This Week on Soul Talks
Are you, a close friend, or a family member experiencing feelings of doubt? The truth is, we all have emotional experiences in life that can seem contrary to our faith. What do we do with those when they happen?
Simply trying not to doubt isn’t enough. Thinking the right thoughts and doing the right spiritual disciplines can only get us so far. We also need to pay attention to our emotions and share vulnerably about our experience of doubt with safe friends and Jesus.
In this Soul Talk, Kristi shares about a heavy season of doubt that she recently experienced and how she worked through it by being emotionally honest and receiving empathy. Her story will help you and the people in your life learn how to embrace and overcome times of doubt. Listen in and discover how the Lord lovingly enters into our brokenness, our doubting, and our shame to bring repair and resolution!
Resources for this episode:
Help for Doubt Transcript
Bill & Kristi Gaultiere
Hey, Soul Friends. Today, we’re going to pick up where we left off last week.
We talked about deconstructing faith and the challenges that happen in our journeys of the soul.
As we come into the transition that, in our book, we call ‘The Wall’ and the many different expressions of that, we find that one of them is this area of a faith crisis, or, feeling like our faith has been handed down to us—as we’ve learned it from maybe our family, our church, from the scriptures—when it seems like it’s not working for us.
And there are different ways that we experience that.
And what we’re gonna talk about today is doubt.
Because one primary way that we find ourselves struggling in our faith is when we’re having feelings and thoughts of doubt.
These sometimes just plague us and really work against our trust in God, our submission to the Lord, and our intimacy with God.
Hannah Whitall Smith, in her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, writes:
“Do not your doubts come trooping to your door, like a company of sympathizing friends who appreciate your hard case, and have come to condole with you.”
Like sympathizing friends, drawing you into self-pity, huh?
And they do.
And there are times when I think doubt comes as a temptation.
It comes as an argument.
It comes as the enemy’s temptation and whispering.
Or it comes with the sense of seeking some self-pity for suffering and the difficulties that we have.
She also writes that, “Doubts and discouragement are all from an evil source, and are always untrue.”
But you made a note underneath that I really, really appreciated in this book.
You said, “But they also can be from emotional wounds and need empathy and healing.”
I thought, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”
I still appreciate that she has this chapter about doubt— it’s a good chapter.
And one of the things that she talks about doubt is, she talks about all the ways that it’s bad, it’s evil, we don’t wanna make an agreement with it, etc.
Why Abstaining From Doubt Doesn’t Work
She talks about making a pledge against doubt, repenting and making an agreement with the Lord that you won’t give into doubt anymore ever again…
And I remember being so inspired and thinking:
And doing that, and following her advice in that, and being so strong and firm, thinking:
“Okay. I’m done with doubt. I’m never gonna struggle with doubt again.”
And then I experienced a whole bunch of grief, a whole bunch of suffering, a whole bunch of disappointment, and a whole bunch of desolation.
And I found myself tempted to doubt again.
And I tried to go back to my pledge to never doubt, and to put it out of my mind and say:
“No, I’m done with that. I’m not even gonna entertain it.”
But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t handle that battle at all alone.
Because what happened to me was that then I just experienced shame and self-hatred, because I was finding myself losing at that battle of resisting doubt.
So you were spiraling down.
What first came was suffering, seeing loved ones suffer.
And your tender heart of empathy, mercy, sensitivity to that, and caring for them, the weight of that, it took a toll on you.
And then you had experiences, feelings, and observations of, “What’s happening?” in these situations that seemed contrary to God’s goodness, grace, provision, blessing, presence, and protection.
And so then you find yourself doubting:
“Where is God? And is he really loving in this situation? It doesn’t seem like God is good.”
And so then you’re wrestling through those feelings and wonderings of doubt, and then you’re observing yourself do that.
And then you’re judging yourself for doubting, and thinking about what you read— thinking, “I shouldn’t be doubting. What happened to my pledge not to doubt?”
Yes. I’m thinking:
“Then where’s my faith? I know better than this.”
And so then you’re going down to self-condemnation and even self-hatred—plummeting into depression.
Trying Harder Is Exhausting
Yeah. And then I do things like, I go to scripture and I read things to try to bolster my faith.
And I’m doing all the right things.
I’m praying, I’m reading scripture, I’m renouncing the doubt, I’m trying to remember God’s faithfulness, and I’m trying to practice gratitude—I’m doing all the right things.
But none of it’s getting in.
None of it feels real.
The only thing that feels real at the time is the loss, the suffering, and all of these emotional impacts.
They all feel like reality.
My circumstances, my experience—these feel like reality.
