rebuilding after deconstruction: 1. honoring the process

blog honoring the process*this is first in a series of posts centered on rebuilding our faith after deconstructing.  read the intro post first if you haven’t already.

in 2004, after one year of counseling classes and a switch to 2 years of spiritual direction courses i earned a certificate in evangelical spiritual guidance (now called soul care & spiritual formation) at denver seminary.  i was strangely drawn to spiritual direction from my very first class in 2001.  it gave language to much of what we had been talking about in the different little covert groups i had been part of since 1993.   it centered on our honest feelings about God, where we felt God’s presence (and where we didn’t), and embraced the mystical creative work of the Holy Spirit over the knowledge-based discipline I had mostly been taught through church.

the part i love the most about spiritual direction is that it always honors the process of spiritual growthit doesn’t rush.  it doesn’t force.  it doesn’t shortcut.  it doesn’t demand.  it trusts the process.

one of the things that sustained me during my life’s shifts, maybe more than any other tool or resource, was a book i read in one of my spiritual direction classes called the critical journey: stages in the life of faith by janet hagberg and robert guelich.  i adapted a chart from their work, which i shared when i first started this blog in a post called a nifty chart for the journey and also in down we go on the chapter called welcoming pain.  i also wrote about it in a post called the wall & the wilderness.

if you haven’t seen it before, download it first (it’s only 1 page). this post won’t make as much sense unless you read it.

briefly, this model shares 6 stages of faith development:

1) recognition of God

2) life of discipleship

3) the productive life

// hitting the wall where all we once knew gets turned upside down somehow //

4) the journey inward

5) the journey outward

6) a life of love

the majority of people live in stages 1-3 because these are what most faith systems rely on to keep their wheels spinning.  these stages include safe containers, clear boundaries, and distinct patterns of behavior.

many people eventually hit the wall, which is between stages 3 and 4.  we can meet the wall due to a loss, crisis, an event, or some kind of radical shift where suddenly all we once clung to stops working.

many people, when face-to-face with the wall, end up dancing around it briefly, and heading back to the safety of stage 3. also, the pull back to stage 3 is always strong from those who haven’t been further. they find the wall disconcerting, even threatening, and say and do all kinds of dumb things to encourage people to come back.

deconstructors can’t go back.

most every honest deconstructor enters stage 4, the journey inward.  our faith, all that we believed about ourselves, others, and God, gets rattled in a deep and sincere way; our old tricks & disciplines stop working.  part of the brave process of deconstructing involves honoring that stage 4 is a necessary part of our spiritual development.

safe, secure systems can handle growth and change.  unsafe, insecure systems can’t.  in fact, growth and change is often labeled as rebellion, divisiveness, and heresy, when really it is just maturity trying to emerge.

hitting the wall and going inward is not something to be feared but something to be honored. 

there are a few important things i keep learning about honoring the deconstruction process:

  • the previous stages were necessary.  we can’t skip over them, even though we desperately wish we had.  when i reflect on my faith journey, it’s easy to get mad at myself–how could i have been so rigid, so certain, so willing to buy into weird beliefs for the sake of fitting in?  but when i see faith as a natural process, i can honor the past for what it was.
  • unless someone’s gone through the wall, they can’t understand what it feels like. expecting those in stages 1-3 to understand and empathize isn’t fair, even though that’s what many of us long for.  another part of the problem & pain is that many of our leaders haven’t done this work so we can’t expect them to guide us.
  • the journey inward of stage 4, which is the stage of deconstruction, can take a long time and that’s okay.  like a baby’s birth, we can’t rush it.  my wise friend phyllis mathis calls our rush to an easier place a “spiritual bypass.”  a bypass tends to lead us back to stages 1-3, just with a different twist.   sticking through stage 4 with integrity and doing the hard work of waiting & wrestling eventually gets us to a much more secure & meaningful place than a bypass.
  • the journey inward involves a helluva lot of grief.  as a western culture we are scared of grief; as evangelical-y christians, we are even more afraid of it because we’ve been taught it’s not okay to be sad or mad or confused.  part of healthy deconstruction is honoring our grief; denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance are all painful parts of this process.

like so many other issues of faith, there is no perfect formula, no A+B+C=D. but it’s so important as we honor this process to remember these changes & shifts aren’t a lack of faith. or a rebellious spirit. or a hardened heart. or us being self-centered.  rather, they are part of faith–and ongoing transformation and spiritual maturation.  

it is very healing to honor the process and see it as beautiful & natural & good, even though it can feel terrifying.

all who wander are not lost. 

in fact, we wanderers are brave enough to move toward something deeper, richer, more satisfying, more free. 

