rebuilding after deconstructing

blog reconstruction after deconstruction“see i’m doing a new thing.
now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
i am making a way in the wilderness,
streams in the wasteland.”

– isaiah 43:19-20

* * *

i know many people who have gone, are going through, or will go through a gut-wrenching, excruciatingly painful and lonely season in their faith called “deconstruction.”

where much of what we believe shifts.
where things we once held dear unravel.
where the number of questions begin to overtake all of our past certainties.
where we find ourselves saying “uh oh, our faith might be in big trouble.”
where we lose the safety of familiar communities because we’ve changed.

it’s scary stuff.

we can laugh about the slippery slope, but when we’re in the middle of the free-fall, it’s anything but funny.

some of us enter deconstruction willingly.  we sat through too many church services that made us queazy with songs-with-words-we-stopped-feeling-good-about-singing, predictable messages, certainty, and focus on belief instead of practice.  something stirred within us and we started asking the questions swirling around in our head.

others of us were pushed into deconstruction by wounding church experiences. we saw one too many inconsistencies, abuses of power, or crazy-stuff-that-only-insiders-sometimes-see that pushed us over the edge and called everything into question.

there are many ways we find ourselves on this scary, weird, unexpected path, but our stories probably have many of the same threads–doubt, emptiness, loneliness, sadness, fear, anger, and confusion.

over the years i have seen many dear friends walk away from the system and find a renewed faith outside of “the church.”

others have found new faith communities to worship & grow that gave them freedom & space.

i have also seen many completely ditch all-things-God, sure that there’s nothing left for them anymore.

a chunk of others have made a u-turn back, having stuck their toe in the murky waters of a different, free-er faith and realized that anything new was just too weird & uncomfortable.

one thing that makes me the most sad about “church” is how few places we have for deconstruction.  the mystics and desert mothers & fathers knew that seeking something deeper was a natural part of spiritual growth.  they weren’t afraid of questions & doubts and trusted the guiding, faithful work of the Holy Spirit to keep showing sojourners the way.  we, however, have built systems, buildings, and organizations upon certainty, right belief, and a clear path that makes us feel comfortable.

because of this, most of our groups don’t know quite what to do with deconstructors.

honestly, had it not been for the refuge i’m not sure where i would have landed.  i have had a safe space to wrestle with this hard stuff.  although i believe i’ll always be in process,  i do find myself on firmer ground than in years past, more able to say with confidence “this is the direction i am walking” and not worry as much about what others think.

often, when deconstructors start to rebuild, we can feel guilty about it.  we worry that others who haven’t rebuilt anything will think we’re being stupid or playing too safe.  some deconstructors wear a badge of honor that says “see, we picked it all apart and we’re a lot smarter than everyone else” (trust me, i’m not throwing stones on this one!).  there are also many others who don’t wish this pain on anyone because they know the costs.

at the same time, when others around them are rebuilding and finding firmer ground to stand on, deconstructors can feel extra-sad and even more off-kilter when they are still in such a different place.

on this process, we cannot follow the crowds or people-please or do-what-we-think-good-christians-are-supposed-to-do.  all of that will get us into more trouble.

rebuilding requires bravely finding our own unique path with God, and there are many ways to build something new.

over time, i’ve discovered there’s a lot more written about deconstructing than rebuilding.  rebuilding is touchy because for many it can feel like pressure to “come back to the christian system” instead of helping people find a renewed faith. 

please know i care about faith more than systems.  God is big and works in all kinds of wild & beautiful ways. part of renewed faith may include becoming part of something clearly-defined-as-“church” again, but it might not, too.  (but i’m not afraid to say i always hope it includes some form of community, connection with people and our passions that is challenging & satisfying).

i love easter because it’s a symbol of a time of re-birth, renewal, resurrection, and rebuilding.  in the spirit of this season, i have a short series of posts centered on the process of rebuilding & renewal after deconstructing–how do we find our way to a new place in our faith after walking away from so much of it? 

i’ll start with 7 posts over two weeks until it’s done (otherwise it lasts forever & i get lost).

here they are, broad areas that help on the path of rebuilding:

  • honoring the process
  • acknowledging losses
  • discovering what remains
  • finding what works
  • celebrating what was
  • igniting passion
  • exploring possibilities

there are many others, but these are the ones that i have stumbled & bumbled upon in my own journey and through participating with others as a spiritual midwife in different ways.  a few blog posts won’t make or break anyone’s process.  but i hope that those who feel a little lost & lonely, wondering how in the $*@^$&!? they ended up here, might gather some love & light & direction for this wild & crazy journey toward something new.

i pray for each of us, that we’ll keep finding our way.

