I often have people email me, saying, “I want to believe, but I still have doubts. What can I do?”
The first thing I think we need to understand is that doubt is a common emotional experience that need not challenge our commitment.
C. S. Lewis once wrote that Faith is “the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”
When you think about it, fears and doubts are an experience common to everybody, regardless of their religious persuasion—including atheists. “For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes,” writes Lewis, “I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”
If we were to change our beliefs every time our feelings fluctuate, we would not get very far in the pursuit of truth. When you recognize that doubts and fears can be random emotions, it will enable you to set them aside and not be thrown into a tailspin. They will pass, and your fundamental commitment to the truth will remain.
Thus you can make the choice to keep acting on the premise that God exists, that he loves you, and that you want to please him.
That’s the basic choice you need to make. That’s the basic “leap of faith,” as the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard referred to it. At some point it is time to set doubts aside and simply entrust yourself to God, letting him guide you.
Sheldon Vanauken, a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and a convert to Chrsitianity, expressed this sentiment in the following sonnet:
Did Jesus live? And did he really say
The burning words that banish mortal fear?
And are they true? Just this is central, here
The Church must stand or fall. It’s Christ we weigh.
All else is off the point: the Flood, the Day
Of Eden, or the Virgin Birth—Have done!
The Question is, did God send us the Son
Incarnate crying Love! Love is the Way!
Between the probable and proved there yawns
A gap. Afraid to jump, we stand absurd,
Then see behind us sink the ground and, worse,
Our very standpoint crumbling. Desperate dawns
Our only hope: to leap into the Word
That opens up the shuttered universe.
Here are four tips to give your teens when they are experiencing doubt:
Learn more about Christianity and what some of the greatest minds in history have had to say regarding your questions or concerns. You may be surprised at what you find, although mysteries will always remain in this life.
Read the Bible
Begin with one of the Gospels in the New Testament, such as Luke or John, and gradually make your way through the New Testament, which is the part of the Bible most directly applicable to us today.
The Bible is not simply words about God, but the word of God, and the more you study it, the more you learn about God and the way he interacts with us.
Set aside a portion of time daily for personal prayer. You might spend this time conversing with God, telling him your fears and hopes in your own words and then spend some time in silence. You also might consider learning some structured prayers, such as the Our Father and the Rosary.
God made us social creatures. We are meant to be with other people, to help them, and to receive help from them. That applies to our faith life as much as anything else. That is why Jesus founded a Church.
So get involved in your local parish church. Meet other Christians, and become part of the local Christian community. Take an inquirer’s class. Go to Bible studies. Join a teen or young adult group. Attend Mass on Sundays. If you are already Catholic, receive the sacraments, such as confession and the Holy Eucharist.