines or theology or denominations. It can mean such a vast different array of things to different people that communication can get really messy.

I feel like you know where I’m going to land on this – I don’t see doubt as a threat to faith. I think my own story is that, that showed me that there were some things that I really needed to unpick and take back to basics and eventually through that process, it wasn’t overnight by any means that is what strengthened my faith. And I suppose what it comes down to is whether you think that asking questions or wrestling or engaging with faith is a sign of weakness or a sign that you’re taking it seriously.

I suppose what you have to come back to again and again, not just on this topic, but on a lot in life is that none of us are ever in a position to judge anyone else else’s faith. So, I think that’s kind of the bottom line you have to start from.

So you talked about doubt having different meanings or definitions for different people.
What is this definition or meaning of doubt for you?

Yeah. So, kind of the worst one really?

The thing that I have struggled with really badly over the years is literally the question of whether God exists or not. The kind of the fundamental doubt that there is, there’s all the other bits have been thrown in, in varying proportions over the years. But absolutely, that kind of fundamental one lying underneath and 10 years ago, I would have never dreamed of admitting that in a public forum, but I think it’s so much more common than we think.

That’s why I’m happy to talk about it now because I needed to know then that that was a normal thing to experience.
I’ve been through that as well. Not to the same degree or extent as you describe in your book, but there have definitely been times where I go through like a season where I think, what is this all about? Is this even real? Am I just wasting my time here? And for me, I guess dealing with that question and really thinking about it has in the end helped me
to understand more about why I believe or helped me to sort out in my own mind, is God real or not? And do I believe this or don’t I? And why do I believe this? And why don’t I believe other things?
All that helps to strengthen my faith. It can be a real catalyst.

If you manage to do it without getting completely overwhelmed by the fear and the shame and the guilt and the isolation that can so often accompany these times. Yeah.

So mentioning all of that you have written a book called ‘Let’s Talk About Doubt: a story of doubt, faith and life in between’ and you share some of your personal story with faith and doubt. So without giving too much away, where did doubt creep in for you and how did this affect your life at the time?

I don’t really mind giving spoilers for the book. It’s all right. I had a very traditional Christian upbringing, I was raised into it.
From the womb onwards I’ve been part of a church. I suppose hindsight’s a tricky thing to work with sometimes, isn’t it?
But I think from teenage years, maybe early teenage years, I started to be aware of just this nagging sense that I didn’t seem to feel the same way about things as other people around me.

At the time I didn’t name that as doubt or really pay too much attention to it. I thought that at some point something would happen to make things click into place and that I would feel like everybody else. If I tried hard enough, if I prayed hard enough, if I read the Bible enough, if I went to enough Christian festivals, all of the things that you can do. But if I just did all of those things it would all work out.

And that culminated in working for a church after I’d finished university. And it was a bad idea. It all just came to a bit of a head and I had a full blown existential crisis really.

It wasn’t any particular event or experience with a particular person. It’s not a story of kind of any particular church leader,
not acting well or anything like that. It was just decades of feeling like I didn’t quite fit and I didn’t seem to experience faith in the same way in terms of how that affected me.

I’ve written a whole book about it so it affected me quite deeply. These are big questions and they have profound impacts on us.

It’s questions of faith are nothing less than how we see ourselves, the meaning of life, the meaning of the world. What’s going to happen to us, the nature of love, everything. It’s all wrapped up within that.

So questioning that really was quite a bad period in my life.

It impacted mental health, physical health of just feeling so scared of the consequences of this doubt for a long stretch really does have physical consequences.

So, in short, it affected me badly.

We’ve spoken about how having doubts and questioning things can lead to a strengthening of faith. So have your doubts been resolved? Are you in a position where that’s happened or where are you at at the moment?

I suppose this is where people start to describe an experience that if you haven’t experienced doubt, then it sounds a bit odd. But what I would say is that I still doubt and all the same doubts, but my faith is stronger than it ever was.
And I think although my doubts haven’t been resolved or shifted, what has changed is that I’m not scared of them anymore.