* * * * *

a few other things i wanted to quickly highlight:

  • new addition to the blog–a facebook “like” button.  i’m really technologically challenged on these kinds of things so any development feels like major progress.  thanks for using (if you actually like it, ha ha).
  • my brave & lovely blog friend sarah bessey created the change she wanted to see by pulling together a list of 50 church & faith female bloggers after a 200-person list recently was released with less than 10 women on it (yes, people, we still have a long way to go on real change).  check out some of these passionate & wise & often-overlooked voices here:

 

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

55 Comments

  • I wrote a post in December describing the process I’m going through as “de-formation.” Deconstruction would capture it as well. For me it goes beyond questions of where and how to worship to fundamental identity issues. It’s not a fun process, but I’m learning. The most helpful step so far was in letting go, letting go of all that I’ve clung to for security and identity. It’s scary, but so freeing. I’m still in free fall, wondering where I’ll land. But I think like you I will always be in process–and I’m actually becoming comfortable with that prospect.

    Reply
    • thanks, andrew. yeah, the semantics on it are tough and i’m not sure of the right word. it seems in conversations the one that comes up a lot is deconstruction but there’s part of it i’m not crazy about. i think your helpful step is maybe the most helpful one–letting go. oh that is so terrifying. to let go of things we’ve clung to so dearly. but maybe that’s what real faith really is. thanks for reading & being here.

      Reply
  • Oh I love the term deconstructing. It sounds a lot more purposeful than just ‘my beliefs are changing and I have problems with the church’. I’m more in the rebuilding stage, while my husband is still in the deconstructing part….and it is just difficult. “ne thing that makes me the most sad about “church” is how few places we have for deconstruction.” Yes, a thousand times over. It’s so frustrating. And yet when you do find even one or two people in your community who affirm you where you’re at…it’s that much more of a treasure and it makes true friendship so much better.

    Reply
    • thanks for taking time to share here, caris. that is something i’d love to talk about more at some point–what do we do when we’re in one place and those we love are in another. how do we hold that space in tension and trust it over the long haul. yeah, that is so true, the value and beauty of just a couple of people who understand. i always call them “covert conversations in coffee shops that save our souls in the end.” those true friends make such a difference.

      Reply
      • My husband and I are at completely different stages, in fact, I’m not sure he’s deconstructing at all. He doesn’t express himself freely. I have hoped that I would come across someone’s wisdom in this regard. And no physical friends have popped up on my journey to offer any validation of this crazy journey. What a blessing it would have been.

        Reply
      • I’ll vote for you to write about that too! I think many of us believed when we got married that our Christianity was the deepest thing we had, and the solid foundation for our marriage. And when that falls apart, it is relational territory we never thought we’d have to navigate. It’s scary in itself to believe we need to find something deeper than Christianity to build our relationship on.

        Reply
        • I had to go through the deconstruction process as a result of marrying someone from a different religion. We went through many grueling conversations about our faith, and I was forced to distill the essence of my faith down to what I really believed and what really mattered. It took years, and still crops up from time to time.
          I think unconditional love and committment is the best basis for marriage, as God has given us. In India, they use a term to describe spouses as ‘ham-safars’, or ‘fellow travelers’ in life. I love this term as I feel it conveys the sense of life as a journey that you are together navigating. Weathering life’s trails together, providing support and respect and allowing the other person the freedom to be themselves is what forges bonds that deepen with every year. My husband and I went through a trial a few years ago in which our responses to the crisis were at odds with each other and created a lot of tension, but through it all we realized a deeper understanding of each other and our limitations.

          Reply
  • I’m going through something like this right now, as is my wife and some friends of ours. The trouble is, I seem to have deconstructed my faith in the existence of God, and I don’t know where to go from here.

    I don’t know that there’s anything to rebuild. My sudden lack of faith feels just as mysterious and unexplainable as my sudden surplus of it when I became a Christian. I feel as though I’ve woken up to find that my house has disappeared. Had it simply crumbled, I could rebuild. But its just gone. And I feel like I have to find it before I can move on.

    Reply
    • thanks for your honesty. oh this is brutal and tough stuff and the limitation of the online environment is so hard in this moment. that is a powerful image: “i feel as though i’ve woken up to find that my house has disappeared.” my guess is that some remnant remains, sucked into the earth somehow where that house used to stand. maybe over time, parts of it will be excavated, maybe even just one small part that really matters. the last thing i want to do is provide some dumb trite answer but that thought came to mind in that image. much peace and hope as you walk this dark and scary and unexpected path. i do know one thing for sure–you are not alone in this loss.

