Tag Archives: doubt

What I want

Last week Rachel Mankowitz wrote about hearing and trusting her internal voices speaking of what she does and does not want to do. I resonated.

I learned early on (probably before I was five) that what I wanted or did not want mattered little. I did what I was told—whether I wanted to or not—and rarely got anything I wanted, so I learned to stop wanting.

The depth of the disconnect was made clear to me when I was twelve years old and had my tonsils removed. On the way home from the hospital, my mother stopped at the grocery store and said I could pick one thing I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted and was overwhelmed by having to pick something. I remember standing in the store paralyzed by indecision. What did I want? No idea.

So, I picked something practical, something I thought my mother would like—dill pickles.  


I have spent a lot of my life doing things other people wanted me to do—out of guilt or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or some other version of making other people happy—while ignoring my own desires.

Therapy in my early thirties started a process of discovery, and by my late thirties, I began to identify some things I wanted.

I took my first real vacation, a windjammer cruise, when I was thirty-seven. It was thrilling to realize that I knew what I wanted and that I could make it happen.

At the end of a retreat in my early forties, I read Coming Down the Mountain by Thomas Hart, and I have kept a “cheat sheet” of questions from that book that I refer to regularly.


These questions have helped me gain clarity, and after years of asking them, I am much better at knowing what I want.

But I can still fall into the old patterns.

When I turned fifty, I made a “travel wish list” of places I wanted to visit over the next decade. Other than the Holy Land, my destinations were in the U.S. or Europe. Included at the end of that list was a thirty-day retreat, something my friend Jim had done, and he thought it would be good for me to do. I put it on the list more as a reminder because I could not foresee a time in my fifties when I would have the money and time to do it.

My sixties’ travel list included the retreat, along with the Holy Land and some of the European counties I had not managed to visit, but my sixties were full of upheaval, and I did not do much traveling. So my seventies’ list closely resembles the sixties’ list, including the retreat.

Now, I am in a place where I can do the thirty-day retreat, and so I signed up. I told my spiritual director, expecting her to be thrilled, but instead, she asked why I wanted to do a thirty-day. “Because Jim thought I should,” was my first response, and even I could hear how lame that sounded.

She suggested I pray about the retreat and ask God for clarity. So, I prayed, and I got clarity.

I realized that I feel passionate about European travel. I am energized by my volunteer work (especially supporting survivors of sexual assault) and the consulting work I am doing. I am excited about the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and have clarity around how I want to use what I have learned (mainly in helping people process the experience of pilgrimage or mission trips). I am also drawn to officiating at weddings and funerals.

Where is the retreat in all that? I am indifferent.

Discernment is a big part of Ignatian Spirituality and following the process has helped me gain clarity about where God is calling me, and what I want to do.



Doubt creeps in

like a draft beneath the door,

invisible, almost imperceptible,

a slight shiver I cannot ignore.

I pause and pray for courage.

From deep within,

certainty begins to bubble up like a

freshwater spring in the forest,

an escape valve for the

water flowing beneath the ground.

Trust, be bold, take a risk.

He’s gone

Love can start with a laugh or a touch or a second glance.

Our eyes look out onto the same reality

but see it differently.



Trust or doubt,

believe or question.

Did an angel bring him to me?

No one knows at the beginning of a relationship

where it will go or how it will end.

The man I loved is gone.


Meeting God in the storm

“…there were peals of thunder and lightning….When the Lord came down to the top of Mount Sinai, he summoned Moses to the top of the mountain.” (Exodus 19:16-20)

Imagine standing at the base of a mountain in a great storm—thunder and lightning, the mountain trembling violently—and God saying, “Come on up.”God-faith-fearI have been known to tremble violently in the face of bad storms—thunderstorms, hurricanes and blizzards can send me into hiding until they pass.

But what about the storms of life—disagreements, disappointments and facing the unexpected. Those events can cause the same reaction in me—violent trembling.

And there is God, inviting me to step into the storm, to intentionally climb into the midst of it, not to shy away, but to actually face it head on. And there God will be, waiting for me, in the midst of the storm.

I envy Moses’ trust and courage to walk up that mountain in the midst of a violent storm.

If I were Moses, I am sure I would have said something like, “God, really? You want me to climb a mountain that is trembling, and walk right into the middle of a thunderstorm?” My fear of lightning would have been the first hurdle—and I don’t know that I could overcome it, even to meet God face to face.

But God waits patiently for me to change the narrative, the script that runs in my mind telling me to be afraid.

Like a toddler taking her first solo steps, God is in front of me, hands outstretched, waiting to catch me if I start to fall, waiting for me to trust Him.God-faith-fearChanging the narrative takes practice. Like the toddler or an actor learning a new role, there are many missteps before the performance works. Trusting God is like that for me.

It seems that every situation calls for me to relearn how to trust God. Every storm takes me to some default position of cowering in fear, and I have to visualize God with outstretched arms, calling to me, Come on, Madeline, God encourages me. It is going to be ok. I would think God would get tired of it, but that has not happened.

Instead, with great patience, God keeps inviting me.

I have had several jobs that had ominous beginnings. In one of them, I went home sobbing every night for the first six months. What have I gotten myself into? I would cry out to God. Over time, though, things began to settle down and eventually I came to love that job. Leaving it was painful. Now, when I am facing storms in my current work, I recall the people and incidents from that other job. I remind myself that God is with me and storms do pass.

God invites me to look up, to the top of the mountain, and to take the steps I need to take to meet God in the midst of the storms of my life.

Touch My Wounds

“Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’” John 20:27

I love Gospel stories that are as graphic as the one of Jesus inviting Thomas to touch his wounds. I can easily picture the scene and imagine the event unfolding. I place myself in that room, a bystander, watching the interchange between Jesus and Thomas.

I imagine Thomas’ reaction—the embarrassment at having been called out in front of his friends, not to mention that touching physical wounds can be revolting. I visualize the reactions of the people in the room, the relief of the other apostles that they had not been singled out by Jesus.

Then I am standing in front of Jesus, and my stomach clenches at the thought of being challenged as Thomas was challenged.

But I know that I am like Thomas with his doubting attitude. “Prove it,” is often my position. I fear being seen as gullible and tend not to commit until I can see with my own eyes. In common parlance, I have trust issues.

Thomas believes once he has seen Jesus’ wounds; and I wonder if that sense of certainty held or if he went back to being a doubter on his next encounter with something incredulous. I know that for me, one event of trusting has not necessarily led to another.

It is often difficult for me to move beyond my skepticism when I encounter something that seems implausible. I have to process my incredulity, push past my doubt and actually decide to believe. Usually, I have to act “as if” I believe—until I do believe. Acting “as if” is a tool which has helped me many times.

I do notice one big difference between Thomas and me in this scenario. Just three days earlier, Thomas had betrayed Jesus by fleeing the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion; and yet his position is somewhat arrogant (“Unless I see…I will not believe.” John 20:25).

In Thomas’ place, no matter how unbelievable the story may have been, I would have hoped it was true, silently prayed for it to be true, so that I could apologize for my betrayal. When I am the one who has betrayed someone, I am filled with self-loathing at the knowledge of my treachery, and I long to be forgiven. I usually beg for forgiveness; I grovel.

In Thomas’ place, no matter how skeptical I might have been at the tale the others were telling about Jesus’ appearance, I am pretty sure I would have kept that to myself—hoping the story was true so that I could apologize for my cowardice and be given another chance.