I don’t remember how the conversation started. I don’t remember my tone when I asked the question or the circumstances leading up to it, but I don’t think I was being accusatory or deflecting blame that I deserved. I think I was just hurting. I do remember the tone of his response. His barely audible voice. His downward-turned gaze. I can close my eyes today and recall exactly what I was wearing and precisely where I was sitting. White tank top stretched over a pregnant belly. Sitting on my bed facing my husband. I remember the day that I first knew the fear and the longing that I now live with every day.
My question was simple—“What happened?” I saw a difference in him that indicated that something had changed since I fell in love with him at a restaurant the day I met him. It wasn’t his character. He had not become foolish, heartless, or ruthless. He was not giving in to sin or living selfishly. He was not aloof and angry, and he had still never, ever raised his voice at me. He was so wonderful—he was just different. The man who once hungered for scripture hadn’t picked up a Bible in months except to point out verses that contradicted ones our pastor quoted in sermons. He hadn’t asked me how he could pray for me—much less prayed aloud for me the way he had before. He hadn’t asked me about the status of my own heart or what I was gleaning from my personal times of prayer and reflection on scripture. I was okay with our spiritual lives being our own. I didn’t need to pray with him, and I didn’t need us to read scripture aloud together. I didn’t want to confess my sins to him the way I did to God in prayer, and I didn’t expect him to bare the depths of his soul to me, either. But I wanted to see his heart engaged in eternal things, and I wanted him to lead me by example as he sought after God. I wanted him to challenge me in times when my complacency settled in—but he seemed stuck in it himself.
“I have doubts,” he finally said, almost whispering. He reminded me of a time when we were dating when he had experienced similar thoughts. He had casually brought them up in a hope-filled way back then, full of confidence that it was only for a season. I remembered, but that had seemed to resolve within days. This was different. This had been brewing for longer than I wanted to admit. Looking back, I think I had wondered for a while if those old doubts had returned—but I had been scared to ask. Looking at him that day, I knew that this was far more serious than before. He wasn’t complacent in his faith…he just didn’t have any.
I had been gentle before. I had patiently heard his heart and assured him of what he already said he knew to be true—he would get past this. God was big enough for his questions and would return the man I loved to Himself. I had prayed aloud with him. I had cried and prayed alone for him. I had prayed prayers devoid of words because the intensity of my intercession exceeded the expressive ability of language. And then it had ended as quickly as it had begun. This time was different. This time I panicked. I felt cheated. I felt foolish for thinking that the doubts he had told me about before we were married would permanently resolve. I lost it. I wept. “Look at me!” I sobbed, my hands on my protruding abdomen. “I’m pregnant with your child—don’t you think this confession came a little late?”
He looked up and met my wide eyes with his own glassy gaze. “What are you implying?” he asked. My answer was a dagger. “I never would have brought a child into a marriage like this. I never would have even married you in the first place.”
So many women would have loved him better. So many women would have offered him unconditional acceptance and a safe place to explore his doubts and ask questions. So many women would have modeled a steadfast faith and maintained their trust, pointing the way to the Shepherd who would leave ninety-nine sheep to find one wanderer. I did not. I failed.
So often, my successes are preceded by failed attempts. I’m hoping that this is a symptom of youthful immaturity, and that the awareness of the possibility of failure will shake me enough to make it less likely moving forward. Although I fail often, I do not lack insight. I recognize my failures and can almost always eventually identify the faults in me that caused them. When I blame others or deny that there has even been a failure worth discussing, I’m usually only lying to myself—and I’m far too discerning to let that happen for long. I don’t remember how long it took—maybe a few days—but my husband and I reconnected. I knew that I had failed my husband. I knew that I was permanently called to him. I knew that my marriage was headed into a season of yet-undetermined length when my love for my husband would at times depend on a decision I had made more than a year before—not on a feeling, not on promises kept or broken, not even on the foundation that our love had been built upon. I knew that I needed to fix my eyes on Jesus, for my sake and for my husband’s. I needed my savior’s forgiveness and forgiveness from the man I loved for better or for worse. I felt that I received both.
