Last year, my daughter and I studied the book of John at Bible Study Fellowship. One theme that struck me was how John, a disciple and close friend of Jesus, identifies himself.
The one whom Jesus loved.
I was baffled by how it seemed to be new information even though I have studied John before. God’s timing is perfect – it took the entire year, but He finally revealed why this theme was so important to me.
To explain why, I need to first give you the backstory.
Our third child was born in May of 2016. She, like our firstborn son experienced silent reflux symptoms and spent her first months writhing and screaming in pain. It was gut-wrenching and we felt helpless.
Unlike the first time around, we had previous experience. We recognized the symptoms and assumed we knew what to do. Then our doctor agreed so she began reflux mediation.
But symptoms remained.
Long story short, we later learned she had a tongue and lip tie that was corrected by a pediatric dentist. Once healed, she was able to eat without choking or gulping air. Her reflux was controlled with medication.
Life settled down. She no longer writhed in pain.
And we put it behind us.
Well. Not quite.
My emotional distress over the issue lingered. I wrestled with why a child should endure such pain. And WHY it happened again to one of our children.
As feelings surfaced, I distracted myself. I reasoned – it was over, we had moved on. We had a healthy, thriving and now happy baby.
Lingering on what was felt like the opposite of gratitude. And I was grateful she was feeling better.
So I ignored it. Stuffed it.
This was building to be more than just a little distress. Old, deep-seated emotions and pain from the first time when we watched our son struggle now mingled with the new these fresh new emotions. The old emotions had not lost their sharp, raw edge, even with the passage of time. (I’ve shared some about difficulties during my first year as a mom before. I’m not going to rehash it now but you can read about it here.)
The truth is, babies are born with all kinds of maladies and challenges – reflux is by far, not the worst. But when anything causes your child pain, it affects you deeply as a parent. This time around, our daughter’s pain also affected our other children. They too coped with the stress of their sister’s pain and their parents’ attention being consumed by the baby.
Now, on to my doubt.
The last day of BSF is ‘sharing day’ – picture 500 women and an open microphone. Women share publicly what God has done in their lives through the study.
The morning was crazy and I was running late. As I slid into a row towards the back, I sighed with relief.
My plan was to just sit and listen to other women praise God for what He had done in their lives that year.
Then this funny thing happened. I kept having this strange thought that I needed to share. My heart started pounding and I thought – not in front of all these people.
If the Holy Spirit has prompted you to share something before, then you know exactly what I’m talking about – whether to one person or before 500.
The heart pounding – it’s a THING.
Suddenly I’m scribbling notes with a pink sharpie on an old receipt – trying to get my thoughts in order before I head up front.
Several times in the study of John the topic of doubt came up. Each time, I quickly assessed myself (as in, not really) and pridefully said, of course I don’t doubt God!
He is who He says He is. Nothing is too hard for Him. His word is true and powerful.
How could I doubt Him?
The most famous example of doubt is in John 20. ‘Doubting’ Thomas is not with the other disciples when Jesus appears to them after the resurrection. Thomas does not believe the disciples account and wants physical proof – to touch Jesus’ wounds.
You guys, Jesus is so kind.
He knew Thomas’ doubts and soon lovingly gave the opportunity to see and touch His wounds, without reprimand. Thomas believes and proclaims, ‘My Lord and My God!‘.
During the lecture the week we studied Thomas, we were challenged to ask God to show us our doubts and bring those doubts to Jesus. It was so compelling, I began praying before we even left the parking lot.
It wasn’t long before it was clear that I did have doubt.
I never doubted that Jesus was ABLE to prevent our children’s pain.
I never doubted He was ABLE to heal them at any time.
We prayed and prayed. Both children were healed in His unique way, and in His time. But not in OUR Time.
So I doubted His love.
For our son. For our daughter. For our family.
We placed our hope and faith in Him in our distress and didn’t get the response we desired. We prayed boldly. We trusted.
We pleaded and cried out before Him as we held our sweet hurting babies.
And for a time that seemed far too long, they kept on hurting.
And doubt creeped in.
Looking back, I see God’s faithfulness. He carried us, sending help and comfort, even when it felt He was far away and unresponsive.
If I had read Thomas’ story at the beginning of the year, I would have likely ignored what it challenged me to see – I wasn’t ready to face my doubt.
But God’s loving kindness is so gentle. Before He revealed my doubt, He impressed upon me that my true identity is the one whom Jesus loves. And how the same is true for each of our children.
It is no accident that all these feelings from our firstborn were stirred up and relived with our daughter, just before starting the study of John – the gospel of love.
I will never fully comprehend on this side of heaven what God was doing when He allowed our babies to struggle. But He does show us glimpses of His work. I believe ONE reason He allowed this again in our life was to free me from the burden of doubt.
Only after He had prepared me by showing me His steadfast love, did He reveal I doubted it. And carried around those feelings for the last 7 years.
That is long time to carry around doubt laced with pain.
So, tearfully but with unexpected boldness, I found myself speaking into an open microphone before 500 women proclaiming God’s love and confessing my doubt.
The God of restoration revealed my doubt, not to shame me, but to free me. He did it to redeem the part of my soul I had shut off from Him because it was shrouded in the fear that God didn’t really love us as I desperately needed Him to.
What a wonderful God we serve – who doesn’t leave us in our broken condition and continues to actively capture and heal our hearts!
And He will continue to help us break free from the broken we harbor and carry around inside.
Today I stand in that freedom, knowing there will be other difficulties and hard things in my life and in the lives of our family that will challenge my faith and the truth of God’s word.
Without a doubt, there will be other doubts.
This experience has shown me how in the past I’ve judged Thomas for his doubt.
You know what? ‘Doubting’ Thomas gets a bad-rap.
We all encounter doubts. Walking with Jesus in the midst of a broken world means we are imperfect and incapable of imperfect faith. Doubt is reality. There’s a little Thomas in all of us – when we claim to never doubt, we are deceived by pride.
As with every Bible character, their examples of imperfection and God’s loving response is left there for people just like me. And you. I’m so grateful God included Thomas’ story in the Bible to encourage us in our doubt. God wisely let us know that even one of the 12 disciples, who walked side by side with Jesus here on earth, had doubts too.
Today I stand better equipped to handle new doubts because I have experienced firsthand how Jesus knows my doubts, before I do. He does not waste them. Instead, He gently uses doubts to strengthen and embolden our faith. He draws us closer to Him and will continue to do so until we are with Him and like Him in eternity.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
PS: If you aren’t familiar with BSF, you may want to be! It’s an international organization providing FREE, true to God’s word, Bible studies to men, women and children. Next year’s study is Romans and starts in September – check it out!