And all these other things feel like they’re just ideas.
They’re just words.
Yeah. You’re trying so hard to think:
“What’s true and good? What’s biblical about God, about life, about your relationship with God, about other people’s relationship with God?”
But you’re worn out from that mindset of:
“Believe what’s right. Do what’s right.”
Praying and not seeing the prayers answered—praying and having the opposite happen—I felt like I saw these things over and over, in a number of areas in my life, all at once.
Yeah. And so often the message that we get in our Christian circles really boils down to:
“Well, try harder to believe what’s right and do what’s right.“
And so I did. I kept trying harder.
And we have some very gifted, passionate speakers who speak this kind of message.
And they speak it with tremendous courage and confidence, and stand up on a stage or in the pages of a bestselling book.
And they really put out the power.
We want to be like them.
But then we’re experiencing what you’re describing.
And so where do we go with that?
Denying Our Emotions Can Leave Us Feeling Ashamed
Well, usually I’ll leave with those feelings—the ‘rah rah’ of encouragement, like, “Yeah, I’m gonna do this.” And “Yeah, I’ve got victory in Jesus…”
I’m holding onto all this encouragement, all of this truth.
And I leave pretty pumped up. But then, some days later, I’m in shame—because it’s not working for me. It’s not lasting. It’s not enough.
Well, because so often this “believe and do what’s right” message gets intertwined with “deny your emotions, deny your needs, deny your struggles.”
And it gets intertwined with, “Just go off with your Bible, in the Lord, and pray—and work harder at that.”
And, “You’re gonna be strong, and you can overcome this.”
That’s exactly right. That’s exactly the method that I tend to take and try.
And part of it is I want it to work.
I want that to work for me, and I believe it should.
But then I get in a crisis because it doesn’t.
Well, it’s hard to not believe it should work if we’ve been raised with that mentality in our family or in our church.
When we continually hear these sorts of messages and we don’t want to feel doubt, discouragement, or weighed down with compassion fatigue.
So of course you want to try to rise up against that.
And it seems so good when we get a message with a lot of passion, boldness, and confidence—and we believe it’s the truth.
And it’s like half true, but there’s the other half that’s like:
“But at what point are we just denying emotions and needs that we’re having?”
And the counsel of the Bible is never behind denial of the reality of what we’re experiencing.
Well, and so that was my testimony—because finally, I came groveling to you and asked you to listen to me.
Groveling is depicting the embarrassment that you were feeling and the self-judgment that was going on.
And yeah, it’s total death to pride because what I want to do is believe that I can work this out alone, just with me and my Bible, and me and Jesus in prayer.
And not need to bring anybody else into it.
Because I’m embarrassed.
I’m judging myself.
I feel like I’m failing.
I feel like asking:
“What’s wrong with me?”
I know the spiritual reality.
So why am I not able to live standing strong on my own two feet in spiritual reality and the kingdom of God, trusting in His goodness and love right now?
I feel totally completely taken out.
Knowing the Truth of Christ Doesn’t Always Prevent Doubt
And since we are raised with Christ, the message is, “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God—set your mind not in earthly things, for you died and your life is now hid with Christ and God” (Col. 3:1-2)
“Rejoice in the Lord, always!” (Phil 4:4)
I mean, I know all the things.
But at the time, I couldn’t do it.
And I tried and tried and tried.
I was sinking deeper, deeper, deeper….
And it was cutting me off from you, too, because I felt shame.
I isolated and I hid.
So here we were in the car, and we were going away, and I was no person.
I was totally and completely shut down.
And I was dreading it, because I was so miserable.
And now I was gonna bring you into my misery, because I couldn’t hide it from you anymore.
Because you didn’t have your work to distract you from how miserable I was.
Emotional Honesty and Receiving Empathy for Doubt
And so I ended up being vulnerable with you.
You listened with empathy to me, let me cry, held me.
And I found my faith again.
I found the kingdom of God again.
I found myself restored again.
It wasn’t anything you said.
Nothing of my circumstances changed, except that you oozed God’s grace to me.
You oozed God’s grace to me for hours.
For hours, you showed me his presence.
For hours, you helped me to feel spiritual reality instead of everything I was feeling—which was abandoned, alone, desolation, fear, doubt, and self-hatred.
And I told you I’d feel the same way if I was you.
And that I had experienced some of those feelings as well.
You validated what I was feeling instead of me shaming myself for what I was feeling.
And that was really helpful, even when you said:
“I would feel that way too.”
Because I was judging myself as weak, as too emotional, and as too sensitive.
