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Listen Well

Golden Gate Bridge

I work at a conservative, evangelical Christian institution. We have students from all walks of life, but one thing they share is they’ve all made a profession of faith in Jesus at some point in their life. But just because they identify as Christians doesn’t mean they don’t wonder, question, and doubt their faith from time to time. So, it’s not surprising that an unofficial campus group has formed aimed at being a safe environment for those who are doubting their faith. You might think the group gathers to study the evidence for Christianity or listen to Christian apologists to bolster their faith. But that’s not why they gather, it’s not to hear more reasons to believe, but to be able to express their doubts and frustrations and have someone listen without judgment or trying to resolve their questions. Sometimes what people who are doubting their faith need isn’t an answer – at least initially – as much as a compassionate listening ear. If you have a child or a friend who is willing to confide in you something so personal as a faith crisis, the best thing you can do for them is in that moment is to refrain from trying to solve their problem and instead listen patiently to what they have to say.  


Listening patiently means not interrupting, not asking if they have really thought this through, and not suggesting solutions. Listening patiently means trying our best to hear what is both being said, and what is not being said. Sometimes the stated reasons that people offer for their doubts might not be the true source. It means asking questions, but not so we can craft a response but rather so that we have clarity on what was said and so that they feel we have heard them.


Helpful questions are:


  • When you say you no longer believe, can you help me understand what that means?

  • How long have you been feeling like this?

  • Was there something specific that started bringing about your doubts?

  • What I hear you saying is_______, is that correct?

  • Is your thinking still in process or have you arrived at a settled position on this?


Unhelpful questions are:


  • How can you not believe it’s true?

  • Aren’t you just angry at God because…?

  • Do you know how much this hurts me?

  • Is there sin in your life?

  • Have you really looked into the evidence for Christianity?

Finally, as hard as it may be to hear what they have just shared with you, it’s important to thank them for doing so. Let them know you appreciate that they cared enough to tell you and acknowledge that it must have been difficult to bring up the subject. Doing so will offer proof that you really mean what you say next.

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