      Reply
  • You say ‘deconstructing’ but that word already has a technical meaning in philosophy which isn’t quite what you’re talking about. When everything falls apart and you lose all meaning, it’s not really deconstruction, it’s a disaster – real, painful and so often unavoidable. Deconstruction is a process of taking an idea, an institution, a teaching and examining it from every angle. We look at where it came from, where it might conceivably take us to in the best and worst of worlds, why it isn’t the next thing along the continuum or the opposite, what it might look like if it were to be tweaked or flipped entirely. In many ways, the rebuilding process you talk about _is_ what I mean by deconstruction.
    Who is God, why does it hurt so bad, what is a church meant to be like? When these questions (and all the other ones too) are approached in a deconstructive manner, the answers that we end up with are ones we really believe in. Or maybe they are questions that we’ll spend the rest of our days chasing down.

    Reply
    • thanks, jon. yeah, the right words are always tough on topics like this and i hear what you are saying about rebuilding actually being deconstructing. i think in this context to me rebuilding looks like more of the overall walking through the process of healing and getting to a new place in our faith rather than specific questions, which are a critical part of the process for sure. those “who is God, why does it hurt so bad, and what is a church supposed to be like?” are some really core ones that many of us are and will continue to wrestle with. like you, my guess is that we won’t find a perfect answer to any of them but maybe will find some greater peace with them along the way.

      Reply
  • Whether it was deconstruction or not, she describes the phenomena I went through well. And I’m not sure some deconstructing did not take place during my crisis.

    I look forward to the series.

    Reply
    • thanks for reading & taking time to comment, lindi. glad you are here.

      Reply
  • Wow. I look forward to this series. I find that the deconstruction/rebuilding process is far from linear. Feeling very awkward – stuck between to worlds – right now. Man, do I wish we were closer to each other. Safe community sounds so lovely… Not sure, right now, it really exists. 🙂
    But I do know that through tears and confusion, fears and anger, I just need to not give up – just keep moving, even when I’m not sure what that even means or looks like.

    Reply
    • thanks my friend. awkward is such a good word–and such a hard feeling. i hear you on the safe community thing, it can all feel so confusing, especially when you risked again. and it is true that if you were part of the refuge, my guess is that part of it wouldn’t feel safe because nothing can completely. but i do hold to there are places that can honor this process better. and they are very rare! the part that i am most grateful for is that this process isn’t scary for the refuge and there’s no “get-back-to-where-you-sound-more-solid-quick” that can really damage our journey. love and hope.

      Reply
  • Oh this is good. I think for me, one of the scariest things has been the void/emptiness where there used to feel like a liveliness. The church wounding experience felt like a punch to the stomach, an ache for a fullness then. Then came the omg, there are others like me?!?! Then came the desire to process all the ins and outs of said shifting. But… then what? You can’t *force* that faith to grow back, or the depths of emotion where there once once to all of a sudden emerge? Also, in a deep healing season, there is more deconstructing, too. Who exactly do I think God is in my pain? Oh, so glad we don’t live on individual islands. 🙂

    Reply
    • thanks for sharing. i love this line: “you can’t force that faith to grow back, or the depths of emotion where there once was to all of a sudden emerge?” that’s the hardest part for me, respecting i can’t muster up the old emotions but just to be open to new ones. i remember for years trying to grind down and get the old-familiar-feelings-back and continually coming up dry. it sucks. and i admit, i sometimes still miss them but keep learning to embrace the new, less-exciting ones as still good, still powerful, still healing…just different. i, too, am glad we’re not in this by ourselves. we’d drown for sure.

      Reply
  • Kathy, as with so many of your posts, you give beautiful words and descriptions to what I’m feeling and going through!

    It feels as if I’m nearing the end of my deconstruction phase – and in that I’ve got a lot of hurtful church stuff that I have to let go of. This past weekend I had to do a small “spirituality” test as part of the spiritual guidance class I’m taking. I was shocked to see that a lot of the stuff I wanted to leave behind me because of the hurt I felt (coming from an evangelical/charismatic background currently finding a mistic spirituality) , I actually still treasure. I realised that although I got hurt, not everything was bad. And it helps tremendously with the healing process!

    I’m also fortunate that the church community I’m currently in, understands “the dark night if the soul” – most of the leaders have also been there.

    I’m looking forward to the next few posts!

    Reply
    • thanks for sharing, felix. so encouraging in all kinds of ways. it makes such a big difference to be in a community that understands the dark night of the soul; that can change everything because then we are not alone or outcast for our struggles but rather they are acknowledged as a real and natural part of our faith journey. glad you are here to share with us what you are learning along the way, too.

      Reply
    • Grateful, too. I look forward to reading this. I’ve found myself in just such a place this last year or so. Thanks Sarah for posting a link to this page, and bless you Kathy as you share.

