Alissa and I found each other via Instagram. She liked one of my photos and I was drawn to her profile, where I discovered her blog, Doubters Anonymous. Intrigued and excited to find someone else creating a community, an open forum of support, around belief - or disbelief - in God, spirituality, church, and religion, I was drawn into the stories of doubt and questioning, and I found pieces of myself in each one.
This is why we do what we do: We want you to know you are not alone in your doubts, with your questions and fear and shame and guilt. We want you to know we've been there, too. We may not have answers for you, but we will absolutely be here for you to rant, to cry, to talk through anything you need to process. It's hard changing your belief system. We get that. I am available to you through this blog, social media and email, and there is an entire community for you to join and find support, as I have. Spend some time reading through the stories on Doubters Anonymous, and then head over to Facebook and join the group. I promise you'll be welcomed and encouraged. I promise you'll stop feeling like you have brave it alone.
We've all been there, and some of us aren't afraid to admit it - or talk about it.
Responses by Alissa BC
How did the Doubters Anonymous community get started?
A couple friends and I had an interest in reading Rob Bell's Love Wins and decided to get together weekly for breakfast to discuss it. I think the book was really a guise though, because we ended up just talking about our doubts and questions for several months and never even got to reading the book.
It was a really healing time for all three of us. We came from the same faith community but hadn't known we were all struggling with the same things. Finding each other kind of gave us permission to move forward and wrestle through things that we had been fearful of before. One of my friends started calling our meetings Doubters Anonymous in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way, and soon after I started feeling really compelled to open up this space for more people. I figured if we had just happened upon each other in the same small circle, there must be a lot more of us out there who could use something like this.
I started a local support group in our area as well as an online group on the side. The local group was good, but kind of petered out after a few months, while the online group kept thriving. It's been two and a half years since we started the online space now and a lot of the people who started in the group are in totally different places faith-wise than when we began. At first, most of us just needed permission to even have doubts and questions. Now it is more of a place where we can freely explore life and spirituality outside the confines of religion as we were taught it, if that is where we are led.
None of our stories are exactly the same, but we've kind of been through a lot together, and for many of us the group has been the only truly safe place we've had while working through faith, spirituality, beliefs, etc. That lends a kind of intimacy and understanding to the space that I really value, and which has been super helpful as we've grown. I just really love the hell (pun intended, I guess) out of the whole community. I am regularly blown away by their compassion and strength and vulnerability. They are quick to comfort and welcome each other, slow to judge. A lot of them could be really bitter towards systems and people who hurt them, and we definitely make space for those very valid feelings, but more often than not they are expressing understanding, tolerance, and humility, even as they boldly work through exactly how and why their church experience was unhealthy or harmful. It's just a great place for healing and health and moving forward, that I'm proud to be a part of. I sound like a gushy mom now, but whatever, the community has taught me a ton and I'm grateful.
What do you believe, and why?
A lot less than I used to. I believe in mystery, love, kindness, paradox, the inherent goodness of humanity and creation, the reality of brokenness in the world, the hope for redemption, our potential to heal ourselves and each other. I do believe in God, or more specifically a divine something that ignited the universe, and I do still identify as a Christian, because, though my faith has changed drastically in the past several years, I still find much meaning in many of the traditions and stories. I like to call Christianity my mother tongue. It's a part of me. There is a whole lot of it that I have shed, painfully. But there are parts that I still find intriguing and comforting and right for me; Jesus is still a compelling figure.
How did you discover your beliefs?
It's kind of like that saying about sculpture, that you don't build it, you just chip away everything that's not it until it emerges. I was definitely handed a very specific belief system, but in my early 20s it just stopped working for me. I couldn't find meaning or even mental health within it. So I finally gave myself permission to start chipping away and I didn't stop until I got down to a place that felt true and authentic. All the stuff that remained at the center is what I can comfortably say I believe. It feels really great actually, to believe something because I choose to, not because someone else told me I have to to be good, right, or saved.
How do you interact with your beliefs?
Well, very cautiously I suppose. I try not to expect anything from them. In the past I have felt like faith was a formula, where if I believe this, then I must receive these spiritual goodies in return. That really came back to bite me when the formula stopped working and everything fell apart. Now I try to hold my beliefs a little more loosely and adopt spiritual practices that make me feel whole. If it gives me meaning and peace, if it makes me healthier and more able to love myself and others, that's enough. It doesn't have to be sanctioned or proven or biblical or whatever. It just has to work for me for as long as I need it. For me that often looks like nature, yoga, art journaling, spiritual conversations, reading, exploring ideas, interacting with my friends and family, resting, meditation, and on and on. I don't pray in the traditional way anymore, but I see these practices as a form of prayer.
What do you do when you doubt your beliefs?
It's funny. I used to see doubt as such a threat. That's how I was taught to see it. If I couldn't convince myself to believe the right things in the right way then I must not be a true believer, and then if it all was true, I would go to hell. It put me in a very vicious and unhealthy cycle for years. But now doubt is one of my most cherished beliefs. Now, in this stripped down version of my faith, any moment in which I wonder about the truth of the things I choose to believe, is a moment that opens me up to the experience of Mystery, which is perhaps the closest thing I have to a relationship with God now. Being able to honestly confront my beliefs and realizing I don't (and may never) know for sure has actually turned into a very positive experience for me. I get to meet wonder and playfulness and humility and connectedness and openness and a thousand other meaningful things there. Not knowing has been a doorway to some of the best, most freeing and healing experiences in my life, so I guess you could say I've gotten very comfy with doubt.
Join Alissa and myself, and community of doubters, at Doubters Anonymous.
To read more My Discovery Process submissions, you can find them here.