* * * * *

next in this series:  acknowledging losses.



Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • When I read this section in your book I had one of those “aha” moments when things suddenly become clear. Someone had described the place I found myself and simply having that laid out clearly before me gave me a sense of assurance, that this stage is part of the journey too. Thanks for sharing it!

    • yeah, there really is something about that chart that resonates. i put it into the chart form so people didn’t have to read the entire book & there’s something about seeing it all right there together, in one space. glad it provided some assurance and hope. i know it sure did for me.

  • Oh my gosh I love this. So helpful. The other day I deconstructed a ‘guide to your spiritual journey’ we went through at church, and their goal for being mature…would put you in stage 3 of your chart. This is so amazing to see that, and realize why I was so frustrated with the pamphlet. I just can’t believe the stage 4 wording is *exactly* what I said when I first started going through my deconstructing process 5 years ago. I am seriously in awe that my journey actually fits somewhere and makes sense. This is so incredibly freeing for me to see that I’m truly not crazy and just on this bizarre seeking Jesus journey that makes no sense to anyone. ….thank God Sarah Bessey listed you on her list of 50, so I could find this, haha.

    • Yes! I agree. So glad I found you today (Thanks RHE! ;). It’s the “rebellious, divisive, and heretical that I’ve been called. I have to admit is has hurt, and taught me to keep my mouth shut in any kind of church-like setting.
      I cannot wait to read what you have to say about “rebuilding,”, because it’s what I’ve been looking for. So many people freely talk about the deconstruction process, but I need help figuring out “what now?”

    • “incredibly freeing” is always music to my ears 🙂 i would love to see what that pamphlet said, so interesting. i honestly believe that many churches are terrified of the wall/stage 4 and can tolerate some questions within the confines of stage 3, but only to a point. they somehow know, without the language for it, if we hit the wall/take a journey inward/wrestle/wander/wonder, they might “lose” us. thanks for reading, glad you are here!

  • Wow Kathy! There are no words adequate to express my deep appreciation of your blog and ministry. Oh how it encourages my soul to find other people on this journey of faith that are willing to be transparent and honest and not fearful of following God’s lead even when it is painful to admit that the way I was “doing church” was more about pleasing man than pleasing God. I have come to a place that I am deeply and profoundly aware that everything about “doing church” has to change because “doing church” was interfering with my communion with God. I am not lacking faith, I am not bitter, I am not being rebellious, I am closer to God than ever before in my life and at the same time I am aware of the fact that (for me) the churches that I was involved with (on staff) have been more of a dysfunctional social club than the body of Christ loving each other and loving and serving the world. I don’t want to ever be in that dysfunctional, spiritually dead place again! I am very aware that I am on a journey to something much better and God is has been so faithful to love and nurture my soul during this process. There is something beautiful and so much deeper than I have experienced before…here and now…today…in Christ, I feel it in my spirit every day. Your statement “it is very healing to honor the process and see it as beautiful & natural & good, even though it can feel terrifying”… is so spot on to my recent experiences! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    • love hearing this, laurie, and i’m so glad you are part of this space here. i love your strong statements: “i am not lacking faith, i am not bitter, i am not being rebellious…” in fact, you’re closer to God than ever. freedom and hope is a beautiful thing, thank you for sharing.

  • This: “rather, they part of faith–and ongoing transformation and spiritual maturation,” reminds me of something I just read from”The Phenomenology of the Mind” by the philosopher Hegel. I think it speaks to this transformation, and how even though each ‘stage’ may be incompatible with another, they are all part of the whole. It’s a good illustration:

    “The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being compatible with one another. But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole.”

    I loved this post, thanks!

    • thanks, amy. love this reminder, each part of the whole. it’s so easy to reject certain parts or only want others. we need reminding of the beauty & value of the process. looking forward to seeing you next week!

  • Thanks, Kathy, for writing about a critical area and missing component of the spiritual life of the Church. I see the role of Word and Sacrament (Baptism and Lord’s Supper) as essential during this process. Having been in the wilderness for extended times, I found that it was the invitation of the Lord’s Supper and the constancy of God’s Word that sustained during the darkest days.

