4 Tips for Dealing with Doubts in College

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Doubts about spiritual things come in all shapes and sizes. There are big doubts that plague all of us and hang around for a while. There are smaller doubts that quickly come and go. I can imagine sometimes when you’ve prayed you’ve felt like the prayers just bounced off the ceiling. I know I’ve had that feeling. You might be questioning if you’re heading to the right college, are in the right relationship or even wondering about God. Maybe you’re wondering why that terrible tragedy happened or questioning whether God even cares about the details of your life.

Doubts make their way in. You can do your best to ignore them and get past them, but they keep knocking at the door of your heart. As a believer in Jesus, you might think, I’m not supposed to doubt, right? You might feel like others look to you for answers, but you’re filled with questions of your own. You begin to beat yourself up with guilt. What’s wrong with me? Why do I doubt God? I’m a believer. What will my friends and family think of me?

If you’re struggling with doubt, I’d encourage you to relax. Take a deep breath. Doubts are a normal part of the journey with Jesus, especially during the college years. As you journey out the door, customizing your life into all that God would have it become, you’ll face doubts. But your identity is in Jesus and placing your faith in him will help you work through those doubts.

Remember: Doubt is not the opposite of belief. The opposite of belief is unbelief. Authentic faith says, “I doubt like the rest, and I’ll be honest with my feelings.” I think the disciples were honest about their doubts, and Jesus helped them along as they kept following him. Maybe he had to hang around for 40 days after the resurrection just so they’d be convinced he was alive! The key is to stay true to your deep belief in God and follow Jesus wholeheartedly, even when doubts creep in. Don’t run away from God when you doubt; use it as an opportunity to get closer to Jesus like Thomas did. Get close enough to touch his hands and side.

Here are some tips to help you handle those times when you find yourself struggling with doubt.

First, acknowledge the doubt. Don’t deny it. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s normal to doubt. Think about the most mature Jesus-followers you know—the people you most admire and look to because of how they love Jesus and people. There’s a good chance those folks have experienced doubt at times. Share your questions with them and ask them to share how they’ve dealt with their own doubts. I hope they can admit some of their doubts to you. If they can’t, then they’re not being real with you. It’s worse to pretend you don’t doubt. Give yourself room to think through your questions and struggles.

Second, admit your doubts to God. Don’t just lie awake at night worrying. Talk to him. Tell him your feelings. He’s God. Just like any other relationship, your relationship with God will grow with communication. Tell him your doubts in your own words. You won’t shock him—he already knows your thoughts and the feelings of your heart. So just go ahead and claim them. Ask him to walk with you through the dark valley of doubt. You can even write down your doubts in a journal getting them on paper as you talk to God about them.

Third, go to good resources. Take some time in the Scripture with your questions. In the back of most study Bibles is a concordance that includes some key themes and Scripture verses on various topics. Do your questions line up with some of these topics? Look them up in the Scriptures. Many people of the Bible have already asked the same questions of doubt. You might be surprised that God anticipated that one.

Fourth, nail down the essentials of your belief in Jesus—the real certainties. You and I don’t know everything there is to know about God—we know about a thimble’s worth of the universe’s understanding of God. You may never receive answers to all your questions and doubts this side of heaven, and that’s where faith in God comes into play. Authentic followers of Jesus live with the tension and mystery that God is God and we’re not. Continue striving to know God, but recognize there are some things you might not know this side of eternity. When you doubt, make a list of the essentials of your faith in Jesus. Hold on to this list for a rainy day. When doubts and doubters come along, remind yourself of the most important things.

Doubts will come and go. Admit you have them. Talk to God, talk to good friends, and understand the most important aspects of your faith in Jesus. Dwell on him. Fill your mind with true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things (Philippians 4:8).

Remember, God really is in control—even when you don’t understand what he’s doing or even doubt his existance. That’s why I’m so glad he’s God and I’m not, otherwise I would’ve messed it all up a long time ago. God is the God of answers, but sometimes I think he thought up all the questions, too—so ask away. There’s no question he hasn’t already dwelled on. He would love to journey with you and your doubts.

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Jeff Baxter has a doctorate in Youth and Family Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary and more than twenty years of experience on staff in local churches. He’s written The Ultimate Guide to Being Christian in College and Together: Adults and Teenagers Transforming the Church, and he’s a frequent speaker and consultant with Ministry Architects. He is currently the Lead Pastor at Light & Life Church in Lakewood, CO.