My natural inclination is to believe life will turn out just fine; I lean towards the positive. It’s not that I think every day will be sunshine and daisies (my home is in Michigan, the birthplace of gray skies), it’s just that I believe the sun will come out eventually.
Last month my outlook on life was normal: optimistic. I had reasonably high hopes that my next book will sell well after its July release; I felt positive about the “fruit” of my daily tasks (writing, counseling, etc.); and I mostly believed God would work things for the good.
But when I’m sick, my personality leans toward the negative. It’s not that I’m Eeyore or Puddleglum, but their gloomy forecasts no longer seem farfetched.
These past couple weeks I’ve been sick and my outlook on life turned sour.
I began to doubt that people are interested in learning to hear God (the topic of my book); I questioned whether anything I do contributes anything of value to the world; and I began to worry that God wanted to punish me for some past, forgotten sin.
Bear in mind: nothing external had changed! I didn’t receive negative comments from my publisher. Readership of my blog and one-on-one counseling interaction remained the same. And I didn’t read a Scripture passage that says, “God really dislikes you.”
The world outside remained constant. No new information came my way—not the dinkiest fact—that should convert my beliefs into doubts. And yet my fears festered and flourished.
Sometimes we need to doubt our doubts.
And Then There Are Other Times
Jerome Kagan is a pioneering psychologist in the area of adolescent development. He studied children across thirty-six cultures and discovered that children everywhere are born with one of three different instinctive reactions to external threats:
- Some are wired for anxiety: their immediate reaction is, “Let’s get out of here.”
- Some are naturally aggressive: they think, “Let’s get them before they get us.”
- Some are just optimistic: they say, “Hey, let’s not get bent out of shape; things will work out just fine.”
But none of these temperaments is always right. The anxious response may be healthy in dangerous times but it’s crippling in times of plenty; and aggressive people may succeed during safe times but their lack of caution may kill them when restraint is required.
Sometimes our natural beliefs are just wrong. Kagan says,
The aggressive has to realize that sometimes you really are to blame, the anxious has to realize that sometimes you really aren’t to blame, and the optimistic has to realize that sometimes things are terrible.
In other words, sometimes we need to doubt our beliefs.
But … How Do We Know?
Our instinctive doubts and beliefs are unreliable. Our moods create doubts we shouldn’t always believe, and our natural temperaments create beliefs that should sometimes be doubted. We need something outside ourselves.
That thing outside ourselves is God’s promises.
Anytime we make a promise, we commit ourselves to create a future for someone else. In marriage vows we vow “for better or worse, in sickness and health.” We pledge our lives to make a hopeful future for another. (Though we’re not very good at keeping our word.)
In his promises, God has committed himself fully to create a future for us. And he is faithful:
- I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6)
- All things work together for good … for those called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
- I know my plans for you, plan for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)
Our beliefs and our doubts are fickle and erratic, sometimes sunny and often gloomy. We can choose what we believe. We really can choose to doubt our doubts, even doubt our natural beliefs, and simply believe his promises.
In both our sickness and health.
My doubts are always noisy and in your face. God’s assurance is in that peaceful and quiet place, and it’s hard to go there when the doubts are screaming at you and waving their arms in the air. Thanks for the reminder that we need to, and maybe we ought to practice trying to live there.
PS – I’m in Arizona in the sun, and I can’t figure out who got you sick ‘cuz most of your state is down here camping with me!
PPS – another good word!
There you are in Arizona and you didn’t invite me. I bet the skies are blue.
Someone else reminded me that this blindness of ours (both our beliefs and our doubts) is why friendship is so important. We just can’t see the truth about ourselves especially. Friends see more clearly.
Sam this post was right on. Telling it honest and keeping it real. No doubt about the “not always in tune part of us” has doubt and that the solution is “simple child-like faith” from the quiet “God connected” part of our heart.
As you know I always need to throw in a little humor in the mix. Years ago, the pastor of our church was officiating a wedding. As he turned to the couple to be wed, he said, “from better to worse,” instead of for better or worse. Everyone was laughing including the couple. I hope things did get better for them.