A sign of weakness or an opportunity to go deeper?
When I talk to young people, there’s almost always some interest in my life story, in the reasons and the desires that led me to choose to become a Jesuit. The conversation usually starts with: “What did you study before? What did you want to do as a grown-up? When did you hear the call?” Once some confidence has built up, the “thorny” questions begin to come up: “What did your family say? Have you ever had a girlfriend?” And, finally, everyone asks that most decisive of question. Some ask directly, others after beating briefly around the bush: “Don’t you want to go back to what you were doing before? Don’t you miss not being able to have a family? Have you found happiness now?” Between the lines, though, the intended meaning of these questions is: “Do you have any doubts about what you’re doing?” and, indirectly, “What do you do when doubts crop up?”
Putting aside clichés and hurried answers, this last question allows me to reflect on my experience. Every step taken – from the choice of University, to the relationships I choose to keep, to the ideas I embrace – constitutes a further step along my path, a building block added to my life. Just when I think, however, that something is certain, things begin failing to add up. There enters a shadow of doubt. The most common attitude when faced with doubt – an experience I often find myself in – is one of fear. Doubt makes us feel that the world that we’ve built up through joys and struggles is about to collapse. All of a sudden, we find ourselves believing we’ve been doing it all wrong. The fundamental values with which I think, a friendship, even my very existence, turn suddenly to quicksand. When we come to considering the religious experience, doubt is often seen as a sign of alienation from God, a temptation. The first reaction, natural even, is that of closing oneself in on one’s own positions. Sometimes, we keep our doubts hidden even from ourselves. Other times, we end up throwing it all to the wind and making that thing we doubt our new point of certainty.
Yet what if, instead of seeing doubt as something negative or as a sign of weakness, we could discern in that doubt itself the opportunity to go deeper? Provided, however, that we muster the courage to face doubt in the face, accept it, welcome it and reflect upon it from within. Doubt may now set us upon a journey of exploration. It wouldn’t simply leave us comfortable in our acquired securities, but would push us into searching for their heart: the real foundation of an opinion; the most authentic reason animating a relationship; the greatest desire moving us towards a choice. Yes, doubt is able to call our certainties into question – in order to give us more solid foundations. As Paolo Pietrangeli wrote in a song of his: “may doubt be thanked for| it never makes us stop | obliging us to change everything every day. […] may doubt be thanked for | it gives us hope | that hope may become reality.” Doubt constrains us to face the truth and free us of false certainties. At the end of this journey, we might find that fixed point which, purified by doubt, has become simple and evident. This new certainty will, truly, be a further step – a firmer step – opening up our lives to untold new perspectives.