Seeking Understanding: The Gifts of Having a Questioning Faith

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How does a tractor work? Why is a fork called a fork? Where do lightning bugs go in the daytime? How many teeth does a mouse have?

These are just some of the many questions my 4-year-old asks me in the morning. Before I’ve had my coffee. It’s endless.

As a mother, I love my son dearly. As a teacher, I love inquisitive minds. But despite both roles, I constantly find myself sighing and saying, “I don’t know!” in an exasperated manner. The last thing I want to do is hinder his curiosity, yet I constantly quell the desire to shout, “Stop asking so many questions! Just accept things as they are!”

Then I realize I sometimes do the same thing with my faith and my relationship with God.

I have questions about the Church that I either never learned or whose answers I forgot and now, subsequently, make me feel both guilty and ignorant: What’s the point in wearing a veil to Mass? How exactly can the pope be infallible if he is human? How is it possible that Jesus is literally present in the Eucharist?

Then there are questions that verge on the “D” word: doubt. Why is life so unfair? How is it possible for God to love me? Why did [insert latest bad news story here] happen? And instead of feeling inquisitive about it, instead of seeking out a guiding voice, I feel so heavily guilty that I push all these questions down. I hear that same impatient mom voice in my head telling me to just accept the things that are presented to me, to not question. Because how can I be a good Catholic if I question my own faith?

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And then, a few months ago, I felt God reach out to me through my favorite things in the world: books.

The last unit I taught in my 9th grade English class this year was on “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir. In the first chapter, the author talks with his spiritual mentor, Moshe. When Elie asks Moshe why he prays, Moshe replies: “I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.”

Even though I have taught the book for almost 10 years, that was the first time that line hit me. After school that day, I sat with that text for awhile. Moshe doesn’t pray for answers. He prays for the “strength to ask [God] the right questions.”

Maybe God doesn’t want us to accept things how they are. Maybe it’s okay to have questions about my faith. Maybe it’s about finding the questions, not the answers.

RELATED: How Do You Overcome Doubts?

In search of validation and sources to back up this idea, I turned to the Catechism. In Chapter 3, it states that “it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desire to know better the One in whom he has put his faith and to understand better what He has revealed” (CCC 158). Later, in the same paragraph, the words of St. Augustine are used to support this: “I believe in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe,” which made me think that Moshe and Elie and St. Augustine would probably have some great conversations if they all got together.

Continuing my search, I found additional solace in the words of Pope Francis in a 2016 weekly address where he not only acknowledged that he struggles with his own doubt but also says, “We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith.” 

The comfort I found in the words of Pope Francis was immense and gave me a new perspective, both as a child of God and a mother. The questions I have about my faith aren’t meant to keep me from God but draw me into a closer relationship with him. I should be questioning.

As a Cradle Catholic, it’s easy to forget that my faith is not just a static thing. Just like my son, my faith needs to grow. Just like my son, I am seeking to understand.

Questions may come out of nowhere and at inopportune times. Answers may only lead us to more questions, and we may fail to fully comprehend. But it’s important that we struggle with these questions in order to deepen our faith.

These are the things I will try to remember the next time my son randomly asks me how many teeth a mouse has, which, according to Google, is 16.

Originally published October 10, 2018.