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Holy doubting

(CC BY-SA 3.0) Ostentatio vulnerum

(CC BY-SA 3.0) Ostentatio vulnerum

Years ago, I ran a summer student painting franchise with a reputable painting company. Having some success, the following summer I became a manager: recruiting, hiring, and coaching students to run their own painting businesses as I did. Running your own summer painting business is not for the faint of heart—one has to learn, in a very short period of time, how to paint, sell, hire, lead, account, produce and deal with painters and irate customers. The learning curve is steep, and most of it happens during the busy school term. The stress overload for an 18-year-old suddenly responsible for staff and real live adults as customers is overwhelming. Many don’t survive. There are, however, certain types of people who seem to excel in this kind of world—the kind of young person that already knows everything, can’t be beaten, never loses, and always wins—no matter what.

As a trainer of these particular species, there was one very important thing I had to do before every training session: create what we called ‘Gap.’ This referred to the creation of a chasm in the minds of the young franchisees between what they had and what I had. In other words, I had to convince them that I had something they needed to hear over the next hour or so. I had to make them want what I had, badly. If I could not do this, if I was unable to set the gap, the training session would be for naught. I might as well have had a blank cheque for $1,000,000 to give them—they would not be able to receive it. These young rock stars already knew everything.

What this taught me is that you can’t give someone anything unless they ask for it. I cannot receive something unless the question is in me. How many of us, as teenagers, liked to be told how to live our lives by well-meaning parents? How many of us liked ‘free advice’ on how we could be doing better? This is the purpose of asking for mercy, and forgiveness. It is not because God needs to hear me ask it in order to give it, but unless I am aware of my need for it, unless I have the question, and unless I ask for mercy, I am unable to receive the gift that is already given.

Our spiritual lives are like this too. The answers are already there—it is getting to the right question that is important. In the East, a starets, or a spiritual master would never accept a student unless they had denied the student at least 3 times. Taking on a student to teach them the mysteries of prayer is only a possibility after the student is begging for it, camping on the doorstep. To receive requires the depth of the question in the heart.

Doubt is not contrary to faith; it may well be the precondition for it.

Gregor Sneddon

About Gregor Sneddon

Gregor Sneddon is a Presbyter in the Diocese of Ottawa and the Rector of St Matthew’s, Ottawa. He received an MA from the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies and is the founding Coordinator for Contemplative Outreach of Eastern Ontario. Gregor is a council member of the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission and serves on the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation. He is a husband, a dad, and enjoys being in the woods, a good dinner party and swinging the blues.
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