Conquering Doubt

By

Doubt usually springs on me right after I’ve finished writing. When I sit down to revise, I find myself thinking: You are only thirty-four years old. Who gives a hoot ‘n holler what you think or know about life? Why would anyone want to read your stories of a stay-at-home Mom who’s never published a book, whose life is radically unexceptional? Aren’t you supposed to DO something with your life, or at least live more than half of it, before you can write a memoir? And besides all that, how many days a week do you actually wake up believing everything you just said two paragraphs ago?

Thankfully, and perhaps providentially, I’ve been reading Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. Buechner has a few things to say that have helped me quiet those doubting voices.

“But I talk about my life anyway because if, on the one hand, hardly anything could be less important, hardly anything could be more important. My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are…because it is precisely through these stories…that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”

Doubt has many subcategories though, so of course I worry through all of them. After questioning my voice, I begin doubt the validity of my message. Do my experiences line up with Scripture? What would “so and so” have to say in reaction to these thoughts? Am I reducing the gospel somehow by emphasizing my emotional needs, thereby creating just another spiritual self-help manual? Will this truly matter to anyone out there besides me?

When I let the questions get the best of me, productivity in writing comes to a crashing halt. Yet Buechner speaks again:

“It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about. Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell.”

Passages like these remind me of times when other’s words have helped me, and they give me hope that my words may one day do the same for someone else. It’s no wonder we lovers of words, we users of words, and those blessed by words are all plagued by doubt. Words are life, and life is opposed.

A few years ago, I was struggling in a way that felt more supernatural than my usual lack of self-confidence. I had begun to see writing as a gift and though I hated to call myself “gifted,” I believed my ability was given to me by God. Yet, it seemed like the moment I tried to live and write from that reality I was attacked. After some time, I decided to pray about it and one day God spoke to me through a passage in Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message, where it was sectioned off differently than in my usual NIV. The passage was titled: Why Tell Stories?

He (Jesus) replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it.” (Matthew, chapter 13, verses 11-13)

God answered me, right where I was. In letters, words, and paragraph form, God told me part of what I was here for. A passage from his own book, recorded over a thousand years ago and composed before my first sunrise, explains the need for stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.

In my writing I share bits of real life which (hopefully) plant seeds of hope and light; many of you write fictional stories which share real truth. Others of you sing your stories, and maybe a few of you use color, lines, or even organic life to add beauty in your own corner of God’s world. Whatever form our stories take, there will always be opposition to truth and life, and I have found some of the most devastating opposition sprouting in the exact places my stories come from. But this little post is one way I have taken heart, gone to battle, and determined not give doubt its sway. I hope it encourages you to do the same. I’d love to hear about the different ways you have battled the big “D” word yourself. What are your solutions for conquering doubt once and for all? Can it be done?

Author’s note: The sketch for this post was created by John Haney, a fellow Hutchmoot 2010 attendee whom I met on Facebook. John conquers doubt with humor and has a cute little comic strip you should check out at www.beyondthedromedary.blogspot.com


23 Comments

  1. Bruce Hennigan

    What a beautiful post! Thank you for I needed this right now. I just got my galley proofs for my upcoming book and as I started reading through the final words, I panicked. This isn’t what I had written, is it? Did I really mean to say this? Are these really my words I toiled over for months and months? I wanted to throw the whole thing out and start all over but, of course, by now that is no longer an option. Doubt reared its ugly head. So, I have been trying desperately to make sense of this profound doubt. I believe as you mention that I was under spiritual attack, supernatural doubt. Someone wants to stop me. So, it was so comforting to read that passage from Jesus’ own lips! Wow! I’m printing your post out and putting on my computer monitor to remind me not to give into doubt. Tell the Story! Stick to the Wisdom! Be faithful to the Voice that has instructed you so far!

    How do I handle doubt? Thank the Lord I read your post! Which points out the importance of community among Christian artists, something I learned in such a powerful way when I came to Hutchmoot 2010. We can support and encourage each other as you have done. I’m listening to Laura Story’s incredible song “Blessings” and it is true that many times God works through our tears to bless us; works through our doubt for who else can we really turn to but our Savior?

