[Editor’s note: This is a second part in a two-part series on deconstruction. In light of COVID and racial tensions this year––along with a growing list of other issues and debates––the foundation of your faith may feel like it’s shifting. Many people, especially young adults, are reorienting their faith beliefs and seeking to figure out how to apply their faith to their ever-changing context. This process can feel scary and uncertain and we want to support you as you ask questions, dive deeper, and truly discern how you can relate to the person of Jesus.]
You know, I never thought this would be a part of my faith story and yet here we are.
I, a woman in my twenties, working for a Christian organization, have thought about walking away from my faith. I don’t just mean fleeting doubts; I mean “Jesus, are you even really worth following?” To be honest, it often doesn’t feel like it to me. Most of the time it seems easier not to be a Christian. So why should I keep following Jesus?
I grew up in a Christian family, going to church every Sunday. I became a Christian at a young age, but it wasn’t until I started going to youth group that my faith became a more active part of my life. Fast forward to university, and my relationship with Jesus deepened. I got involved with P2C-Students (P2C) at Carleton University and started taking bigger steps of faith: leading Bible studies, going on mission trips, and attending prayer meetings. By the time I was graduating I no longer felt that a job in a museum or archive was where God was leading me, at least not immediately. I believed he was calling me into ministry, specifically overseas, to serve as an international intern (STINT) with P2C. I switched one capital city for another; I left Ottawa for Copenhagen, Denmark.
For 10 months, I and two other Canadians called Copenhagen home as we tried to pioneer a student ministry at the University of Copenhagen. It was an amazing year and also one of the most challenging years of my life; however, when I returned home, my faith began to unravel.
As I started the reverse culture shock process and had the space to reflect on my time overseas, issues rose to the surface that I wasn’t prepared for. These unanticipated realizations were hard to process, as they led me to wonder if God’s intentions for me were truly good. I realized I felt betrayed by God. I had listened to his voice by going overseas, but it was a hard and messy process as I readjusted to life in Canada. I reflected on expectations I had had for the year in Denmark that were not met and which left me feeling frustrated and hurt. It felt like there was more pain than joy in the transition process. Perhaps I could have handled this feeling of betrayal if God had somehow let me know ahead of time that he was working on my behalf; but all I heard was silence.
I would have friends say, “Sarah, I know it doesn’t feel like it, but somehow these are God’s good plans for you.” It hurt to imagine that the pain and betrayal I experienced was somehow part of God’s plan for my life. I thought: if loneliness, confusion, doubt, and betrayal are somehow part of God’s “good plans” for me, then I’m out. I would rather make my own decisions, even if those decisions resulted in the same pain. That way I would at least have some control over my circumstances. I certainly didn’t think I wanted the love of a supposedly loving God who would inflict such pain on me.
I can honestly say that there were moments in that season where I could no longer say I loved Jesus. Prayer, something that used to mean so much to me, just triggered exhaustion, pain, and doubt. I distinctly remember crying on my bed in Montreal (where I was now serving as an intern with P2C), and simply saying, “I’m angry with you, God.” And that was my prayer. Amen. I had no words left to pray and I didn’t even want to. I no longer knew if I could hear and discern what God’s voice was; and even if I could, did I really want to listen?
This was one of the hardest seasons of my life. Compounding this problem was the fact that I was working for a Christian organization, telling students about Jesus and feeling like a fraud while doing it. While I believed the gospel was true for them, I was no longer sure that it was true for me.
I no longer knew if I could hear and discern what God’s voice was; and even if I could, did I really want to listen?
As I now reflect on this season, I realize that this was a season of deconstruction for me. It was a time where God challenged me in some of the incomplete truths I believed about him. I had to look at my relationship with him and think about what expectations I had. It made me consider how God, faith, and culture intersect, and forced me to reevaluate what I believe to be true. With all these thoughts, I recognized that my faith was changing and evolving, which felt scary. My black-and-white faith suddenly developed various shades of grey.
For example, my opinions regarding alcohol changed from when I was in high school (when I thought it was a sin to drink), to university (when I realized that getting drunk was a sin, but having a drink is not), to after graduation, when I realized that, depending on where you live in the world, responsible social drinking can be a cultural connector, like grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend in Canada. I know that was very true for my Christian friends in Denmark, people who love Jesus and also enjoy a drink together at the pub. I still choose not to drink alcohol, but my perceptions of it have evolved to a place that I believe actually better reflects Christ’s heart. Views on alcohol will never be at the core of Christian faith, but for me they have changed over time as my faith has strengthened at its core.
I recognized that my faith was changing and evolving, which felt scary. My black-and-white faith suddenly developed various shades of grey.
Over the last few years, there are other areas of my life where I have been wrestling with bigger faith questions that stem from that core, like if God is really good. Honestly, I’m still figuring that question out. See, there’s a part of me that knows God is good, but it’s taking awhile for my heart to believe it again too.
It was hard doing what I know I’m supposed to do as a Christian, which was to listen and obey God’s voice, but then to not see the expected results. We (or at least I), anticipate that when we listen and obey God, good, arguably happy things are to follow. Doing what I was “supposed to do” and yet not experiencing the fruit of the Spirit all the time, like joy and peace, was confusing. It hurt a lot, actually, and made me wonder if God’s ways are good and if his voice is really worth following.
