Dealing with Doubt
Erica Barthalow grew up in Kansas knowing “there was no place like home,” but she soon unexpectedly found herself living halfway across the world.
The girl who grew up in Topeka, Kansas spent her days in church most of the time, and she accepted Christ into her heart when she was only five or six years old. Her life was simple, easy, and comfortable.
When it came time to go to college, Erica was confused with what she wanted to do. The girl with too many interests struggled with narrowing things down. She went from pursuing a degree in journalism to a degree in English to a degree in writing to a degree in music to a degree in counseling, and she transferred from school to school. Erica never settled on one degree, but after she met her husband Jonathan, they both pursued youth ministry.
Lesson #1: Listen to what God places on your heart.
Erica and Jonathan met at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Erica revealed, “After a couple of months of knowing each other, we started dating in November. We were engaged in April that next year and married by August. Jonathan had this dream when he was 17 years old that he would be a missionary in India someday. When Jonathan met me and told me about this dream, I let him know that I did not feel called to mission work.”
Jonathan was really sad, but instead of giving up on the dream or Erica, he said, “Let’s not break up. Let’s pray about it.” As time went on, Erica felt her heart begin to change. Jonathan and Erica served as youth pastors for three years until they decided to pursue this dream of mission work in India. They ran around for a year raising money for the trip, and after the year was over they packed their bags, grabbed their two kids, and took off to India. They were in their mid-twenties.
Lesson #2: Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith.
The primary responsibility for the first whole term of the mission was to learn the language and acclimate to the culture. They lived in a village on a side of a mountain and spent their days in a very isolated cottage. After three months of this change in lifestyle, Erica found herself completely destroyed. She did not feel it was a good place for her or her family. Rats ran around the house, snakes slithered around outside, and giant monkeys surrounded their little cottage.
Erica struggled to get out of bed in the morning. She was depressed, suicidal, and she did not feel she was able to take care of her family.
Erica could’ve chosen to bottle these things up. She could’ve chosen to continue struggling. She could’ve chosen to end things. But instead, Erica asked for help.
Lesson #3: Be real with yourself and others.
Erica and Jonathan called their leadership contacts for the mission work, and the team told them to leave. Erica and Jonathan were then sent to Thailand.
Here Erica started visiting with a counselor. “She really flipped the switch for my faith journey,” Erica said. “I was so angry at God. I thought, ‘I came all this way to serve you. I came all this way to do good. And you gave me this. This isn’t what I was expecting.’”
The counselor responded, “Maybe you have a gift and we just have to figure out how to unwrap it.”
“There was a gift in there somewhere,” Erica said, “I had never really had a whole lot of challenges to work through in my life. There wasn’t a whole lot of depth to it. It was during that time of working through these struggles that I really got to know Jesus on a different level. It was in a way that I probably would have gone my whole life without had I not endured that experience. It was definitely worth it.”
Lesson #4: Use your struggles to help those around you.
Erica and Jonathan lived there for about three years. Upon returning back to the U.S., Erica decided to start a blog to help her process everything. Some of the questions she found herself asking included:
Is God good?
Does He cause bad things to happen to us?
Can I trust Him?
What Erica was blogging became book material. She started writing her book Holy Doubt upon her arrival and just released the book last May.
“I really tried to write the book from a place of brutal honesty. I wrote it not trying to hold back and not wanting to hide the ugly parts of how I was feeling so people can relate and know that It’s okay if you feel this way, you can get to a better place, and you don’t have to stay there.”
“I doubted myself every day,” Erica said. “But you just gotta do what you feel like God is asking you to do. If one person reads it and is impacted by it, then it’s successful.”
Erica truly revealed to me these valuable lessons from her story:
Listen to what God is placing on your heart. Let Him work through you.
Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith. Let discomfort help you grow.
Be real with yourself. Know when to ask for help.
Use your struggles to help those around you. Impacting one person with your openness and honesty makes it all worth it.
Erica’s best piece of advice: “Life is more about who you are than what you do. This is one of the things I don’t think I understood before I went to India. It’s a freeing thing to understand. It’s not so much about the specific thing you do, but more about who you are in Christ. This very thing opens your life up.”