faith, memories

The seed of doubt

October 15, 2013
The Seed of Doubt - how my parents gave me the gift of doubt, and I am grateful for it. // Fiona Lynne

I grew up on fire for God. I also grew up in a church where my parents didn’t really agree with the Vicar. Sunday lunches became a regular opportunity to unpick the service moment by moment, examine the theology, question the format and style of the service. It was perhaps a little over the top.

But I credit those Sunday lunch debriefs for my ability today to hold faith and doubt together without panicking and throwing it all away.

Our family was actively Christian. We went to church every Sunday, my parents hosted a bible study in their homes and an after-school club for children. Each Easter was spent without fail at Spring Harvest, and as soon as I was old enough I was dispatched with my sleeping bag and oodles of excitement for the annual summer Christian camp where I’d dance and sing and raise hands.

I was entirely immersed in this Christian world and happy to be so.

I read biographies of Christians who’d gone to distant lands to do amazing and miraculous things. I had one of those long ribbons on a stick for doing awkward interpretive Christian dances in church. My music collection was full of DC Talk and Phatfish and Rebecca St James. I went forward to be “saved” multiple times at multiple events. Our youth group once created a massive banner saying “Heaven or Hell? It’s your choice” to hang outside the church for one of our youth events. I went on my first missions trip to France when I was fourteen and another to Trinidad when I was sixteen.

It was wonderful and weird. Many of my memories of my life from those years are happy ones that I remember fondly. Others make me cringe with shame to remember them.

But Oxfordshire is not the US Bible Belt, and there was a healthy dose of cynicism and doubt around the kitchen table. And of my school year of 150 students, just four admitted to being Christian. The rest looked sideways at me with suspicion if I so much as mentioned Jesus.

So I listened as much to Westlife and Stereophonics and Moby as I did my Christian albums. I went to house parties with my friends and got wonderfully tipsy on Bacardi Breezers and Smirnoff Ice. I kissed a boy in a dark room on New Year’s Eve. I cancelled my subscription to the US Christian girl’s magazine Brio when I judged it had become too fundamentalist in favour of reading the Saturday Times Magazine. And when I got to Uni, I joined the non-religious student advocacy society rather than the Christian version, because it felt a bit dumb to try and campaign against sweat shops with only a tiny percentage of the student body.

In the midst of all the parties and music and summer camps, I was figuring out what my own faith would look like. I was examining each part of my parents’ faith, my church’s faith, my school friends’ lack of religious faith – and wondering what I wanted to keep. Which parts were real? And most importantly, what of all of this was life-giving? Because that’s the part I wanted.

I was on fire for God but a seed of doubt had been planted and I am so grateful for that seed.

I’m grateful that it allowed me the empathy and perception to see how much harm we can inflict in the name of religion. I’m grateful that it gave me the cynicism to ask whether sex really was the most important issue we should be fighting against (it’s not). I’m grateful it burst the Christian bubble I was sometimes in danger of living in, to experience and understand the wealth of love and knowledge in the world. I’m grateful it gave me language for questioning and wondering and imagining a truth bigger than the one I can conceive of.

Mostly I’m grateful because my doubt taught me that faith is a journey, not a destination. And faith and doubt are never mutually exclusive. I hold them both in my hands each day, tenderly, with great affection, because they inform each other, they stretch each other, and they keep me searching for the One Great Love that my heart desires most of all.


Addie Zierman’s memoir, When We Were On Fire, releases today and I’m planning on downloading it to my reader just as soon as I can remember the password for my account. This is my contribution to her synchroblog today.

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  • Lara

    I think you have just written out in beautiful words what I have been living since university years.. I have the same approach for faith and doubt and looking for that one great love too. My usual response to those suspicious looking faces when I mention God is that It would be too sad if God did not exist, so I choose to take the bet on it 🙂

    • fionalynne

      Lara, I love seeing your name here. Miss getting to have these conversations in person! Yes, it’s about that leap to faith, isn’t it xx

  • Brio!

    • fionalynne

      Clearly a conversation we need to have soon… 😉

  • Anneke

    *love* this.

  • Mum

    I’ve always believed in recognising the difference between God who is perfect and holy and the church which is a bunch of incompatible sinners (including me!) each saved by God but with an incomplete understanding of the whole truth. We love God because of what he is and we try to love the church despite what it is!