    Thank you again for encouraging me today and I’m going to open up that file and start going through those galley proofs right now without fear and without a doubt!

  2. Marilyn Perry Ramsey Fain

    Thanks so much for this. I am recently retired from 30 years as a public school teacher.,,where my primary love was teaching others (students – young & older – & co-workers) to express themselves with the wonder if words. Most of my own writings to date have mostly had to do with my professional interests – whether a creative lesson plan or an inspring word to beleaguered teachers or an obituary for a friend or a history for an organization or a wedding ceremony for a bride & groom…occasionally I have allowed myself to dabble in poetry or observed lifestyle vignettes. Now…finally…J am blessed (or cursed) with the luxury of TIME. Time to do what I have frquently been encouraged to do, what I profess to have always
    deeply desired to do…write. Yet, in this luxurious state, frustration abounds because of two boogers, subtle monsters that haunt my days & nights…discipline & doubt. How I appreciate your explicit post! Apparently, I am not alone in the haunting that I allow in regard to doubt…as it rears it’s ugly head, peering over my shoulder at both complete & incomplete pieces, even laughing -wickedly derisive – at pubescent ideas!
    This connection with you gives me renewed hope. Thank you (& Bruce Hennigan for suggesting that I read you today)!

  3. Evan Brandon Bruno

    Wow, many thanks to you, and many as well to Bruce Hennigan who thankfully pointed me here to The Rabbit Room and your post. I’ve been down and out for the last couple of days, but you guys have renewed my drive. Ready to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” as they say. Thanks so much!

  4. Alyssa

    Janna, this post described my recent state of mind so perfectly that I almost expected it to say “Dear Alyssa” at the top. Just yesterday I made a note that when I come to Hutchmoot this year, I want to find some ways to combat all the doubt. I suspect that community is one means of fighting it. Without the Rabbit Room, I don’t know if I ever would have had the courage to start writing. I draw such encouragement from knowing I’m not the only one who sends my creations out into the world with fear and trembling. Thanks so much for your insight!

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Janna,

    Two Chesterton quotes:
    “Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness.”

    And “The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

    Doubts are spurs to the horse’s sides. Or, as Norman Grubb put it, “Faith is built on doubt. Faith is doubt conquered.”

    Telling our story is crucial, as is listening to the stories of others. Otherwise everyone is locked in Aloneland.

    The bigger the doubts, the further we have to leap. Doubt is opportunity; it is a dark engine; it is the Lion roaring at the heels of Bree and Hwin, pressing them onward into a fresh burst of energy.

  6. Andy Whisenant

    Wow! Thank you so much for this. When I write, I feel alive…it’s unlike anything else. And while I know that God has given me that understanding of and passion for words for a reason, but more often than I’d like to admit, I let doubt and fear rule and it keeps me from pushing toward what I feel like I need to say.

    “What I have to say has no value. No one will listen. This won’t make any difference.”

    That doubt kills me everytime. It makes me believe those lies. But I know that I don’t have to let the doubt win. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. Bruce Hennigan

    Ron, you really ought to think about writing something! Ha! Andy hit on a very important concept, one I wrestle with frequently. When I doubt or I am in fear I have to stop and ask the question, “What is the lie?” For in those dark and disturbing moments, I have allowed the shadow of a lie to eclipse my view of the Savior. And, as we all know, Satan is the father of lies. When that happens, as Ron so beautifully described it, we should run with all swiftness toward the Savior and his truth. And, the truth will set us free! Great post. Thank you again.

  8. Nick and Susan

    Janna, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and the Frederick Buechner quotes.

    I chuckled out loud where you said ‘how many days a week do you actually wake up believing everything you just said two paragraphs ago?’. My mouth is quick to say what I know and deeply believe to be true in my heart, but is often just as quick to try and prove me wrong. But, I still believe it, the truth sits well in my heart, despite my soul’s wrestlings and wagging finger that often taunts the things I’ve said or written, supposing that I’ve now made a fool of myself for still believing despite my stumblings and how it may look to others.