In the beginning, my husband didn’t spend much time sharing his doubts with me. I knew he had them, but it was hard for the conversation to progress beyond “You just have to have faith.” I’m so thankful for his patience with me. I wasn’t shutting him down on purpose—my heart just wasn’t ready to hear his. He recognized that and didn’t want to damage my child-like faith. He was content to explore his doubts without explicitly involving me, as long as he knew he had my love and acceptance no matter what. He did. I prayed for him every day. When he worked late hours at night, I would cry myself to sleep—crying over his doubt, crying over my daily failures to show him Jesus, crying over the life that stirred inside of me—over the fact that her spirit would be born onto a battlefield. One day on a long walk, my favorite Regina Spektor song came on my shuffled playlist. “The Call.” The lyrics haunted me when I heard them for the first time in the movie theater in 2008 at the end of the Prince Caspian movie based on C.S. Lewis’s book—two years before my husband’s confession of paralyzing doubt. Now they spoke to me personally and deeply. I cried yet again. I played the song for my husband in the car later that night, and he cried too. “You’ll come back…no need to say goodbye.” Could this be true for our marriage? Could this be true for my husband’s faith?
Not long after this, our daughter was born. Things seemed better for a while. I know my husband continued to have doubts—but I think I just chose to distract myself with new motherhood and with continued hope that my husband’s story wasn’t over. I didn’t have any answers for him, so we didn’t talk about our faith much at all. I probably avoided the topic out of fear. He probably avoided it to allow me to have peace. It was a year of ignorance and comfort—how often the two accompany each other.
A week before my daughter’s first birthday, a fellow believer claimed to have received a message from God about me that I knew for a fact must have been her imagination (because it was simply incorrect), and this shook me violently. Are we all just seeing what we want to see—what we’re primed to see? Could my faith be so intensely tied to my emotions that I could completely imagine an encounter with God? Could I have imagined all of them? I tried to force the doubt away. I tried to remember every time God had been faithful and convince myself that these times could not have possibly been coincidences or my imagination. But doubt had its foot in the door. Days later, we moved to a new city for my job, and my husband was my only friend for a short season. With the walls of my own faith breached, I began to explore his doubt. With my own faith’s fortifications now many miles away, I began to adopt his questions as my own.
If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know the rest. If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you’ve seen my heart get tossed around in this storm. You’ve seen me doubt the God I loved, and you’ve seen me doubt my doubt (mostly in posts I have since deleted). You’ve seen me resent my husband, and you’ve seen me reaffirm my love for him and commitment to him no matter what—without fear in years of drought. You may have even read his blog, Russell & Pascal, which he coauthors with our dear friend. You’ve seen me adopt an attitude of indifference about leaving faith, and then you’ve seen the truth—the brokenness, the longing that will not let me go. Maybe you didn’t know that was the truth, but it is. If you know me well, you see when my words reflect my true heart and can distinguish this from when my words reflect my mind in its attempt to convince my heart. I’m tired of masking my frailty.
“The Call.” I watched Prince Caspian last night, because I remembered the story being about doubt. I hadn’t watched it since doubt entered my own life, and I wanted to once again experience the story that the song (linked above) was written for. The song still haunts me. So many scenes and lines stood out to me last night. So many of them told my story. A kingdom waits for its hero and despairs at the delay. One child believes and sees, and the others long for some kind of proof. And then there was this scene:
Aslan! I knew it was you. The whole time, I knew it. But the others didn’t believe me.
And why would that stop you from coming to me?
I’m sorry. I was too scared to come alone. Why wouldn’t you show yourself? Why couldn’t you come roaring in and save us like last time?
Things never happen the same way twice, dear one.
Wow. Too scared to come alone. Of course her next two questions are ones I have asked in my own way—so many of us have. But would I accept his answer and come to him if it didn’t seem so lonely? Sometimes I think I might. But the man who matters most to me has reasons for disbelief that I agree with and still don’t have answers to. And a childish longing and memories of intimacy with Jesus aren’t strong enough to negate reasonable doubts. And yet…I swear to you I hear a lion in the woods of my heart, and it’s calling my name. Yes, I want to see the scars that Thomas saw. Yes, I want to sit at his feet like Mary did or lean against his chest the way John did. But maybe things won’t happen the same way twice. Maybe my story is different, and maybe the call is real.
Maybe I’ll come back, even if I have to come alone.
“Now we’re back to the beginning.
It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet.
But just because they can’t feel it too
Doesn’t mean that you have to forget.
Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
Till they’re before your eyes.
You’ll come back when they call you.
No need to say goodbye.”
—“The Call,” by Regina Spektor