      Reply
    • thanks for reading & sharing, sarah. there are an awful lot of us out here finding our way. i love your easter story and i was realizing that i met you out here 4’ish years ago (is that right?) and look at the amazing and weird and scary and wild faith things that have happened over those years through staying in, holding on to some things and letting go of others. wild.

      Reply
  • I so so so so very desperatly needed to read this. I was trying to write out a blog post just moments ago, deleted it all because I feel I am part of this process right now in a way and its one of those things I was having a very hard time writing it out. Im just in tears saying yes to these things you have written. God has been taking me on an amazing wild journey this past year or so and I have had to really try to unlearn and trust Him through things that others have made me think is impossible. He is so good. And I am thankful I came across this this afternoon, because it has just confirmed for me again that God does work in the most wild wild ways and reaches us where we are and says “its okay. Im still here.”

    Reply
    • thanks, candace. yes, “unlearning” and “trusting” (which means we usually never can see it) seem to be two really important themes in all of this. glad you are here–and that God is saying, “it’s okay, i’m still here”, too!

      Reply
  • Ditto the above. This is very relevant to me. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

    Reply
  • Hi Kathy.
    I am pretty new to your site. Heartfelt, deep and powerful. Thanks.
    Long time ago in bible school friends of mine received a word from a woman in ministry that is well loved. A real mom. One phrase i have never forgotten, and this goes back late 1970s: we are “creatively falling upwards”.
    i love this so much. through everything i hold on to this.
    to be disillusioned means to be free from false ideas. painful process but real joy in the end.
    i am a jewish believer. have been saved now forty years. many joys, many griefs. his love endures
    grace and more to you
    lawrence

    Reply
    • thanks, lawrence. i love your line “forty years. many joys, many griefs.”…i love that falling upward thought & richard rohr has written a lot about it, too, love that it came to you from a woman in the 1970’s first 🙂 it’s a beautiful thought and also brings me much comfort–that the way up is down.

      Reply
  • At the point of making one of the most important discoveries of my life, I knew that not everyone would understand. I knew some of them would want to beat me up with their Bibles. Therefore I set out on a study, so I could intelligently counter their points. This though had the most wonderful side effect. This study I set out on would grow into a faith journey richer and deeper than I ever imagined. Little was I to know at the time.

    Ciao!
    Sarah

    Reply
    • thanks, sarah, i am so glad you have been part of the blog here over time & i always love hearing and knowing real freedom stories, ones that others might not understand but that are about deep & beautiful freedom. so possible.

      Reply
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  • Kathy, I have just stumbled onto your site and I just don’t know what to say. I’m a theological student who left the church almost 18 months ago after a what seems like a lifetime of abuse and pain. I am losing my grip of a faith that I once cherished, but now I almost hate. I just hope that there is ‘hope’… Nick

    Reply
    • hey nick, thanks for taking time to comment & share a little bit about where you are at. it is rough stuff, when our world gets turned upside down. i hope that you can find a little hope here, that you are not alone. in the process of shifting, it is so easy to lose hope. i think that’s the time to maybe borrow some hope from others of us who have been in your spot and are slowly finding life & freedom. the comments on the posts might be helpful in that and are a small reflection of many others walking this bumpy road. peace and hope from colorado.

      Reply
  • Thank you so much for this article, Kathy.
    I believe the deconstruction/reconstruction process is something many adult Christians go through.
    It is great that you have written about it and by doing so, you have given people a chance to talk about their journeys and find acceptance for those journeys within their own faith community.
    Blessings to you ~ Jane

    Reply
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  • All that we know about the living Word is what has been revealed to us through the written Word. Our experience with the church or with believers should not be our authority–it is the Word of God that is our authority. I see a lot of emotion and experiences being written about here…”Spiritual journeys” that leave out the authority of God’s word (including the uncomfortable absolutes) will not lead to life.

    Reply
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  • I’m one of those people who have gone through a
    gut-wrenching, excruciatingly painful and lonely season in their faith…to the point of completely losing my faith. I think I would like to believe in God again, but am not capable of doing so at this time. Coming from strong Calvinistic roots, my ex-doctrine would tell me that either I was never saved in the first place (if that is true, I was very self-deceived for about five decades) or I will one day “return to the fold.” I can’t imagine ever going back to any kind of religion, especially to Calvinism. I am taking my first steps toward community after being out of the church, away from any kind of community, since September 11, 2011.

    Reply
    • hi janet, thanks for taking time to share. oh, it’s a lot to untangle from…peace and hope from colorado. glad you are here.

      Reply
      • Thank you for your reply, Kathy! It is weird (in a good way) to, for the first time ever, have dialogue (even though this “dialogue” is simply a short reply to a comment I made) with someone who has an idea of what I have gone through and continue to struggle with.

        Reply

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