What do you say when a friend tells you that they are struggling with doubt? Do you encourage them, or do you pressure them? Do your words help them, or do they add frustration? Over the past few weeks I’ve written about how to handle doubt if you are dealing with it yourself. But before setting this topic aside, I think it is also necessary to say something about how to help your friends who struggle with doubt!
As one who has struggled myself, I have to say that finding help in the body of Christ can be tough. Not everyone understands. Not everyone will tolerate you if you open up about your doubt and ask hard questions. Friends, this isn’t helpful. So, before we move on, let me mention a few things not to do when a friend or family member struggles with doubt.
- Don’t say “just believe”. For those who “just believe” themselves, doubt is a strange thing that they don’t understand. For them it is as simple as just believing, but for those who struggle with hard questions, it isn’t! Telling someone to “just believe” doesn’t help. A better response is to listen to them and try to understand what concerns them. Even if you don’t know how to resolve the problem that they raise, just listening can help them. For me, there was something important in knowing that my closest friends listened and understood what was bothering me.
- Don’t treat the person who struggles as immoral. Everyone I know who struggles with doubt will say the same thing. Opening up about your doubt around people in the church is scary. Unfortunately, people who do open up, can be treated like someone bearing the scarlet letter. Doubters can be treated as immoral. Be careful here. Remember, most of the people that struggle with doubt don’t want to. They want to believe. They want to rest. Most of them would say, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Don’t treat them like they are immoral. Love them and do your best to help them.
- Don’t try to argue, especially if you don’t know how to handle the tough questions. This has been extremely frustrating and unhelpful for me. Sometimes brothers and sisters try to help by arguing with you. But in many cases, they try to argue without any knowledge of the issues. It’s OK if you don’t know how to answer the questions. But if you don’t, don’t fake it. Just listen and be a friend.
- Don’t pressure. This is particularly hard to avoid, but important to remember nonetheless. We have to remember that for some who struggle with doubt, it takes time and patience. The process is not always quick, and when it’s not, we have to allow the space for our friends to process things. Adding pressure only makes it worse.
- Don’t gossip. And whatever you do, don’t talk poorly about your friends and fellow brothers or sisters who struggle with doubt. They need love, support, and encouragement from the body of Christ. The church is the one place they need most during this time. Let’s work hard to make it a place they feel welcome, not just to attend, but also to talk.
You may not struggle with doubt. If not, praise God! But remember that you probably know someone that does. And if so, let’s work hard to be faithful to them.
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