And so, to hear you say that you would even feel those ways if you were experiencing what I was, was really helpful to me because it helped me to feel like:
“Oh, okay. He understands. He gets it. These emotions are validated. They’re valid.”
Doubt Is Common in Difficult Circumstances
And of course it would be discouraging, grieving, difficult struggle—even dark emotions—when a loved one has been suffering so much.
When a close friend and mentor has died and another is really struggling to continue functioning.
There were so many things and transitions going on with other family members and in our ministry.
And so, there was a lot that was weighing you down and tempting you.
I was sick.
Yeah. You were coming out of COVID and the COVID depression was hanging on.
Yeah. Losing your taste and your smell, and losing some of the pleasures and delights that we take for granted.
We had big losses and stresses with Soul Shepherding and big staff transitions that were really hard and really discouraging.
So it was coming in waves in your circumstances and in my circumstances that were stressing us.
And in your case, it triggered this unrelenting doubt, and it caused you to swirl emotionally downward.
We were supposed to be going on vacation.
Instead, we were sick, isolated, quarantined, and working really hard through it all.
Yeah. It was a hard time.
And so, what about the scriptures that say, “Set your hearts on things above,” “Rejoice in the Lord always,” and, “Give thanks in all circumstances?”
God Brings Loving Repair and Resolution to Our Doubting
Well, I was able to do it again after you oozed the grace.
After you listened, after you validated my emotions, after you joined me.
Letting me grieve and cry and just voice all of my losses, desolations, and the stress that I was feeling—the disappointment, the sadness, etc.
After I was able to work through, grieve, and process, we got some experience of consolation.
And the other thing was, it helped that we got some time in beauty… after some weeks of no experience of consolation.
And so, getting out in beauty, being able to get out into God’s creation, into a spacious place out of our office, out of quarantine.
And being so sick, and starting to feel like I was able to breathe again, and see the light again, and connect with you again, all of those things also were restorative to my soul.
My soul needed those things.
The catharsis opened this up for you.
But your courage to be emotionally honest and to really face the demons, and to face the darkness and the despair—and find words for that.
And be emotionally honest about all that, and receive empathy…
All of this got you into a place where you could really receive from the beauty of nature, from rest, from going on vacation, and from the scriptures.
God Respects When We Speak Honestly and Courageously
Because sometimes, what we do is we’re picking and choosing which scriptures.
And the Bible also says “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
It also says, “Search me, o God, and know me. Test me, know my anxious thoughts—see if there’s any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting way” (Psalm 139).
Of course, the Psalms are full of this, “Search me and know me” way of praying and reflecting, and being emotionally honest.
And really, in so many of the heroes of our faith… Job, who we mentioned on last week’s podcast, who was so blunt—so courageous to speak the truth of what he was experiencing and feeling that was contrary to the truths of God’s word that he was believing.
And he was wrestling through all of that.
It’s shocking how, when God appeared to Job in the whirlwind and helped him through all of this, and opened his eyes to the loving, powerful presence of God in all of the universe and all of history—and particularly in Job’s life…
Something that God said that just blows us away is he actually rebukes Job’s friends, who had been spouting all these pious platitudes, all these Proverbs of ashes.
They were taking Bible verses and misusing them to negate Job’s emotion, wrestlings, and questions.
Which is what we so often do to ourselves, and to each other.
And it’s very uncompassionate, unloving, and untrue.
We can take a truth and use it in an untrue way.
And so the Lord says to Job’s friends, who were not being good friends, he says:
“You have not spoken rightly about me like my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
There are 42 chapters in the book of Job.
And in this book, he’s just on the edge of agreeing with his wife: he’s going to curse God and die.
He’s saying some things that are probably blasphemous!
They’re really negative and untrue things to say about God.
But, they were true in the sense that that was how Job felt.
They were true of his circumstances and the way that life would look for any human being in Job’s skin.
And so, Job is speaking truly, genuinely, honestly, and courageously—and God respects that.
God rewards that. And God enters into this experience and brings repair and resolution—loving Job through this and helping him out on the other side.
We Need Soul Care to Move Beyond Doubt
My testimony, my experience, is that I need a good experience of soul care in order to get restored out of doubt.
Just the decision not to doubt—setting my will and my resolve to not give in to doubt, to not nurture doubt, to think the right thoughts or do the right spiritual disciplines—it isn’t enough.
And reason is important.
Wesley’s quadrilateral scripture is important.
It plays a role.
Faith comes by hearing the word of God.
I do want to continue directing my mind to scripture, reading it, and remembering that it’s truth.
And so reason, scripture, and then tradition—I do want to keep trusting the traditions of the church, all the history of the church, and going to church.
But I also need the experience, his fourth quadrilateral—experience.
