Prayer: Our Real Work

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It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

— Wendell Berry* in Standing by Words


These words make me think of the apostle Thomas, usually called “Doubting Thomas.” For a long time, I went along with the typical interpretation of this Bible story. Thomas doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to the disciples. He didn’t have faith. (John 20:24-29) But now I think we’ve unfairly maligned Thomas. I realized that if I had been in his shoes, I would have been standing right along with Thomas, thinking my friends were suffering from a grief-induced, collective wishful delusion that they saw Jesus risen from the dead.

And I’m seeing a story behind the story. I love the fact that Jesus understood this utterly human reaction to an unbelievable story and did indeed come back for Thomas. Jesus didn’t cast out Thomas from his group of apostles or tell Thomas that he wasn’t worthy of being in Jesus’ presence. Instead, Jesus seemed to understand Thomas’ struggle. Thomas wanted to believe; he wanted to know the truth. Although he didn’t believe their story, he hadn’t abandoned the other apostles. Instead, he remained in their midst, hoping to be convinced. When Jesus returned, he showed Thomas His wounds and said, “do not be unbelieving, but believe.” And for Thomas, this was a moment of revelation that cemented his faith.

For me, this story is about how Christ is willing to meet us where we are, even in our doubt. Of course, it’s ideal to have an unwavering belief. But we are human. And the story gives me hope because I need a lot of grace and understanding in my spiritual journey.

I’ve now come full circle back to the words of Wendell Berry. This prayer tells me that being baffled by God, having doubts, and not knowing what to do is ok and maybe even necessary on the way to abiding faith. I’m engaging in a relationship with God, and there is no guidebook for this. I’m doing Real Work, and it’s going to be confusing. I can only hope that I am one of the “impeded streams” that eventually sings.


*Wendell Berry (b. 1934) is a poet, farmer, writer, academic, and activist. He writes nonfiction on topics ranging from pacifism to sustainable agriculture. He has also published numerous novels/short stories and collections of essays and poetry.

6 comments

  1. I hear your voice and it is indeed melodic and singing, Tacky. As you struggle with uncertainty and questions, as you prefer to be shown facts and evidence, your words become truth for your readers. We all may not be as fortunate as Thomas to actually see Jesus, but you remind us that we don’t have to have proof, nor do we have to lambast ourselves for having some doubts. It’s all part of the song.

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  2. “being baffled by God, having doubts, and not knowing what to do is ok” – agree 100%! and its such a gift that people share their faith and doubts and how they are in a good place with God despite – because that gives me inspiration. without that I think I would spiral myself into being permanently angry with God. The importance of a faith community IMHO, and why Jesus worked so hard to create a vibrant one before he departed earth.

    thanks for another wonderful blog post!

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    1. I agree – we need community to make sure we don’t get stuck in our own doubts and sometimes our anger with God. I think having a real relationship with God counts for so much more than just attempting to be pious all the time.

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  3. I really think you need to come teach my 8th graders… I was kicking around the idea of doubting Thomas for my class last week, but never really got the idea fully formed like you have here. I might have to use your words in my recap this upcoming week 🙂

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    1. Apparently we’re on the same spiritual wavelength this Lent! I’ve always been drawn to the Doubting Thomas story and so it was helpful for me to write this post and explore my thoughts. And I’m extra glad this was timely for you too.

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