What happens when we do what we’re supposed to do as a Christian but the immediate results aren’t what we thought they would be?
What happens when suffering, pain and loss are part of the process?
I wish I could give you a complete answer, but I’m still mid-sentence, trying to formulate my thoughts. Even with that though, I see glimpses of how God is answering my prayers to help me trust him again and show me that he really is good. It’s taking time, which in some ways is nice, that God doesn’t rush me and is part of the process. In other ways though, it’s frustrating, as I want to be there already again, wherever there is. Where I’m loving Jesus full-heartedly again, confident that he is good. It’s tiring, waiting.
The word “deconstruction” as it relates to faith can sound worrisome. In recent years, we’ve seen many high-profile Christian leaders “deconstruct” and subsequently leave their faith altogether. But I believe that we all go through periods of deconstruction and then, hopefully, reconstruction of our faith. Some phases are more apparent and longer than others. Some are mere blips in the bigger picture, but they still happen. Yes, the stories of major deconstruction can be scary; however, as I reflect on my own deconstruction process, I’ve come to realize that deconstruction does not have to be the same as demolition. In fact, deconstruction can actually spur on growth.
I believe that we all go through periods of deconstruction and then, hopefully, reconstruction of our faith.
When I was 10, my parents decided to do a major renovation on our house. In order to do this, they had to deconstruct parts of the house. For weeks, my sister and I lived at our Nana’s, but in that process of deconstruction, they made our bedrooms bigger. They tore out several walls, did some hammering and drywalling (and other construction things I don’t fully understand), but by the time the renos were done, my room was bigger and better. I had more space for my bed, dresser, nightstand, and even the bookshelf I’d always wanted.
There was no other way to get my room bigger, except through the process of deconstructing and reconstructing. Unless walls were torn down and rebuilt, the room would always stay the same. I think this applies to our faith too.
If you feel like you’re going through a deconstruction of faith season, can I just say that I see you there, and I’m sorry. The process is hard, painful, and difficult. Although deconstruction can lead to growth, I wouldn’t wish this place of pain and hardship on anyone.
I don’t know if you’re experiencing the deconstruction journey like I have, but I know I have found it to be a hard, lonely, and painful place sometimes. You can feel like a fraud.
I hope you have a community around you to love you well by listening to you, asking the hard questions, and continually praying for you. If you’ve not shared what you’re experiencing with anyone, can I encourage you to do so? I know this can be scary as you don’t know how your friends will react; however, inviting wise and safe people into the journey can help initiate the reconstruction process. Look for people who will be committed to journeying with you––not “fixing” you or providing you with all the answers. I would encourage you to stay connected to some sort of Christian community as well. You might feel like a fraud, but I think that surrounding myself with these safe people was vital for me in continuing to persevere through the healing process.
Inviting wise and safe people into the journey can help initiate the reconstruction process. Look for people who will be committed to journeying with you––not “fixing” you or providing you with all the answers.
If you’re walking with someone who is going through a deconstruction phase, first I want to say thank you. I truly believe I kept following Jesus because of my friends and family who loved and prayed for me through my deconstruction phase. It can be really hard, so thank you.
If I can offer any advice it would be this: listen more than you speak. The reason my friends were helpful was because they gave me the space to process, without preaching at me. In my deconstruction experience, the issue wasn’t that I didn’t know about God; in fact, my mind was full to the brim with knowledge. Rather, my issue was that my head knowledge was no longer translating to heart knowledge. When people tried to preach at me (rather than listen), it just resulted in frustration, as it felt like they weren’t truly hearing me.
If you are coming alongside a friend that is in the deconstruction process, remember this: you can’t change others. Preaching at someone won’t change them. By taking the time to listen, you offer your support and demonstrate Christ’s love. Perhaps the only time you will speak to a friend who is verbally processing is when you take the time to pray with your friend. That’s ok.
The other thing I want to mention is: do not blame yourself if your friend chooses to walk away from their faith. Remember that we are called to love others, but we are not called to take ownership for the faith of others. We are called to love others as ourselves––not take responsibility for others as ourselves. Sure, spend a few minutes in prayer reflecting on your conversations, seeing if there were moments you could have done better or may need to apologize for, but otherwise, it’s not your fault. It’s between your friend and God. Even though it’s really sad, it’s their choice whether they choose to keep walking with Jesus or not. His love has not changed for them. He still wants to be a part of their life, but they are ultimately responsible for themselves and their own choices and actions.
Remember: we are called to love others, but we are not called to take ownership for the faith of others. We are called to love others as ourselves––not take responsibility for others as ourselves.
Finally, can I suggest that instead of calling the process “a deconstruction of faith,” we should start calling the process a “renovation of faith”? Why? I think renaming the process actually helps us understand the bigger picture of the whole process, where both deconstruction and reconstruction can happen. It’s not just about taking the walls down; rather, it’s about building new walls so that the space that faith takes in our lives can result in growth and a deeper love for Jesus and others.
Just a thought.