I needed (and my soul needed) to experience care.
We Need Both Feelings and Faith on Our Journey with Jesus
So the balance of those four is so wise.
And this is why in our book, Journey of the Soul, we talk about following Jesus with feelings and faith, through each of the stages of faith.
And we look at how each of these stages of faith can be stages of emotional and spiritual growth—stages of growing in relational health with God, others, and ourselves.
And so the integration of feelings and faith is really a big deal on our journey.
And you’re illustrating that so beautifully—so winsomely and wisely, Kristi.
And I really appreciate your courageous spirit, to be vulnerable with this.
Because I know that many people relate to Kristi.
Many of you have a loved one or someone who you are helping in your coaching, small group ministry, or your pastoring—however you’re serving the Lord—there is somebody in your circle that just the idea of, “Believe what’s right and do what’s right,” and, “Just think true and good thoughts and your feelings will follow”—it’s not working for them.
Sometimes, if your personality is like mine and you’re a strong thinker, it seems like it works.
But in reality, all of us have these emotional experiences in life that are contrary to truths that we might reason out and believe from God’s word, or from a book that we read and study.
And so, what do we do with that? We follow Jesus with feelings and faith.
And paying attention to the emotions that we’re having is part of the picture.
And so, what we’re teaching is that there’s a two-way street between thoughts and feelings.
It is not a simplistic ‘A leads to B, change your thoughts and that will change your feelings’ kind of thing.
Yes, that can be true.
Sometimes that is true. That is one direction.
But the other direction is ‘We’ll address your feelings and that will change your thoughts.’
Feelings are powerful. They live in our bodies.
And sometimes, you might wake up tired or sick, and you have emotions about that, and it’s in your body—and you can’t just change your thoughts about it and make everything better.
When I deny my emotions, it actually has a big effect on my thoughts and my body.
I end up feeling really, really tired (especially physically) when I’m denying my emotions.
Or I get some kind of bodily pain.
It also blocks my relationship and my intimacy with the Lord and with you if I deny my emotions.
So yeah, I’ve learned the importance of being able to be emotionally honest with myself, with God, and with others. You are safe for me to do that with.
Doubting Our Doubts
And there is a danger that we can overemphasize the importance of emitting how we feel, and fall into cycling in that—and swirling and self-pity with that, and sort of idealizing our doubts.
And so, as much as it’s important that we give permission to have feelings and experiences of doubt, and have questions—and that we teach that that’s part of faith.
That’s part of what happens at ‘The Wall,” in “The Journey of the Soul,” and through “The inner journey of emotional honesty.”
And really trusting God is how we work that through.
We need to get help, because the condition of a soul that is doubting is to be two-souled.
And James teaches this very clearly in James 1:5-8.
Actually the Greek uses the word “two-souled” in there.
And my paraphrase of this passages goes like this:
“You don’t know what to do, ask God. Your father won’t be irritated. He is compassionate and kind, and will gladly give you all the wisdom you need. But be sure you trust the Lord to guide you. And don’t keep doubting to pray, and distrust is to be two-souled. You’ll be like a sailboat at sea, driven and tossed back and forth by the shifting winds of circumstances. Instead, to make it safely to land, wait for the friendly wind of the spirit, and then open up your sail ‘till you find yourself standing secure on solid ground.”
Keep Fighting the Good Fight
The truth of God’s revelation.
And the truth that we can know, not only intellectually, but in our experience, we actually can develop that experience-based assurance that we talked about last week—where we’re actually observing more of the presence of Jesus in our life, in our personality, and in our relationships.
And we need that source of encouragement in our faith.
So that our faith is being built not just on wishful thinking or forcing ourselves to just believe what we know is true.
But faith is actually based on knowledge— based on spiritual knowledge, based on an interactive relationship with God through his word.
But also through the Holy Spirit.
So your example, Kristi, is so helpful.
Your courage to be honest about the realities of doubt speaks to all of us.
And I think we also need to go back to this idea of battling the demons.
There’s a spiritual warfare component to all this as well.
Even in our circumstances, we were able to see that Satan was opposing us.
And part of what was important for us to do was to fight the good fight of faith and to lock arms and shoulders together and rebuke Satan.
“Submit yourselves to God and resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” James says later in his letter in Chapter 4, verse 7.
And so, we did that.
And that was important because all of us who are following Jesus, serving the Lord, and having influence with people for God and God’s kingdom, we become targets of the enemy.
And so, we need to be wise about that.
Wise about Satan’s wiles.
And speak the truth of God’s word.
Find a friend to help us do that.
And stand strong in the Kingdom of God.