“Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:23-24).

Ed Dobson admits that in his struggles with his terminal illness, ALS, his faith has been mixed with doubts. For that reason, he says, he loves the story of the man who came to Jesus with his demon-possessed son. When Jesus asked the father about his faith, the man responded, “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.” Dobson says that response is one of the most remarkable and honest statements he’s found in the gospels. Countless Christians would agree; its honesty and realism have made it a universal prayer. That’s because the life of genuine faith is nearly always accompanied at some point by doubt.

So, what was Jesus’ response to the man? Jesus didn’t say, “Come back when you have more faith.” He didn’t say, “Purge the doubt and then we’ll talk.” Instead, he answered the father’s heartfelt plea and healed his son. Knowing our Lord’s response, we know we can be fully honest about all our doubts and dismay as we commune with him. We bring our smidgen of faith to him and ask him to increase it.

God listens to us and loves us. He is fully aware of our troubles, no matter if what is happening is about to crush our spirits. Even when our bodies are moving through the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t have to fear evil, for the Good Shepherd is with us. Dobson says that he learned two things from this story. First, that faith is not the absence of doubt. Second, we can still pray, even when doubts and questions assail us. “Prayer,” he says, “opens up the possibility of a miracle.”

Adapted from The One Year Book of Encouragement