During Advent this year, I will be reflecting daily using this Advent Photo Devotional. The word designated for yesterday, December 11th was #Promise, and the word for today, December 12th is #Doubt.
I am going to do something a little out of the norm with this post. I am going to give you a two-for-one, with two pictures. I am doing this because for me, these two concepts, promise and doubt, are interrelated.
I must admit that I am thinking about my Dad today for a couple of reasons. First, it’s his birthday and I’m glad that I was able to talk with him this morning to celebrate it. Second, I am thinking about my Dad because few people I know, really seem to believe and articulate the idea of promise better than he does.
Shortly after seminary I was pretty down about what I would be doing after spending about 20 straight years of my life in a classroom. I had lots of great conversations about potential roles, and great ideas and discussions with key leaders, but seemingly no sustainable opportunities emerged for me. When I was at my wit’s end in doubt, a state that I was fairly unfamiliar with, it was my Dad, who was there on the phone to talk me through my emotions and questions.
Dad listened and encouraged. He didn’t try and solve anything for me. He always was there to edit every application or tweak my resume. He was also the one who helped encourage me to explore what it might look to be more of an entrepreneur, carving my own path. He helped when asked, but allowed me to figure it out for myself. I needed that, and am grateful for that experience. Looking back, I don’t think I would change a thing. The conversations I had, and continue to have, have made me so much richer as a person and as a connected part of the worlds that I am in.
What my Dad did too, was to help me put my beliefs in perspective. He reminded me of my theological ideas that I had previously articulated in my thesis for example as a way to say, “yes, doubt is natural, but don’t forget the promises that you have.”
When I was writing my thesis in seminary, my professors helped me consider an understanding of neighbor love built out of a “promising theology.” This means basically that we believe in a God of promises, a God who makes promises and values them as part of God’s relationship with creation. It’s these promises- of relationship, hope, everlasting life, love, etc., that make it possible for God’s creation (and us, as humanity) to be in relationship with each other. God promises that we are God’s people.
One of my favorite passages is Isaiah 43:1-7. It is a passage that richly articulates the promises of God that help us overcome or at least face our doubts and fears.
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are my precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, ‘Give them up,’ and to the south, ‘Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth- everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” – Isaiah 43:1-7, NRSV.
God is with us- the God who created and calls us by name. That’s a promise, and it’s one we all need to be reminded of often.
Who has helped you when you faced doubt? What helps you remember God’s promises?
When I was in my midst of doubt, it was my Dad who reminded me of God’s promises. I am excited to see Dad in person soon. But for today, Dad, know how proud of and grateful I am for you. Most importantly, I love you and give thanks for you every day. Thank you Dad! You mean more than I will probably be able to ever tell you, but for today I hope this is enough, Happy Birthday!