Yesterday, I shared the first part of my interview with self-confessed spiritual weakling Jason Boyett, author of O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling, the Pocket Guide series, and several others (you can find them all listed here). Today I’m sharing the second half of our interview, in which we talk about fear, going public with doubt, and doubt in the context of marriage and family.
P.S. Don’t miss the giveaway at the end of today’s post, and the clip of our interview in which Jason turns the tables and asks ME about doubt and how the loss of our daughter intersected.
Joy: In the chapter “This Is Horrible. Here. Taste It.” you talked about the fears we face in admitting to our doubt. I’m really passionate about not hiding our real selves, but some of those fears are well-founded. Which of your fears, if any, materialized after this book came out? What compelled you to go ahead, in spite of those fears?
Jason: My biggest fear was that friends and family would freak out if they knew my actual spiritual temperature. I’m an introvert and rather than talk about my questions and doubts, I keep all of these things very close to the vest. I find it much easier to be open and forthright as a writer than as a speaker in conversation, so writing the book was the most comfortable way for me to share this part of myself.
I still worried about the book coming out, though. Revealing something about yourself that people might think is ugly opens you up to heartache. I knew my book was going to show these people that they didn’t actually know me as well as they thought. Both my wife and my mom were afraid to read it because of what they might find out about me. When my wife read it, she was comforted because it’s such a hopeful book. My mom was fine with it too, but she was sad to read about all the angst that I went through as a child.
I realize now that it probably wasn’t fair to reveal these things to my family in a public document. I am learning to be more open with those closest to me because it’s so important to work through these things together.
Joy: Doubt can really strain a marriage. I’ve been there and experienced it first hand. How has your wife responded to your doubt?
Jason: Because of my personality, I hid what was going on in my head for a long time. My wife’s faith is simpler, and her personality is different, and I was afraid of how she would respond. I’m finding that I need to fight my instinct to hold things really close. I need to share it with her because even though it’s messy, we can help each other. We can clean it up together.
We’ve been married 18 years, and we have this bond from weathering all the things that we’ve weathered, just like you do after going through what you guys have. We love each other despite the fact that each of us has grown and changed. We aren’t the same people we were when we got married, but a good marriage allows you to change. I’ve finally confided in her that I consider myself to be an inner agnostic who looks and acts and thinks like a Christian, and she continues to love me anyway. I’m very grateful for her and for her commitment to us.
Some of the religious parts of our lives are tricky to navigate. We do it in grace and love, and we’re committed to it and to showing that to our kids. But it isn’t easy. We are still finding our way through, in many ways.
Joy: My favorite chapter was “Faith with a Kung-Fu Grip.” The quote from Mother Theresa’s “Come Be My Light” was so incredibly powerful for me. I’m still digesting it. It’s both encouraging and discouraging to hear that she felt God’s absence for 50 years. I don’t want to think I could be in that place for the rest of my life, but it’s encouraging to know that she, of all people, was in that place.
Jason: She died in that place.
That’s a long time to doubt. Let’s talk about time. I sometimes feel pressured to hurry to a conclusion, to find answers, to solve this. Other times I wonder if I’m too content to be in limbo. How has time played into this for you?
Jason: I’ve never really thought about that before. I guess I think of it in terms of evolution. It isn’t an overnight thing, it’s a LONG process. Tiny step after tiny step. You don’t realize how you are changing day to day, but after years you can look back and see that you don’t recognize yourself from five years ago.
Joy: Occasionally you’ll look back and realize you’ve had an evolutionary breakthrough and everything is different from a few months ago.
Joy: That constant change has been one of the most frustrating things for my family. They see me writing this all out on my blog, so they get confused when I’m saying something totally different today than I did three months ago.
Jason: It’s crazy to go back and read old posts, isn’t it? I do that too.
Joy: It’s like a time capsule. Sometimes it makes me sad. Other times I think, “Wow, I was smarter back then.”
I know you aren’t into giving advice exactly, but you’ve been on this road for awhile. What helps?
Jason: It helps to give it a name. Rather than having a nebulous discomfort in your head, say “This is doubt, and these are the things I’m doubting.” It is important to make it concrete so those things don’t stew forever in your head, where they remain somewhat unreal.
Community is really important too. You need to find a community of people around you so that you are not dealing with your doubt in isolation. Psychologically, you gain so much comfort and can accept for yourself what you’re facing when someone else knows this about you and accepts you and loves you anyway (whether or not they accept the doubt). We all long to be known, and if a huge part of who I am is hidden from everyone, it makes me somehow incomplete. Honest open relationships are very important.
The challenge is that this kind of question and doubt makes people in a church setting very uncomfortable. Christians tend to be closest to their friends in church, but Christians are the same people who tend to have a difficult time responding to another’s doubt. For me, it has been really good to find friends wherever I can (my online community has been HUGE) who know what it’s like and who won’t write me off for asking questions and not finding satisfactory answers.
It is a huge failing of modern evangelicalism that we don’t give people the freedom to mess up or ask questions or work through stuff. We say all the right things, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t handle it well. One reader told me that he would much rather admit before the entire church that he was addicted to porn than that he had doubts.
Joy: Whoa. Really? Wow.
Jason: I got that message the same week a young woman told me she could only read my book with a different book cover on it, lest her family see what she was reading.
I grew up in a community that emphasized not causing someone else to stumble. I really struggled with whether talking about this might drag someone down who doesn’t want to go there. I finally came to terms with it because I figured that the only people who would read my book were people already struggling with doubt. My goal was offer companionship to those people, a way of saying, “Hey, we’re alike, you aren’t alone.”
But I still find it difficult as a parent, as a friend to people with simpler faith, and as a man who has preached. I don’t want to take someone where they don’t want to go. I don’t want to cause you to doubt if you aren’t already, by naming mine.
Joy: If you had the book to write over again, would you do anything different? What have you learned from readers since the book came out? What would you like new readers of the book to know?
I don’t think I would do anything that different. It’s a tough question to answer, because I’ve grown as a writer in the way that I craft my narrative. I suppose I would be less worried about the response today, so I might have been able to push a little farther on some of the things. But it was the book that I needed four years ago. Readers still let me know that they read it and found it freeing, that it was the companion book I wanted it to be.
Thank you so much, Jason, for writing this book and for giving us so much time today.
Now it’s your turn to join the conversation! And when you leave a comment, tweet, and share this interview, you earn entries to win a copy of O Me of Little Faith and Pocket Guide to the Bible: A Little Book About the Big Book. Ask Jason a question. Or, if you have read his book, tell me what your favorite part of the book is. If you haven’t, tell me what your favorite part of the interview was! Giveaway closes at midnight (eastern) on Friday, January 18. I will select a winner Saturday morning.