Growing up, I loved God. And I loved my church. I could see God at work there, and I could see that I was part of that work, part of the community. And then I got to high school, where I learned about evolution for the first time. Up until this point, I believed evolution was just a fringe theory that a guy named Darwin came up with after spending a little too much time alone with his thoughts on a tropical island. But when I learned about it in biology and religion classes, I was surprised by how strong the evidence for evolution was. And after reading up on it a little more, I ended up deciding that, yeah, I believed in evolution.
Believe it or not, that decision was the easy part. Because once I accepted evolution, I had to figure out where it fit into my faith.
The evolutionary version of the creation story is slow and messy and complicated—a tangled web of species both brought to life and killed off by a series of genetic detours and diversions. I knew God was a scientist just as much as an artist. But this process seemed wasteful and even cruel. Why would God, who is supposed to be all about standing up for the least of these, use a creation process that is based on survival of the fittest, the strongest?
As I struggled to put the pieces together, a thought crept into my head that I had never dared entertain before: What if the reason that none of this seemed to fit together was that there was no God? What if the world as we know it really did just come out of a big bang and natural selection? A world without God terrified me. It was no accident that I had always refused to consider the possibility before. But once I allowed that thought in, I was too scared that it was true to forget about it.
I started to see everything through fear-tinted glasses that magnified the things that said, you’re right to have doubts, and distorted the rest of the picture. I was so afraid of losing my faith that I gave doubt everything it needed to grow in my heart.
I prayed. I read my Bible. But once I put those fear-tinted glasses on, it was like they were permanently adhered to my face. Eventually, something in my prayer or in Scripture would spark a new doubt or a new question I couldn’t answer. And I’d be surrounded by a sea of doubt, clinging to a mustard seed to keep my head above water.
For some people, this would be the part of the story where you confide in someone. Where you face the fact that you’re in the middle of a faith crisis, and you really need help.
But not me. Raising me and my siblings to love and serve God was my mom and dad’s number one goal as parents. I could have told them that I was going to be a teen mom or that I wanted to drop out of high school, that I crashed their car, or that I planned to permanently tattoo tiger stripes on my face. And they probably would have been upset, but eventually, they would have said, Well at least she’s still got her faith.
And it wasn’t just my parents. Everyone around me seemed so sure of God. I didn’t think they would understand my doubts. And more than that, I didn’t want to disappoint them.
Instead, I came up with my own doubt eradication plan. I thought that if I could just manage to put the evolutionary and biblical creation stories together—to answer those questions that started this journey into doubt—the doubt would go away. And then nobody would have to know.
So I started researching. I found science and religion professors from Calvin who wrote about creation from an evolutionary perspective. And I actually read their academic papers in my spare time. As a 17-year-old. Which should give you an idea of how desperate I was for answers.
And in a way, I found answers. I learned that there were theologically sound ways to bring science into the creation story, ways that enriched the story instead of diminishing God’s role in it. And using what I learned, I was able to start rebuilding my creation theology.
What I wasn’t able to do was get rid of my doubts.
Now that I had questioned one part of my faith and discovered there was more to the story, everything seemed to be a little less sturdy. So I started this cycle where I would build this delicate tower of faith up, and then I’d come up with a question I couldn’t account for, and the whole thing would collapse on me. I’d have to rebuild my faith all over again.
This cycle continued into college, and along the way, I covered all the Doubting Thomas greatest hits: Why does God allow suffering? Why does God only answer some prayers? How come Christians don’t seem to act much like Christians?
I was starting to think nothing could break my cycle of faith and doubt when I found this book: Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans (the book has since been retitled Faith Unraveled). The book is about Rachel’s faith crisis. But it could have been written about mine.
There were so many times where Rachel’s words seemed to be coming right out of my own head. I felt like I had finally found someone who understood what I was going through. And in Rachel’s story, I saw hope that I could get past this. A big part of her journey was learning to be okay with the questions—not to stop asking them but to accept that there wouldn’t always be answers.
And ironically, that was the very “answer” I needed to break out of my cycle of doubt. I still had plenty of questions, but I started to realize that those questions don’t mean that my faith is weak; they mean it’s strong. They mean that the tiny little mustard seed of faith I clung to at my weakest point was strong enough to keep me afloat in a sea of doubt.
And although I hadn’t noticed it before, each time my faith had crumbled in the face of a new doubt, God had repaired it with new, stronger fortifications. All that time that I spent evaluating and reevaluating my faith, feeling like I was stuck on a theological hamster wheel, I was actually building the strong, personal theology that I needed before my faith journey could move forward.
Finally, my head, my intellectual faith, was solidly above the water. But after several years of questioning everything about God, spiritually, I was dead. For so long, the closest I got to God was when I was wrestling him. As a result, the only way I knew how to talk to God was in an argument. And now that I had stopped arguing constantly, I didn’t really know what to say. So I didn’t say anything to God at all. I knew I had faith, but my heart was spiritually numb.
That was where things stood until I graduated from college. I was looking for a job, and within the span of two days, two different people sent me the same job posting. The Reformed Church in America (RCA) was looking for a writer and editor. And the job sounded perfect for me. More than anything had in a long time, this felt like a God thing. So I applied, and I was hired.
I think God brought me to this job because I needed the RCA just as much as they needed me. When your work revolves around communicating ministry, half your coworkers are ordained, and prayer, worship, and visits from missionaries are pretty regular occurrences in your workday, you can’t really avoid thinking about God. And at some point, my thinking bled into feeling. It happened so gradually I didn’t notice at first. But between my job and being part of my church, my heart finally started returning God’s calls. And I realized what a big spiritual hole there had been in my life.
I think it was a little like being super sleep deprived. After a while, you forget what you’re like when you get a good night’s sleep. So you’re amazed by how much better you feel and how much more you can give when you finally do get that good night of sleep.
Before I got back that emotional connection with God, my faith seemed incomplete, and I couldn’t figure out why. Today, I can tell you it was because faith isn’t just something you think; it’s something you feel. I’m not trying to say thinking isn’t important—I think it’s essential, too—and I’m also not saying that having faith means you always feel connected to God emotionally. Most of us don’t feel that all the time. And the moments we do feel that closeness often take intentional work—just like any other close relationship you might have.
But I think having that experience of feeling close to God, of knowing you’re loved beyond measure, is what makes us cling so tightly to our mustard seeds. Faith is worth saving because love, the greatest love of all, is priceless. And it’s only through our faith in that great love of God, that great grace of God, that we can truly be whole.