Overcoming Doubt

My love for music began in middle school. As a rising 6th grader, I joined the middle school band, choosing to play the tuba. Practicing every evening, I became very proficient in the instrument. In fact, my middle school band director insisted that I was on track to become a professional musician if I chose music as a vocational path for my future. My peers recognized my ability as well, looking to me for guidance when the musical scores before us were especially complicated.

Here’s the rub: playing in a group is a different animal than playing as an individual performer. My one-and-only experience as a competitive soloist ended in dismal failure. I was unable to produce a single note on my instrument when performing alone before a panel of judges. Doubt – self-doubt – had overcome me.

Fast forward to 2020, and I still have unsavory encounters with doubt. Sometimes I experience doubt in my professional life, feeling unprepared or ill-equipped to deal with the dynamic nature of my work and the constituents I serve. I have my moments of doubt in marriage, too, not in the quality of the marriage per se, but in my ability to be the type of spouse my wife needs me to be.

These days, my most vexing experiences with doubt occur in my role as a parent to three teenagers. When we collectively confront disagreements, listlessness, and schedule conflicts, we must work diligently to craft and execute good solutions. Occasionally, I doubt my ability to place good solutions on the “table.” I ask myself, “Am I a good parent?.” “Do I know what I’m doing?”

What about you Dad? When and where do you go 15 rounds with doubt? Relationships? Parenting? Work? Maybe your doubt also reaches into the realm of faith. How many times have you asked yourself, “Where is God and all of this?”

The Example of Thomas

I admit that Thomas is my favorite disciple. Oops, I forgot his first name…  “Doubting Thomas.”

I appreciate Thomas because of his authenticity; Thomas isn’t afraid to voice his concerns, offer his objections, and name his doubt. Do you know Thomas’ story? On Easter evening, after news of Jesus’ resurrection has filled the streets of Jerusalem, Jesus appears before the disciples who are still hunkered down in the Upper Room. Showing them His hands, feet, and side, Jesus says to them “Peace be with you.” Jesus then gives the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, preparing them to take on the ministry he will leave behind after ascending to heaven.

But as you may remember, Thomas is absent during this Easter evening appearance. The other disciples tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord, ” but Thomas insists on seeing Jesus in the flesh before he can believe all that has happened. Jesus responds with compassion. He meets Thomas a week later, allowing this disciple to touch the Risen One’s wounded hands, feet, and side.  Jesus’ compassion in the face of Thomas’s doubts will fuel Thomas’s missionary work. Thomas will spend the rest of his life carrying the story of Jesus to those who haven’t heard it. In our own experiences of doubt, we can glean a lot from the story of “doubting Thomas. ”

Name It

Your doubt is not a sign of your weakness. In fact, naming doubt is an act of profound courage. No man wants to admit that a work problem, relationship issue, family challenge, or physical setback is beyond the individual’s ability to cope and overcome. However, some obstacles are beyond our best abilities. Doubting one’s ability is an act of significant self-insight. Naming doubts instead of packing them away deep in the soul, opens the door for the individual to put steps in place to mitigate or overcome the issues that have created doubt in the first place.

In my own recent experience as a parent of teenagers, I voiced my concerns about my parenting acumen to a trusted friend. My honesty – authenticity about my situation – put my friend in the position of providing good parenting counsel from his own perspective. Be honest about your doubts, dad, and be willing to receive support when it is offered.

Learn From It

Jesus told Thomas “blessed are those who believe, yet have not seen.” While interpretations of this statement vary from theologian to theologian, the intent is obvious:  encourage Thomas to trust the important people in his life. In our own experiences of doubt, there are always opportunities to learn more about ourselves, our skills, and the world around us.

Years ago, when I was unable to perform in front of an audience, I discovered that my heightened anxiety often trumped my significant musical ability. Reaching out to trusted mentors, I began to develop skills that I could deploy to diminish my anxiety in the face of challenges. What have you learned about yourself in the face of doubt? Hear this query as an opportunity to grow as a person even in the midst of moments that cause you to question your competence.

Someone is Always Watching

How we handle our doubt as fathers influences how children will work through their own doubt when times of doubt arise. As I’ve said many times before, it is okay – in fact it is important – to be vulnerable in front of your children and your partner. Let them hear you say, “I don’t know if I can handle this by myself.” Let them hear you say, “I’m going to have to ask for help to overcome this challenge.” This important modeling gives your children permission to seek support and guidance when they have their own doubts.

Further, it is vital that you be the kind of father your beloved ones can safely approach when they are struggling with insecurities. Remember, Jesus received Thomas with compassion, not contempt. When they come to you for support in times of doubt, reinforce your beloved one’s abilities, good judgement, and courage.

I haven’t played the tuba with frequency in over two decades. However, I am an active public speaker, “on stage” in front of large and small groups daily. Years and years ago, I discovered that honesty about my “doubts,” made me a much stronger person. What about you? Having doubts about yourself, your performance, your future? Name your doubt, learn from it, and be there for someone else who’s doubting.

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