Brianna Casey, Senior
One Sunday evening early this semester, after a particularly demanding week, I stepped into the Lewis chapel to join my community for mass. I felt emotionally and spiritually drained, which was probably much of the reason I felt that my heart wasn’t fully “with” what was happening in front of me. Over the past several days, I had been struggling with intensified feelings of uncertainty regarding my faith. As I listened to the scripture passages, I began to feel the all-too familiar pangs of doubt. What if we’re wrong? How can I be certain what I believe is actually true? I was frustrated—somehow, the reasons and experiences I had previously used to give rationale to my faith seemed suddenly insufficient, and at that moment I didn’t know what I believed. Still, I dropped to my knees during the Preparation hymn, and I prayed—not to be given the answers, but for God to free me from my anxiety and reaffirm my trust in Him. Instantly, I felt a wave of peace wash over me like cleansing water. In that moment, I was reminded of the awesome power of God to transform hearts and release those who turn to Him from the crushing weight of uncertainty. My questions still remained, but I was able to perceive them with new eyes, without the paralyzing anxiety that had accompanied them only a few moments prior.
Doubt, of course, is not something confined to our understanding of the nature of God. We can experience uncertainty when discerning our vocation, career, or any decision that affects our lives. Although as I’ve journeyed through my four years at Notre Dame I’ve become increasingly certain that my calling lies in a career in medicine, I must admit that I still have doubts, as terrifying as that can be. Yet, what keeps me moving forward is trust in the notion that what matters is not so much what we do but the person we become, and I believe that by remaining receptive to Christ we can allow Him to work through our lives in amazing ways, regardless of our particular profession.
I’ve known many people in my life who don’t adhere to any type of religion because of their doubts. They think there may be some validity to believing in God, but they aren’t quite sure, so they don’t want to fully open themselves to the possibility just yet. But I would argue the only way to combat this uncertainty is to take the initial step and enter into a relationship with God. If, when faced with any other decision in our lives we acted only when we were absolutely certain, it is unlikely we would accomplish much of anything or leave room for personal growth. Just as you can’t know if you truly want to be a doctor until you begin to follow the path of medicine and discern as you go, it is impossible to come to know God apart from God. We need to be willing to trust despite our uncertainties and at the same time present our doubts to God in prayer and allow Him to work through them.
I’ve encountered moments of uncertainty regarding both my faith and my vocational path time and time again. Yet I’ve come to see these periods not as failures but as an opportunity to grow. Consider this—each of us carries a unique personal philosophy and a particular representation of the world. When we have an experience that doesn’t fit neatly into our paradigm, we have the option to either reject it or alter our philosophy to accommodate it. This is the reason why we can be so sure of our beliefs at one point and be overcome with doubt later on. New experiences require us to reach a new equilibrium, and it is in this way that uncertainty allows us to break down our prior understanding of God and build a more perfect one. Thus, experiencing doubt doesn’t make our faith weak; rather, it can actually serve to strengthen our beliefs and challenge our faith to reach a new level.
To all those reading this today who are experiencing doubt in any aspect of their lives: do not despair. But also, don’t try to overcome your uncertainty alone. I encourage you to take your fears and inhibitions to prayer, asking God to transform your heart and grant you clarity of mind. I won’t promise the answers will come all at once. But I do hope you will be able to find peace and deepen your understanding of what is True. It begins with trust, and trust strengthened by prayer.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.