    The church can sometimes be a self contained bubble where we think it is necessary to be a superhero to please God. And yet, as we grow up, most of us end up not being superheros. We have ordinary secular jobs (eg accountancy!), children and elderly relatives to care for, chores to do and we still think that the only thing that is important is the “church stuff” that we do – like bible studies, sunday school teaching, preaching or the coffee rota. For many there is a sense of failure – “why am I not doing something important for God’s Kingdom? Am I living a second-class Christian life of not really doing anything for God? What happened to my youth on fire for Jesus?”

    Oswald Chambers once wrote: “It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people.”

    Once we know it is more important to be exceptional as a consequence of our relationship with Him wherever life takes us we reacquire our purpose for God. To God what matters is how you live here and now.

    • fionalynne

      This. This is why you need to get out of my comments and into a blog of your own, mama. xxx

    • Hannah

      I second Fiona.

  • Wow! I can certainly relate – and I absolutely loved your last paragraph. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am loving reading all of the While We Were on Fire link ups!

    • fionalynne

      Thanks for being here! I know, I’m having so many “you too?” moments today!

  • a journey, not a destination.

    that’s so true for me right now. i’m thrashing, a strange wrestling between me and the Most High, and it’s a long journey. and I’m very battered and very bruised right now, but He’s still there. this is so fitting for my soul right now.

    yes. oh, oh yes.

    • fionalynne

      Thrashing can be a painful but beautiful part of the journey. I think of Jacob wrestling with God and refusing to let go of him, even if all he had was an ankle. Love to you in the place you’re in. x

  • Your story reminds me quite a bit of my own. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to experience doubt, and to learn firsthand that doubt and faith can co-exist. My youth church experience, however, has made it hard for me to ever fully re-enter the church. I’m still floating at its margins, trying to understand how exactly to be a member of the body. Glad I can journey with others here in the blogosphere! 🙂

  • “But Oxfordshire is not the US Bible Belt, and there was a healthy dose of cynicism and doubt around the kitchen table.” This is fascinating, getting a glimpse into what being “on fire” was like outside the U.S. (Unfortunately, we Americans can tend to think we have the market on evangelical experiences…ugh.) I love this perspective: that you learned to sort out faith and doubt right there with your parents at the kitchen table. Thanks for sharing, Fiona!

    P.S. Brio magazine! Oh. My. Gosh. I once submitted a story to Brio magazine, only to have it published years later, after I was very, very cynical about evangelical culture.

  • My dear Fiona,
    I love seeing a few more connections we have. I am thankful that you had that seed of doubt. That is something that I acquired a little later.

    • fionalynne

      So much to talk about. We’re going to need hours!

  • Narola

    Your writing is captivating Fiona. And what response on this topic. Through my journey past and present questioning, sometimes grappling with God for perspective with some anguishing along the way thrown in there, I like to remember that:
    “We never need shout across the spaces to an absent God, He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts” AW Tozer
    Thanks as usual for your thought provoking entries.

    • fionalynne

      Oh I love that quote, what a good thought that is. Thanks for being here, friend xx

  • “I was on fire for God but a seed of doubt had been planted and I am so grateful for that seed.” YES. So beautiful friend. Thank you for sharing.

    • fionalynne

      Thank YOU – I started the book yesterday and it’s so good. So many underlines and “you too?” moments already x

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  • Liz

    When I saw that you participated in Addie’s synchroblog I thought I should invite you to participate in a monthly synchroblog that I am a part of.

    It’s made up of a home-grown group of bloggers who like to write on topics of post-modern faith & life. This group is open to anyone who is interested in participating. We value respectful conversation and dialogue while honoring our differences. We share links & try to learn from each other.

    Some of the people that originally participated in the synchroblog no longer blog and I am trying to reach out to people like you who are currently passionate about blogging in order to keep our monthly synchroblog relevant and vital.

    If you are interested in joining us you can join the facebook group and receive monthly invitations to the synchroblog. Here is that link:

    And you can find our website (which you can subscribe to if you want to receive an email when we post the monthly theme announcement/invitation) here:

    (You can see all of the themes that we have covered in the past on our website in order to get an idea of what we do)

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