Faith, Doubt, and My First Car Accident

I can still vividly recall my first car accident.  Especially the part where I totaled my mom’s car.

I was 17, driving my mom’s forest green Dodge Neon to soccer practice.  I had just pulled up to a stop sign in the neighborhood by my high school, waiting and watching the cross traffic, ready to turn left and hoping to not be late to practice.  I saw the oncoming car slow down to make a right turn onto the street I was waiting on, and then I saw that same car lose control, skid straight towards me, and slam into the front of my mom’s car (thankfully no one was hurt—but the damage to the car was extensive enough to declare it totaled.  Yep, that’s right.  I totaled a car by sitting at a stop sign.  What did YOU do when you were a teenage driver?).

After the dust settled and I was back on my way to practice, my hands shook as they gripped the steering wheel.  For the next few weeks, whenever I sat at a stop sign, I eyed every car driving by as a potential wrecking ball bound for impact.

Before that accident, I had never questioned the safety of sitting at a stop sign.  It took a few weeks of safe driving experiences to finally move out of that stage when I suspected any oncoming vehicle of devious means, but eventually life as a teenage driver went back to as safe as could be expected.

It’s been 14 years since that accident.  Thankfully since then my driving safety has suffered little more than two slight accidents where I was rear ended.  Even with those, I experienced some minor PTSD for the next few weeks of irrationally bracing myself when I slowed down, expecting the car behind me to barrel into my bumper.

As I think about life, specifically in regards to faith and doubt, it helps me to think about how I react to car accidents.

I’m going through life thinking everything is fine and then – WHAM – something happens that completely knocks me off base.  Sometimes it is something unexpected, or sometimes it is something expected that fails to deliver and becomes a major disappointment.  Either way, my regular pattern of life gets hammered by a brutal reality check.

Over the course of my life I’ve driven countless hours in a car, and I almost never suffer anxiety about getting rear ended.  In my day-to-day experience of the world, drivers stop when they are supposed to stop.  It’s not until that regular pattern gets disrupted and I have a reason to question my experience, based on this new data of actually getting rear ended, that I’ll experience some sweaty palms and heart palpitations when I get behind the wheel for the next week or so.  But then, after a few weeks of reassuring normalcy that cars indeed will not crash into me on a regular basis, my anxiety subsides and I go back to my normal driving routine.

Let’s think about this now in the context of faith and doubt.  We all have the things in life that we place our faith in.  By the way, I like to define faith as trust in what we have reason to believe is true.  Based on our understanding and experience of the world and this life as we know it, we choose to place our trust and order our lives according to that which we believe to be true.  Faith, I think, is more of a choice about how to order our lives, what we choose to acknowledge as trustworthy, and how we make decisions in line with what we believe, and less of a feeling.

What I’ve observed in my own experience is that I’ll be going through life as usual, with no reason to question or doubt the things I’ve placed my faith in.  Then — WHAM! — the rug gets pulled out from under me.  Tragedy strikes, hopes are crushed, life hasn’t turned out how I thought it would, someone I trust hurts me, or some other life experience happens that makes me question if my way of thinking about the world, and how I’ve trusted certain things to be true, can really be trusted after all.

The question we’re faced with in these moments, as doubt creeps in and we wonder if we can really continue trusting those things we have set our faith in, is how much we let these unexpected moments define our experience of life.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m a much more fickle person than you.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that if we’re honest with what we really think, we all have moments of serious doubt at times.

What, then, are we to make of the tension that exists between faith and doubt?

While I think there is much to be unpacked in that question, I want to focus on one aspect of the relationship between faith and doubt that I’ve been thinking about more lately.  And it’s this:

Doubt is seasonal.

I think it is normal, natural, and actually healthy for our faith to go through seasons of doubt.

For faith to remain vibrant, and for us to not settle into ruts and do things simply for the sake of doing things, we have to constantly remember why we chose to orient our life and follow certain paths to begin with.  Seasons of doubt make us question what we really believe, and out of that is a healthy process of seeking the truth and either reaffirming that which we previously believed in with a renewed faith, or refining our faith and shedding false belief that hindered us from being growing people.

