It is my intention to take a serious look at an issue that at first glance may not seem to be in order during the week just before Christmas. This is supposed to be a period of anticipation and celebration for those of us who proclaim the glory of Jesus Christ. However there are those for whom this is not a period of great joy.
There are those who are suffering through personal tragedies, deaths and disappointments. So widespread is this concern for those who suffer at what should be a happy time of the year that many churches have created what is known as a Blue Christmas service. In this way, they are able to minister to those in their flocks who are battling the demons of doubt.
It is easy to overlook those who are not as fortunate as the rest of us. We become so wrapped around the wheel of gifts and parties that we forget the doubts and uncertainty that many face.
Think about it my friends. Was not the first Christmas filled with uncertainty? Mary was expecting and there was no room at the inn. Joseph was not sure what to do. Where were his pregnant wife and he to spend the night? Why was all of this happening to him? As you might imagine, he was a man full of doubts.
It is my guess that Joseph was a man who was able to speak persuasively. How else was it that he managed to talk the innkeeper out of some space in the stable? So it was that his doubts as to where his family would spend the night were overcome in Bethlehem that night. Of course we all know that he had a great deal of divine guidance from above. Then again my friends the same help is available to each of us. Nonetheless, doubt has existed through the ages and it persists to this day. I believe that is a natural human response to the pressures and uncertainties of life. Just imagine how tough it must have been for Moses as he led his people through the wilderness. I have to think that there were periods when Moses was consumed by doubt.
There also had to be the usual array of naysayers in the ranks of his followers. People like this have been around for eons. These would be the Biblical equivalent of those people whom you have met in life who exist via the mechanism of 20-20 hindsight. These would be the ones who kept telling everyone that Moses was full of it, and that there was no such place as the Promised Land. Fortunately for us all Moses overcame his doubt and persevered.
I do not know about you, but many have been the times in my life when the outcome of a given endeavor was in doubt. The outcome could have gone either way, and the doubts and pressures assailed my very being.
It has to have been the same for you my friends. We are all members of the human family and travel the face of the same earth. The same can be said about those times when we faced a situation that challenged our abilities and capabilities. If we had kept counsel with our doubts and fears, we never would have achieved what we have in this life.
Perhaps it was Ben Franklin who best stated the matter of certainty in life. He had a real way with words. Writing to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789 he stated his feelings on this topic in a most memorable way.
He wrote the following: "Our new constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." How true indeed his words seem from a perspective of more than 200 years experience.
Unfortunately, doubt is as much a part of life as is breathing, drinking, and eating.
What then might the causes of doubt be? I would suggest that doubt arises from the following:
- Questions about ourselves and our expectations
- Questions about our skills
- Quips and cracks from other people
- Outright, unjustified criticism about what we have done and the manner in which we have done something
Doubt is a part of life my friends. There is no getting away from it. Much like the topic of waiting that I wrote about last week, doubt is something we must face each and every day of our lives. Sadly, doubt can have a devastating effect upon each and every one of our lives.
It can eat away at our confidence. It can paralyze us and leave us to be devastated by the winds of change as they swirl around us. My friends, I would suggest that doubt often creates the high walls which surround the valley of the shadow of death through which we so often have to pass in the fire service.
Doubt is one of the most easily induced problems we must face in life. It can come upon us slowly, or it can burst upon the scene with explosive speed. One of the great dangers comes from the fact that doubt occurs within the fragile confines of our minds.
Doubt and courage are two closely aligned human responses to life. They are so intimately intertwined that you may often bounce back and forth between them much like a shuttlecock bouncing between badminton rackets. It is up to you to make the proper choice.
Usually doubt arises in response to issues with ones expectations. How many of you can recall be told by your parents to aim high in life? My Dad told me to set high goals and work hard. This is of course good advice. I am certain that many of your parents shared the same thought with you.
In line with this, I cannot imagine any parent telling a child to set their sights low and expect a great deal of crap from life. What few parents are willing to share with their offspring is that by setting your sights high, you are also setting high expectations for yourself. More than that, you are creating a higher potential for doubt to creep into your mind.
Having failed to tell their children this, they have done their children a slight disservice. What they might better have said goes something like this.
- Set high goals for yourself.
- Expect pressure to perform at those higher levels.
- Be warned that you may not reach every goal you set.
There is a strong positive aspect to setting high standards my friends. Even if you fail to achieve the heights you set, the fall off from your target should leave you at a higher level than if you set lower goals for yourself. By failing to share this little bit of sidebar information with our families and our fellow travelers, we fail to prepare them to expect doubt.
What you expect from life and what life dishes out to you are a great example of how doubt comes into our lives. Some of us think that we are better at something than we really are. When we try and do not perform as well as we should, doubt begins to creep into our psyche. There is a danger at work in this scenario.
Let me assure you that danger such as this lurks everywhere. One of the great dangers each of us faces arises from underestimating the effort needed to succeed in life. We see others who reach the top of their professions with seeming ease and then come to expect that for ourselves. That creates the danger of setting unreasonable expectations.
If you were honest with yourself, you would see that the other person who seems to succeed with ease had to work to get where they are. We often see only the success. We are not able to look more closely into the successful person's life and observe the day-in and day-out drudgery that was required to succeed.
In this case you might fall victim to the green-eyed monster of jealousy. Not knowing how hard that person worked, you set too-high expectations for yourself. These are expectations that you can never realistically reach. Hence, by not knowing yourself, and overestimating your capabilities, you set yourself up for doubt and frustration.
Perhaps the hardest lesson that life holds for each of us is really quite simple. You will not get everything you want. You will end up getting what you get. The hard part of life is learning to settle. Some people never do come to grips with this and thus spend a life fraught with frustration and doubt.
How often have you read my words on the need for patience in the living of your lives? The concept of persistence is an able sidekick to the servant of patience. Sometimes the best you can do is to keep soldiering on in the face of life's challenges.
There are a number of ways in which you can attempt to get ready to battle life's doubts. Here is a short list:
- Set reasonable expectations.
- Know that you will not get every thing you want.
- Be glad with what you get.
- Keep trying
These are the ways which I offer to you for facing doubt. In the end, my advice to you is really quite simple. Sometimes you just have to be tough. As my late Father taught me a long time ago, "