I think the significant thing for me was that I’ve used to kind of have this idea of God in my head that he was just watching me waiting to pounce any time my faith fell below anything other than absolute certainty and living in absolute fear of the consequences of that to just having a much more compassionate lens. Thinking that probably and hopefully, what I have to believe is that God honours my integrity, honours my willingness to keep on trying day after day, decision after decision in the way I live and the way I think and the way I write, trying to actually do it.

I think for me that faith is the decision to keep on going even even when I’m not sure.

I quite often try to challenge myself to finish the sentence. Faith is…
and I think one of the ways I finished that in the book is that faith for me is the willingness to try and keep Jesus in focus even when everything else around me blurs. It’s that willingness to just keep going and keep trying.

That kind of answers my next question really about Can faith and doubt coexist?
Can we hold the two intention without them cancelling each other out or kind of breaking each other apart?

Obviously, that’s a question that different people will answer in very different ways. I think what it comes down to is what your definition of faith is.

If you think faith is certainty. Then that’s not going to hold any room for my kind of experience of a faith that allows room for that wrestling and that questioning. But I think I have to just come back to what I said earlier is that we’re not in a position to judge anyone else’s faith. My faith is not certain, but it is still genuine faith.

I have friends who do feel certain and theirs is genuine faith, I think will experience these things differently even when we’re holding fast to the same thing.

There’s a quote that says ‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief’.

It’s the best any of us can do. Thank God it is enough.

My desire for faith, for engaging with him and encountering him – I have to hope that that’s enough.

What’s your advice from being on the other side of the situation as the person experiencing doubt. What are some things that people should avoid saying to those in that situation?

I suppose the first set of things would be the ‘have you tried?’ So – have you tried praying? Have you tried reading the Bible? Have you tried doing this?

I’d say 99% of the time. Of course, the person has tried that. If they’re at the stage where they’re talking to you about it and asking for help, then of course they’re going to have tried praying. And that can just feel quite dismissive sometimes.

I think even when obviously it comes with the best intentions, there’s another kind of category of just try and control your facial expressions even if you are horrified by what the person is saying, possibly don’t let that show on your face. And if that is your response and you don’t know what to say and you are scared by what the person is saying, that’s fine. That that’s not your fault, but just sign post the person on. Don’t just say anything for the sake of saying anything. Don’t come out with platitudes or cliches or anything like that.

Just try and help them find somebody that can help rather than um making it worse and running the risk that you might be the last person they ever open up to because they just as terrified of getting the same response again and again and again,

On the flip side of that then, how can we respond appropriately? What are some of the good things to say to someone in that position?

I think the number one thing that I always wanted to hear whenever I told anyone about it, which wasn’t often was that’s really normal. Doubt is really common. You are not a failure. It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. It doesn’t mean you are abandoned or ostracized. You are still included. You are still welcome, that kind of realm of things to just let the person know that there’s just not an abject failure for experiencing doubt.

And some of the responses I’ve had over the years were just so damaging. Sometimes I do wonder how I have ended up getting to this place of acceptance with it because it wasn’t likely based on some of the things that people have said over the years – I think just respond with love.

That’s, that’s the headline.

Really good advice. In your book, you mentioned something quite interesting you use an image that recurs throughout the book as you go through, you mentioned things called small threads of faith. Can you explain it to us?

So it was kind of born out of this metaphor that it felt like everything had unravelled. It felt like my faith. I think I say this in the book was one of those knots that looks really secure and then you just give one tug on it and the whole thing unwraps and it really, that was the word I kept coming back to in those early years. Just feeling like everything had fallen apart and it just felt too big and too overwhelming to try and tackle that all in one go.

So over the years, instead, I used this idea of building it back up again, like a tapestry, one thread at a time.

So those were the small threads of faith when I came across something that really helped push me forward or made some sort of decision or read a book that really helped or had some sort of experience where I felt something of God in any kind of way. I’d kind of claim that, claim it and be like, well, that’s a small thread thread of faith. I’m gonna add that on to my tapestry and that’s there.

Even if I built up 20 then in the future five of them snapped, the others are still there. It’s a sustainable and resilient way to do it. It’s kind of just building it up gradually and re reweaving it all back together, but not in a way that the whole thing can just collapse again if that makes sense.

That’s one good piece of advice um for those in that same position as you who are experiencing doubt and trying to navigate doubt and faith. Is there anything else any other tips you might give to someone in that position?

