What I Used to Believe

What do you no longer believe?
What are old beliefs you grieve?

I used to believe
all anger was wrong, so I was the captain of the tone police—
until I discovered politeness is not rightness, that anger is not always hate, but hurt, and to be loving is to be fiercely angry at injustice.

I used to believe
forgiveness meant friendship and even a flicker of pain meant I hadn’t forgiven my abusers—
but I found I can forgive from afar, over a lifetime, and that the pain was not my lack of forgiveness but how deep the wound was carved.

I used to believe
that death could bring people together—
until I saw covid take hundreds of thousands of lives and not even their deaths could evoke compassion,
until I saw refugees ceaselessly die in the headlines and too many justified their demise.

I used to believe
that god was American, homophobic, emotionless, and secretly disappointed in me—
until I found God had a vision of grace far greater than our sight, an imagination that far outweighed mine.

I used to believe
my value was found in my usefulness and contribution,
instead of inherently being human,
in an irrevocable Image.

I used to believe
every pain had a purpose, a connect-the-dots lesson, a fire to refine us, a reason to teach us—
until I saw pain is pain, it is not mine to explain, and maybe the only reason it happened was evil and abuse and systems that need to be unmade.

I used to believe
my depression was from a lack of prayer or faith or moral grit or fortitude—
but my mental health only lacked the help I needed and I found that therapy and medicine were not giving up, but giving life.

I used to believe
those who looked like me chose to be silent and passive—
except we were not silent, but silenced, and we had always spoken up despite this.

I used to believe
we could never unravel lopsided power dynamics and racist systems—
until I saw heels in the dirt making moves insistent, for years they had woven new stitches by inches.

I used to believe
everything I believed
was so certain.
I grieve my certainty
but I trust the mystery, to know
there is always more unknown.
Being “right” is to be alone,
but in discovery
we walk each other home.

— J.S.

5 thoughts on “What I Used to Believe

  1. I used to believe I prayed to God in heaven and so sometimes God didn’t really listen to my message. When it was given to me that Jesus lives IN me (we are the temple of God) then I knew prayers would not be ignored or go astray. It made a far more intimate relationship with God possible and I am still living that difference.
    Inspiring words you have written down.


  2. Your poem is stunning. I resonate so hard with this, and I honor your finding words to share such deep experiences with us. Thank you so much!
    I found you by searching “chaplain doubt,” and I love what I’ve read tonight and can’t wait to come back. I have a question I’d really like to ask you – don’t know if you read comments, but I hope.
    I’ve been feeling drawn for years to hospice chaplaincy. I had a faith crisis in seminary and left church ministry more than ten years ago. I think I have more belief than doubt now, most days, but I don’t honestly have great trust in God still, just great love and great longing, and my theology is pretty vague and unknowing. Because of stuff that happened in my family, and maybe some weird thing with death, I want to help people close their lives well, reconcile if necessary, prepare, and be valued and loved through it all. I know chaplaincy is more about helping the other connect to their faith resources and being a compassionate presence than it is about what I think, but it was really hard to sustain church ministry when I was an atheist – I was there 3 years trying to find God again. I feel like maybe it would be difficult to stay in chaplaincy with the level of doubt I sometimes carry, or that maybe I owe people feeling more sure of things, as some might hope based on my hope. From your own experience and your knowledge of your field, is it harder to sustain this work, or less helpful to others to attempt this work, when there are doubts about God’s goodness, God’s action, or even sometimes God’s existence? I know some do. Just wondering if it’s good or sustainable to try. I do consider that, in one tradition I studied, this draw itself may be God’s drawing me.
    btw I have a psych ward experience too, post suicide attempt. I’m so glad for your voice for that too. I love what you did for your roommate, and how that formed how you companion people.
    Thank you so much for your presence in the world, your making yourself visible. You feel like a chaplain to me tonight, whether or not you read comments.


    1. Hey, sure hope this gets to you!  I was an idiot to post my full name on my comment… I haven’t commented on a blog in years, and I just wasn’t thinking at all that this is the internet, it felt like an email to you.  Is there any way my post’s name can be changed, or if not, taken down?  I really don’t want that linkable to me, with such a distinctive name, as I’m about to apply to CPE and hospice jobs.  Or in general either, I keep my faith status pretty close.  I’d be so so very grateful if you can help.


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