When I was driving during the weeks following a car accident, I questioned the safety of the drivers around me.  Generally speaking, I have faith in the rules of the road, and faith that the other drivers on the road will be following the same set of rules as I am.  I have faith when I’m driving down the freeway that the car next to me will stay in his lane and not drift into mine.  I have faith that cars will stop at red lights and go at green lights.  I have faith that cars will drive on the right side of the road.  We literally could not function as a society and drive our individual vehicles to and from work, soccer practice, dinner parties, and the grocery store if we did not all have faith that other drivers were following the same set of driving rules.   So it’s no wonder that when someone breaks one of the rules, resulting in an accident, that our faith in the safety of driving is shaken.  We panic.  We reevaluate how safe driving really is.  We question if we can trust what we previously trusted.  We wonder if there’s something we could have done differently to prevent the situation.

Maybe my response to these feelings of doubt is to look into buying a safer car.  Maybe I realize I’m not as aware of the other cars around me as I should be.  Maybe I realize my own guilt of being a distracted driver and resolve to change that.  Whatever my response, this disruption of my normal assumed safety is a good cause for self-examination and re-evaluation of what I’ve previously trusted.

However, just because I’ve been in an accident, it doesn’t mean I give up driving all together.  It reminds me that there really are no guarantees of safety in this world and that at any moment things can come crashing in and disrupt my day-to-day routine and experience of life.

Just because my faith has been shaken, just because I’m experiencing doubt, just because I’m questioning God, it doesn’t mean I give up my faith all together.  It reminds me that I live in a very fallen, very broken, very messy world and there really are no guarantees of safety.  It reminds me that at any moment things can completely fall apart, and there literally is nothing I can do to prevent it.

But just because I have doubts, it doesn’t mean I throw away my faith all together.

I’ve found over and over again that in these seasons of doubt, if I run away from God and stop trusting Him altogether, if I run away from my community of faith, I wind up running away from the very answers I’m looking for.

I’m not saying faith should be blind.  I’m not saying that we should just ignore hard questions and pretend everything is ok.  I’m actually a huge advocate of intellectual honesty in our faith.  I’m saying we should give God the benefit of the doubt in these situations and rather than running away, we should lean in even more.

Yes, ask hard questions.  Yes, be honest about how you’re feeling.  But do so as you press into God.  So the rug got pulled out from under you?  Do you think you’ll find the answers you’re looking for apart from God?

In my own experience, I’ve found that even though it’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings, entering into my doubt and not running from my fears has helped bring resolution sooner and grown my faith in significant ways.  Sometimes it hurts like hell, and often things get worse before they get better, but running away from my doubts and questions has never helped at all.

This is one of those sticky, messy areas of faith.  It’s the real life, dirty, gritty, blood-sweat-and-tears part of faith.  The part where I’m very aware of my humanity.  The part where I do a lot of yelling and cussing and crying in my conversations with God.  But it’s also the part where the dark corners of my heart, the places where the hope and love of the gospel haven’t penetrated to yet, get brought to the table and some real breakthroughs happen.  It’s where the most real growth and change happen.

I wish I had more answers.  I wish I could tell you that bad things won’t happen.  But the truth is, sometimes life can really screw with you.  Hard things happen, and we are left with lots of questions.  The point of all this is to say that when you find yourself with those hard questions, that you can take them to God and see what He does with them.  Don’t hide the questions.  Don’t feel guilty about asking them.

I wish I could tell you I know the answers to some of those hard questions.  I wish you had answers for some of mine.  All I know is that every time I hit one of these seasons, God is right there in the thick of it with me.  And the more I’ve learned to lean INTO him rather that away from him, it’s turned out a little bit better.

Remember that it’s a season.  Eventually, after an accident, you get back to a place where you can be on the road without being driven by fear.  Eventually, after a crisis, your faith will stop expecting the worst to happen.  I know that if you’re in a crisis of faith right now, it might not feel like it.  That’s ok.  This is where community is such a beautiful thing because where your faith is weak I can lend you some of mine.

Lean into God.  Lean into your community of faith.  Bring your questions, your heart, your honest self to the table.  Don’t let your fear drive you.  Lean in.  I know you can.

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Author: lauramcopeland

Jesus follower. Coffee consumer. Reluctant runner. Outdoor explorer. Travel opportunist.

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