From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
How do we hold onto our belief in God’s promises in the midst of doubt? At what point do our prayers become rote, tinged more with habit than with hope, based more on what we feel is required of us than in what is possible with God? Zechariah has a difficult time receiving the angel Gabriel’s words because they do not fall in line with the reality of his and Elizabeth’s circumstances. How can they have a child now, at the most unlikely time of their lives, in their old age? It goes against nature and hardly makes sense. We cannot fault Zechariah for hesitating to believe Gabriel’s bold proclamation. Like Zechariah, how many of us would question Gabriel’s words?
Maybe we do not talk enough about how taxing it can be to sustain belief even while actively engaged in the rituals of our faith. What happens to hope after season and season of unanswered prayers? Like Zechariah, we, too, desire to believe that our prayers make a difference and that God hears us and will eventually respond in some way or another. But desiring belief is not always enough to secure belief when hope is wearing thin. There are countless circumstances in our individual and communal lives in which we may find ourselves battling with doubt despite an active life of prayer and service. Who are the single men or women, the divorced or widowed in our communities who quietly struggle to believe that God can meet them in their loneliness or will hear and answer their prayers for companionship? If during our seasons of yearning we do receive what sound like genuine God-given words of comfort and assurance, and we may simply find them hard to believe because we have grown accustomed to dwelling in the space of unanswered prayer.
We can own our seasons of doubt and recognize that doubt is part of the human condition. Even devout persons like Zechariah experience doubt, and God still sends a messenger to him. Doubt is nothing of which to be ashamed or which causes God to turn from us. Doubt is a speed bump on the spiritual journey, and some of us have more speed bumps to cross than others. And yet, while acknowledging this condition, an invitation to resist getting comfortable with our doubts remains. Perhaps at this point we are thankfully reminded that God does not call us to journey alone. In our season of doubt it can help to remember that we have a community of persons behind us praying, waiting to hear of our spiritual experiences, hoping to share their own stories and learning to hobble together toward deepening belief.
Gracious God, you know us better than we know ourselves. Our doubt does not surprise you. And we know that it does not prevent you from remaining present with us and working in our lives. We give you thanks for this and pray that you help us to trust in the reality of who you are. Amen.