I’d say the absolute number one thing that by far helped me the most was finding other people to talk to who had experienced similar things themselves. So that was really difficult for me at the time. And I actually found those voices in books to start with um people from different countries, completely different Christian backgrounds, but still describing the same experience. Just anything that let me know that it wasn’t just me.

I do now have people who I can talk to as well as this whole community of people through Instagram.
And on there, I run a an account it’s called about doubt and it does what it says on the tin. It’s just entirely about doubt really just this. What I do is really entirely focused on letting people know that it isn’t just them and that doubt is normal and that they haven’t failed.

And I think that is the most important voice that you can hear when you’re experiencing it because the shame and the fear that can accompany doubt really can paralyze you and stop you from moving forward and stop doubt being that helpful,
refining clarifying force.

So that’s my advice. That’s what I do. That’s the neon sign above my head is – doubt is normal. You are not a failure.

One of the things we like to do here on the show, Kat is get to know our author a little bit better.
You’ve already bared your soul to us quite a lot already which was fantastic. Thank you so much.

But let’s find out a little bit more about you. Have you got any favourite foods, for example?

I’d like to come up with a really sophisticated answer. But is there anything better than Nutella? A jar of Nutella and a spoon? I’m happy.

Wow. Fantastic.

And do you do anything for fun other than binging on Nutella out of a jar?

Yes, I am in an orchestra.

What instrument do you play?

I play the flute and if pushed the Piccolo even though it’s a horribly high instrument and it is actually quite painful to play sometimes.

I love being outdoors. We’re a very outdoor adventure kind of family and we live quite near to some big rivers. So we’ve got some kayaks and things like that.

I’m intrigued by the orchestra. What piece are you playing at the moment?

What did we play last night?
We played Beethoven’s fourth symphony. We played Carmen Be’s Carmen Suite and we played Shostakovich Festival overture and I played the Piccolo for that and my ears are still ringing slightly.

That’s wonderful.

Now I know you’ve mentioned the about doubt um resource and things. And you’ve written your book. Is this an all consuming passion of yours in life or do you do other things as well to pay the bills?

Yes, I do other things to pay the bills. I work as I have one of those jobs that I’ve got to explain to people that aren’t in the same realm of it. I am a second tier welfare rights advisor. So I provide benefits advice for benefits advisor who get stuck. So yes, quite busy at the minute with kind of cost of living crisis and all of that.

So does that leave you much time to do writing and other things?

I’d say it’s my Children that take up more of the time and yes, I’ve got a 10 year old boy and a seven year old girl and yes,
I basically, I’d say 80% of my life is running their social calendar and providing a taxi service to them.

Well done. I know that’s not easy.

Have you got anything you’re working on in terms of writing? Have you got anything coming up or in the pipeline that you might be able to give us a little taste of perhaps, maybe before it comes into the world?

Yes, I have.

I’ve been writing. I write regardless of having an audience or not. I’ve just been thinking and contemplating and writing a lot on the idea of kind of what comes next after you’ve accepted doubt because that isn’t the end of the story, the end of the story or the continuation is how to actually live with it and how to live a life of doubtful faith. Which, it felt like I think the phrase that I keep coming back to is that it felt like once I’d accepted doubt that was it, I’d be sorted. But actually it turned out to be a false peak because it didn’t tell me what to do with it and how it’s just the start and how to engage and how to be in church and be a member of these communities when I’m coming to it from seemingly such a different place.

How can people find out about you or buy your books or pop you a message online? Have you got a website or where can people buy books from, et cetera?

You can get the book anywhere really. It’s on Amazon or if you don’t want to use Amazon for whatever reason, then it can be ordered into Waterstones and WHSmith and it’s on Eden and all of those places and eBooks as well.

In terms of contacting me, I am just on Instagram at the minute. My boundaries are quite high. I’m @about_doubt

Well, we’ve come to the end of our discussion. It’s been really interesting. You’ve been so generous in sharing your soul with us and thank you for doing that.

And thank you as well for listening to this episode. Don’t forget. Christian book Blurb comes out twice a month on the first and the 15th. So we’ll be back really soon and we’ll be talking with another fantastic Christian author about their books,
their faith and their life. So do join us again really soon.

Thanks for listening. Goodbye.