    Two quotes that fairly burst my eyes wide open to the opportunity doubt can give spiritually speaking unsurprisingly come from storytellers – the finest kind.

    “Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to rouse the honest heart. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood – Doubt can be a tool in God’s hand wielded, in the lives of those who allow it, for the strengthening, not the destruction of faith.” George MacDonald

    “If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply.” – C.S. Lewis

    Susan

  9. Leanne

    Thanks Janna. You often write things that sound oh-so-familiar to me. Loved the Buechner quotes, and the Eugene Peterson translation about creating readiness. That restores Jesus’ words to their original potency, I think.

    I mostly just write to process my own thoughts externally, and haven’t sought much readership, but I sometimes wonder if my own lack of “seeking an audience” is due to the doubts I feel about whether I have anything worth reading.

    As a side note, I love how the comments here at the RR are often as rich as the post itself, filled with inspiring quotes and wisdom.

    Another side note: there’s another Bruno in the comments. Might you be related to my husband? 😉

  10. Kathryn Ross

    Janna – I read this wondering when I wrote this. You expressed my interior life as a writer perfectly. And, your quote selection is bang on! This particular week has been a battle for me in this very area. Thank you for being part of the Lord’s healing balm as I break through a briar strewn part of the path. I also must share feelings with the many who commented. Love the Rabbit Room for this kind of fellowship.
    Joy to you!
    Kathryn Ross

  11. Phil B

    I’ve often found that it’s waaaaay easier to believe something in my head, than to accept it in my heart. I can logically know that healing is possible…heck, it’s even PROBABLE when we really look to Jesus for it…but I just can’t make myself believe it, can’t accept the fact that He’s talking to me as well as to the man at the pool when He says “Do you want to be healed?” Even as I write this, I just can’t make myself believe that healing is meant for me, and that even my lack of belief in this is a sin. The devil can play me like a well-tuned guitar sometime, setting up situations where I’m “wrong” no matter which option I choose or what path I choose to believe in.

  12. Weekly Reading Roundup « Andy in Progress

    […] Conquering Doubt by Janna Barber on the Rabbit Room blog. Ask any writer what his or her biggest struggle is and one of the answers you’ll likely hear will have something to do with doubt. Doubt is the archenemy of anyone who tries to string words together in a coherent manner. A recovering doubting writer herself, Janna offers some perspective on fighting that doubt that so quickly appears for every writer. […]

  13. Tony Heringer

    “Words are life, and life is opposed.” That really struck me. Great post Janna. Even in the presence of the risen Christ still “some doubted” (Matthew 28), so I know I’m gonna struggle with but the antidote then is the same as now get as close to Jesus as you can and know that He’ll never let go — no doubt about it!

  14. Jaclyn

    Thank you so much, Janna, for your honesty in this oh-so-sensitive area.

    I could barely hold back tears just yesterday thinking about an enormous leap of faith God is asking me to take as a writer and a sharer of truth. I’ve been so afraid to believe that the passions and abilities I have are real– not just my self-imaginings of greatness, a contrived fantasy of living the artist’s life. I can’t help but esteem highly a storyteller of any kind. After all, Jesus was a storyteller, who proclaimed freedom to captives and justice over the tyranny of sin. All of you here who tell stories through all your choice mediums set me just a little freer from my self-imposed chains, and help light the way to another day’s battle with darkness. So it’s hard for me to see myself equal to the position. As many have already said– who am I? what do I have to say? what difference will it make? Or the killer to my soul: any storyweaving I may do is unimportant compared to other “useful” things I could be doing. I ought to give up and busy myself with more productive pursuits.

    Yet as you so beautifully illuminated, Janna, there is a place for parables, and those who tell them– who cannot help but tell them because their stories are “good and perfect” gifts, “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Your realization from a few years ago that your writing ability comes from God is one I just made (this morning, actually). I wasted a lot of time in frustration and crafting really bad writing thinking inspiration came from me. It’s such a relief to know the good stories are all from my Father, and my faithful telling and refinement of them is my joyous work as a servant. The Parable of the Talents shows this beautifully (http://biblia.com/bible/niv/Mt25.14-30).