    As Lutheran pastor, I find that Lutherans generally struggle to even reach stages 2-3, let alone the wall related to stage 4. There are a few of us addressing it. But the structure that prevents movement through the stages sometimes needs to be challenged, beyond even the personal challenges. That takes rethinking by the pastors and a commitment to follow through with this. And it helps when the pastor has been through the process as well. Many can’t rethink, haven’t been through the process, and find it too costly to move beyond stage 3. I think the early and medieval church offers much that is missing in contemporary Christianity (as demonstrated in western and US churches).

    • thanks, rich. i really like that you shared what has helped sustain you during the wilderness. it’s so important that we hang on to whatever helps us draw strength & hope & courage & peace in the midst, and it probably looks so different for each of us. it is interesting, what you say about your experience in the lutheran denommination. i think in the evangelical-y/contemporary ones, stage 3 is where a lot of the action is at so many work really hard to get people there. but then keeping them there becomes the objective because that’s what keeps the system running. i wonder if there were places for more honesty & intention if pastors/leaders would share that they actually were at the wall but are keeping it on the down low because it’s so foreign & scary & so much is at risk (jobs, ministries, etc.) i appreciate you reading & sharing.

  • What a synchronistic post. I was just in the process of writing my post and finishing an article on what I have been calling “developmental theology” which is close to what your spiritual direction stage chart illuminates–the idea that like developmental psychology there is a parallel and intimate development of the soul. I am writing, specifically, about the stage in psychology which is referred to as individuation (or as we all know it–adolescence).

    The secondary kindred factor of your post is my current personal discernment of where my work as a psychotherapist for trauma survivors and my passion for the soul care of others merges–particularly in the space of spiritual direction education which I have been drawn more and more into the last couple of years.

    Your post was like a prayer to me.

    Thank you and I look forward to the rest of the series on “rebuilding”.

    • love hearing about your work. so interesting & inspiring. will you have a link?

      • Thank you for the kind words about my work and spiritual puttering and tinkering of my brain :).

        And as for a link about “developmental theology”… I am in the process of adding a bit about it to my site–will stop back and add a link to it soon!

        …I have also sent you an email because I would love to be able to interview you for my site and learn more about your calling and the spiritual poetry of your experience in faith.


        • This is my first post elaborating on “developmental theology” and quoting your post which I loved. I will be adding a section of my site for it as well.

          Thanks and blessings and hope to continue the virtual discussion. So good to have met you and encountered your work :).


        • thanks for sharing, good stuff to process and i love that term “developmental theology”

  • All I can say is, “thank you.” You put words to what my heart is feeling. It’s good to know I’m not alone in the process…it can feel like I’m the only one to ever feel this way.

    • thanks for reading, chelsie, and i am so glad you feel less alone. that’s definitely the idea and i know this: we are in good company.

  • Thank you for your blog and for writing about this. I’ve been at the “wall” stage for maybe a year now and am at the point where I’m just worn out and uncertain of what I really believe anymore. My family doesn’t really understand my perspective shifts and changes in faith – they just think that I’ll eventually stop questioning, “get over it,” and snap back around to their beliefs and practices, the ones I held onto as a kid because I didn’t know any better. Thanks for being here, for understanding and reaching a hand out through these blogs. You speak about what I’m going through better than I do. Knowing that other people have been through this and have come out the other side is encouraging.

    • kc, oh yeah, “worn out” is such a real feeling. it’s so tiring, especially when those around us don’t understand. the “eventually you’ll be back” response is so painful. i remember saying to someone “just so you know, i’m not coming back, that is truly an impossibility” and them going “oh yes you will, you just wait….” they were wrong. i was right 🙂 but i know they just were/are scared for me. one thing i keep learning is that as we walk this new road, we definitely get to new better places. they look different. they are foreign. there are parts of the old country that i miss, that’s for sure. but this road does not lead to destruction, it can lead to life. glad you are here.

  • I’ve been thru that wall, the deconstruction and rebuilding . . . I think I’m in a pahse now where I can help others thru it.
    Your point about a helluva lot of grief really resonates with me. And the hard thing about all that grief was it was all mixed up with GUILT. (and some shame to top it all off.) Because I was being told I was wrong, rebellious, too strong, blahblahblah, but also because I felt like I had, failed, missed the boat, disqualified myself from my calling.
    And yes, it took WAY longer than I wanted it too. I thought I’d take a sabbath year, but it was more like 3.

