Thursday, April 29, 2010

Letter to My Young Friend

As the Religious Coordinator for our parish's Girl Scout Troops, I am working with three sixth grade girls to help them earn the Marian Medal. These girls have impressed me with their interest, their participation, the questions they ask, and the commitment they are showing. They are neat girls. They fill me with hope for my own kids' adolescences.

A few weeks ago, as we were talking about prayer and how their prayer lives have changed from where they were as second grade First Communicants, one of the girls asked about doubts. "Sometimes, I wonder," she said, "how is it that God always was and always will be?" We talked for a few minutes as a group. Then, she turned her very-serious eyes to me. "It was easier when I was 7. Then, I just believed. Now, I have all these questions, all these doubts."

I remember. I was 13 and asked my religion teacher how we knew, for sure, that God existed. She responded in anger. How dare I ask such a question? Who did I think I was? For a student who never, ever was even scolded in class, this rebuke cut through me. I was devastated. If my legitimate question didn't have a legitimate answer... could there really be no God?

When I found my way back to God, found the answers to my questions and doubts, and finally made peace with that teacher in my heart, I promised that no adolescent would ever get that sort of response from me. Legitimate questions deserve legitimate answers.

That night, at the meeting, I tried to express to my young friend that she was ok, that her questions were appropriate. I tried to answer her as best as I could. But, still, I worried. Several days later, I wrote her a letter. Parts of it are here... for my own edification as much as for hers. The message is one I need to return to often, as well.

When Jesus said that we must be “like children” to come to him, he did not mean that we should have a shallow, childish faith. Rather, we must be open and trusting when we approach him. But, to question our faith, to question the truths we’ve been taught, is actually an important step on your journey from childhood to adulthood. The faith small children have is a real gift, and we should see their trust, their openness, their love, and take an example from it.

But, if you never question your faith, you could reach adulthood and still be in a shallow place… and when the real tests of life come your way (as they will… life is messy, unpredictable, and tests all of us), you might find that your faith is not strong enough to sustain you. However, in the questioning, in the prayer, in the doubts, you will find a true, deep, adult faith… one that will be strong enough to sustain you in the darker times.

So, as you grow and find yourself struggling with the mysteries of our faith, keep asking questions… of your parents, your teachers, priests and deacons and seminarians, even me. But, also make sure that you are taking time to be open to God’s voice. Try sitting in silent prayer with God on a regular basis… even just five minutes a few days per week, try to sit quietly and open yourself to God. I try to do this daily, though I don’t always succeed in that. The challenge in this type of prayer is to let go of the thoughts that invade our minds and just keep returning to a word or image that focuses you on God.

And be sure to spend time with God’s Word. The Bible is a not some dusty, old book written 2,000 years ago. It is a living entity. God is as present in those pages as He is in the Eucharist, or in nature, or in the people we meet. If the version you have causes you to focus on the intricate language and not the message, try different versions. But, spending time with the Word of God is one of the best ways to get a deeper understanding of who God is, who you are, and the depth of God’s magnificent love for you.

I want to be sure you understand this: we are all human, and doubts will invade our hearts and minds from time to time. Doubting is not the same as not believing. Don’t ever think that because you struggle to understand, that you have no faith, no belief.

Sometimes, when I am struggling a bit, I pray this prayer from the Gospel of Mark 9:23-24: “Lord, I do believe; help my unbelief.” I take some comfort in knowing that even those people who had direct, physical encounters with Jesus struggled with unbelief or doubts at times. And, in my experience, this is one prayer that is always answered as I requested.

Thank you, my friend, for all you are doing to strengthen and encourage me on my faith journey. May God bless you.

No comments:

Post a Comment