    Thank you again, Janna, and to everyone here. It’s such a blessing and privilege to be part of a community that cares so deeply for each other and lifting each other up as we go about loving God and loving each other.

  15. Rachel

    “Passages like these remind me of times when other’s words have helped me, and they give me hope that my words may one day do the same for someone else.”

    Let me add my name to the list of people who have come forward to tell you how timely and meaningful your words were . . .
    I am the trade-published author of four children’s novels, and yet I am not proud enough of any of them to tell you their titles or give you my last name. For years I have felt a desire to do more than write just another sellable manuscript, but instead to write as worship, to write something beautiful, something powerfully Christian for a secular audience. I have been plagued by doubts, doubts about my own abilities, doubts about God’s will for me, doubts about the state of the publishing industry and whether there will even be a market for a manuscript that will likely take years to complete. I feel like I’m on a journey to an unknown destination, without any certainty that I have the time or the resources necessary to get there. And yet isn’t that what life is? And faith, certainly!
    The two Chesterton quotes Ron Block provided also spoke to me. I am scared to death, scared sometimes to despair, but the still, small voice inside me tells me that humility is a good starting place for the project I am undertaking. I also believe that the writing itself is a spiritual exercise, that it can be an act of worship pleasing to God even if it never finds a wider audience. And when I rest in that, I find peace.
    My doubt is sometimes fed by isolation. I am part of a Christian community, and on the fringes of an artistic community, but there’s no overlap. And that’s not healthy, since my faith and my art (at least where I’d like my art to go), are very much entwined. I’ve just recently discovered the Rabbit Room. I know I’ll be hanging out here in the future.
    Thanks for your honesty, Janna, and your willingness to persevere.

  16. Loren

    I can relate, I can relate, I can relate…. It’s reassuring to know I am not alone!

    I think I’ve found that doubt shows up in my life in the “What if” lie…. “What if you make a fool of yourself?” “What if you had done such and such differently?” etc. A couple years ago, for the first time I donned mental boxing gloves and whenever the “What ifs” started coming at me I beat them back with the Truth: “God loves me. God is in control. His plan is perfect and it will not fail.” Since then any time a “What if” shows its face I put on those gloves and pray!

  17. Deborah

    I enjoyed your post, and also the comments. I have journaled for years. Recently I have begun to actually write. I’ve been studying the how tos for quite a while. On September 1, I will be launching a blog addressing issues I had growing up. They involve abandonment, abuse, neglect, incest, addiction and in general the cycles that the enemy uses in our lives from our very beginnings.
    The blogs name is “Significant Encounters”.
    I believe I’m ready and I’m excited about it.
    Enter doubt. I KNOW I have an important message. I KNOW there are others like me, who are stuck in the wreckage. I KNOW I have a voice different from others. I don’t know who on earth will read it, or even if it will be readable.
    There. I said it. It’s out there.
    I believe all the obstacles are there to block the voice that God has given me. I believe that. I still doubt. I will be moving forward anyway, because I win if it fails or succeeds, since I’ve faced my fears.
    Thanks for letting me vent.

  18. caleb

    Excellent post. Very encouraging.

    For anyone dealing with doubt, etc, I cannot recommend highly enough Brenda Ueland’s book ‘If You Want To Write.’ It’s been one of the most helpful things in my life in this area.

  19. Janna Barber

    Hello, friends. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and for sharing your own struggles in this area. It’s good to know I’m not the only one. Thanks also for telling us what has encouraged you in times past, and helps even today.

    For Deborah, I look forward to checking out your blog, be sure and share a link! I finished AP’s newest book this week and was struck by a line he wrote about God taking our weaknesses and making them his strengths. When we let Christ into those dark places, he can restore us, as well as put us in a unique position to bless others in His name. Oh that we would open up to Him more. It’s so good to hear of the transformation in your life.

  20. Brandon Hoops

    I can sympathize with the doubts. Your post, like a recent fortune cookie I got, helped encourage me to keep writing. I think of another Buechner quote: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.” The same seems to hold true for writing.

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