Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
What does it mean to have faith? Growing up, this verse in Hebrews comforted me to have confidence even when I’m not sure of what I’m even confident about.
Working with teenagers means that you are working with doubt, and most teenagers feel like their doubt has no place in faith. The church I grew up in told me that my doubts were normal, but that I also needed to “give my doubts to God.”
That statement basically told me, “Doubts are normal, but good Christians don’t have them.”
But as I read that verse in Hebrews, I’m comforted. The author says that faith is (1) Confidence that what we hope for will actually happen and (2) Assurance about the things we cannot see. Other versions say that we are convicted.
Put together, faith is simply when the acknowledgment of doubt convinces us to press on.
This year I added to our Confirmation experience for students to write a Statement of Faith. We had talked about doubts back in October in my favorite lesson of the year. As I studied Statements of Faith, I encountered this article by Fuller Youth Institute:
Another church from one of our Sticky Faith Cohorts is working hard to create space for doubt in the midst of its Confirmation program. At the conclusion of the six-month process, most students write a statement of faith. Last year one student felt safe enough to write a “Statement of Doubt” instead. This allowed her to share openly with the community that her own journey of faith wasn’t yet at the place of trusting Christ. Several months later, she came to the point where she had wrestled through her doubts and decided to be baptized as an expression of her newfound trust. Alongside her were several adults who had supported her, prayed for her, and walked with her through her valley of doubt to the other side of faith.
I talked about the possibility of doing this project with our Family Ministries Pastor, and I shared my doubts with him: that if I talked about doubts with our students, they would only come to realization that they doubt a whole hell of a lot (literally. hell is a huge doubt for all of us).
But he encouraged me to give this a go.
I’m so thankful to work at a church that says both “We believe” and I believe,” meaning that we have a faith that is both universal and connected by tradition, but also that is very personal and varies from our neighbors.
I knew that I wanted to give students space to write their doubts, so I launched the “Statement of Faith & Doubt” project. Here were the steps:
Introducing the Concept
On the day of Confirmation that I introduced the project, I had students take different creeds that I printed out for them, and in groups underline the statements they agree with, and cross out the statements they weren’t so sure about. We had them write a few of the statements on a large piece of butcher paper I had on the wall.
I shared about how when I was in high school, I would always skip saying the part of the Apostle’s Creed where it says Jesus “ascended to the dead.” I thought it was creepy, and I didn’t like it. So I didn’t say it. I shared about how sometimes we don’t like the things in the Bible, or we share different beliefs from others–and that’s okay.
The Project Itself
Students would, on their own, look in the back of the UMC hymnal at the section where it says “Affirmations of Faith.” There is listed a handful of creeds and statements of faith. They would write down 8 statements they agreed with, and 2 statements they didn’t.
Students would bring these Statements of Faith & Doubt to their small groups on a designated Sunday to discuss.
We sent this home with Confirmands to give to their parents with ways for Parents to plug in. Parents and mentors had questions to discuss with students about these projects on their own time.
Small groups shared these statements of faith and talked about how doubt plays a crucial role in faith. I gave them the following small group questions:
- Was it difficult to choose things you believed in? What about the things you doubted?
- What’s the difference between faith and doubt?
- Read Hebrews 1:1-3 together. How does doubt have a place in our faith?
- Have confirmands look at their statements. Do you think that there are some things that you aren’t allowed to doubt? Like, can you doubt the virgin birth and still be a Christian?
There were a lot of commonalities in their statements–every single person doubts or dislikes the judgement of sinners. But there were also some unique statements. Here are some of those. Some are funny, others remind me of the life stage middle schoolers are in, and some convict me of what I believe now.
Statements of Faith…
- Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. (I don’t understand why they underlined virgin, but I found it amusing
wasis God’s son.
- We commit ourselves to the right of…and people with disabilities. (Loved this, since her older brother has a disability)
- Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.
- For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
- We are not alone. (Yes, middle schooler.)
- Great indeed is the mystery of the Gospel. Amen.
Statements of Doubt (Don’t believe / Not sure about / Don’t understand / Confusing)…
- And in Jesus Christ his only Son. “I have always been taught that we are God’s children and this sentence contradicts that. It says that he only has one son instead of us being his children.”
- He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. “What is under Pontius Pilate?” “What is a Pontius Pilate?” “When reading John, I found that Pilate didn’t care, it was the people that crucified him.” (That last one made my HEART. MELT.)
- He shall come to join the living and the dead
- We look for the resurrection of the dead
- We believe for the forgiveness of sins
- Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine…?
- …where we are all brothers and sisters
- Proclaimed among the nations
- One Catholic church
- You have to be baptized to go to heaven
- That he was put in a grave. “Wrong! He was buried in a tomb.”
- That God was conceived by the Holy Spirit. “What does conceived mean?”
Last, I had two people who ignored the Creeds and made their own Statement of Faith and Doubt. This one was precious:
I believe in God,
that the thoughts in my head are sent from him
I believe he creates feelings of love
but for others, feelings of hate
I believe he puts pain onto others
but he usually spreads love
I believe that he first expected we’d sin
but not this much
I know what he expects,
and that he can only take sin in reasonable doses
I know he’s holy
I know he does love
but I believe,
after so many sins – We get a bad memory in life
He is trying to make us learn,
We just have to accept it
This project is risky–when we talk about doubt, we get vulnerable. We admit that we don’t know everything. We have to say out loud things that we don’t think we are allowed to say.
But it is rewarding–because if we can’t admit out loud our doubts to one another, then we’ll never be able to face them on our own. I noticed on a few papers that as small groups shared their doubts with one another, a few students crossed theirs out because they reconciled them just by talking about them out loud.
And that’s what it’s all about, really.