Are you (or someone you know) going through a season of spiritual doubt? I highly recommend you pick up Andrea Palplant Dilley’s new memoir, Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt.
In our interview Andrea shares how we can navigate seasons of intense doubt; how we can support others who struggle with doubt; and how doubts can ultimately lead to a stronger and more vital faith. -Adam Forrest, Zondervan
ZBLOG: Your book title is Faith and Other Flat Tires, so I have to ask: How is faith like a flat tire?
ANDREA: Faith—at least my experience of faith—is fragile. It’s flawed and breakable. I don’t think I’m alone in my experience, either. Many of us go through phases in our spiritual life where that “faith tire” that was moving us along the road at a strong, fast clip seems to go flat suddenly and leave us stranded. We need help. We need fresh air, so to speak. For me, that faith tire went flat for about two years while I took a hiatus from the church. This book tells the story of how I got back on the road and learned to live with my doubts as part of my ongoing faith journey.
ZBLOG: People sometimes ask you what you would have changed about your upbringing. You write,
They want to know what would have kept me inside the church when I wanted to step outside. (Subtext: What might they do to keep their kids inside the faith?) I tell them, “Nothing.”
So what do you recommend to someone who’s watching a loved one struggle with their faith?
|Andrea Palplant Dilley|
ANDREA: When I was going through my skeptic phase as a teenager, my parents couldn’t do anything to stop me. But they did the only thing anybody can do—they were present to my pilgrimage. So for those who have kids or other loved ones going through a period of doubt, I would recommend the same: Be present. Walk with that person. Listen to them. Hear their doubts and affirm their search. Keep the dialogue going. Share your heart, but in a loving way that doesn’t push that person further out on the margins.
ZBLOG: You once told a class of philosophy students, “It’s better to struggle as an active thinker than to become a passive Christian.” What did you mean by “passive Christian”? And do you stand behind that statement today?
ANDREA: To me, a passive Christian is someone who accepts Christian belief without ever examining it. At the time that I made this quoted statement, I was 21 years old and more interested in “the search” than I was interested in answers. So in that sense, I don’t entirely agree with the statement, which can be used as permission for perpetual non-commitment. On the other hand, I do believe that it’s better to actively question faith—in a spirit of seeking the truth—than it is to passively accept the doctrines and enigmas of faith. Anger at God is healthier than indifference toward God.
ZBLOG: I was struck by the note you once inscribed in a wedding guestbook. You tell the story here:
[The pastor] asked me… “What is your religious affiliation?” With almost involuntary impulse, I wrote down “Christian.” But then, dissatisfied with my answer, I called the pastor back. Taking the pen from his hand, I added a qualifier so that my entry read, “Melancholy Christian.”
Let’s say you’re holding the guest book again today. Do you write the same answer, or something different?
ANDREA: I would write the exact same thing, no question about it. ‘Melancholy’ might have negative connotations for some people, but for me, it’s the best word to describe the experience of unsatiated longing, the gut feeling that what I yearn for at a deep spiritual level is not yet mine to have. Christianity is in part a pilgrimage. Right now, we exist in a partial state of separation, brokenness, and searching. Although we’re living life fully in the present, we’re also waiting and longing for the return of God. Heaven is still to come. That’s what “melancholy Christian” means to me.
ZBLOG: What do you recommend to someone who has God questions they can’t answer?
ANDREA: Don’t settle into your doubt—push into it. Try to see it as an outgrowth of your longing for God. Sift through evidence and ideas. Talk to people. Read books. Keep wrestling. Finally, bring your questions inside the space of the church. Stay in community with other pilgrims. And try to accept those questions that you can’t find answers to. The German poet Ranier Maria Rilke wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet, “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Learn more about Andrea Palplant Dilley’s book Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt.
Read an excerpt from Faith and Other Flat Tires, “An Unexpected Blessing (Or, The Hitchhiker and the Blue Jeans).”
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