    I am looking forward to the rest of this series. Also to meeting you Sunday at Emerging Desert. And I just downloaded your book!

    • thanks for sharing and look forward to meeting you on sunday! love that you can then help journey with others who need to know they aren’t failures, missing the boat, or losers-with-God.

  • So thankful to have stumbled across this. I will be eagerly awaiting the series.

  • Based on all the comments in two days, it’s obvious there are lots of us who are at some stage in this process. Thankfully, I can report there IS life on the other side of the wall, and in many ways it is better. Less predictable, but better.

    To paraphrase a Brian McLaren idea, to get the view I have from here, I had to pass through a desert, a swamp, a mosquito-infested wood, a snake-infested jungle and a few other unpleasant places. I’m so glad I didn’t grow discouraged and turn back.

    Life here doesn’t look like I thought it would, but no way do I want to go back to the way things once were. Now I can see so much of that for what it really was instead of what I was told it was.

    • “a desert, a swamp, a mosquito-infested wood, a snake-infested jungle…” i think we could add some other metaphors here, too. it’s rough stuff but so good in the end, to keep growing and changing and finding greater and greater freedom, passion, and love.

  • Incredible timing, Kathy, especially this “safe, secure systems can handle growth and change.  unsafe, insecure systems can’t.  in fact, growth and change is often labeled as rebellion, divisiveness, and heresy, when really it is just maturity trying to emerge.”

    Also, your reminder that the people designated to “lead” often haven’t reached the wall themselves … So helpful.

    • thanks, mar. glad we all keep learning so much together. still wish we were all in the same room sometimes, though, oh that would be fun.

  • Kath – thanks for sharing this series. I really like your Stages of the Journey chart. It adds another dimension, for me, to James Fowler’s Stages of Faith's_stages_of_faith_development and . btw: Professor James W. Fowler was a developmental psychologist at Candler School of Theology when he developed his work.

    I’m also emailing you the Stages of Faith pdf as explained by Leslie Hershberger in her Integral Theory workshop I took one summer.
    Your chart, Fowler’s description, and Leslie’s use of Integral Theory have all deepened my understanding of my own faith journey. As others have already expressed, these have given context to what at times has been a crazy making experience…help lessen the feeling of being the only one or worse that you are a heretic for having these thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

    All of these descriptors indicate that people frequently stay stuck at Stage 3 because they are unwilling or unable to move through the chaos and pain of The Wall because they cannot see what is on the other side, and our churches offer no assistance to move through the wall.

    One of the benefits of having this context for the stages, it has given me more compassion and a wee bit more patience with those who are in the earlier stages. I now understand that whatever stage you are in – you can look back and see where you have come from – BUT you can’t look ahead to see where you are headed. Anyone at the next stage, may be viewed as “wrong”. Also, understanding now that when you go through difficult times – you may regress to an earlier time because of the comfort you felt there.

    When Jim Henderson introduced me to Brian McLaren in the late 1990s, it was a lifeline for me. I could come out of the closet about my beliefs as I no longer thought I was crazy. Brian’s books were a resource I could refer many others who shared the same struggles. It also helped me understand why I was constantly in conflict with church leadership who expected me to blindly follow them.

    Being introduced to Fowler’s Stages of Faith helped me to move to forgiveness for the church leadership that tried to bully me into submission while I was on staff. (It was so tiring to be the lone voice and almost always in conflict with them. I remember trying to convince myself to “just go along to get along” but couldn’t.)

    The other awareness was not limited to just my faith but my own human development. I began letting go of my need to be in control, to fix, save, rescue others and trust their journey. I no longer needed to be “certain” about everything in my life and am learning to be okay with the discomfort of uncertainty.

    And now, Brene Brown’s work has given me another context to understand the use of shame by the church to control and manipulate the body.

    Yes, life does not look like I thought it would. Yes, I had to grieve and let go of all that. And what I have found at this stage of my faith is God is so much grander than I realized…and at a deeper level, it is like coming home to my childhood faith that I have carried through all of these stages, knowing that God is love and a mystery and I will not fully understand in this lifetime…

    • thanks so much, elaine. i got your email this morning and look forward to checking it out. fowler’s has been so helpful, too, to many and it seems like these models really bring us hope and give language to our experience. i love that you are finding “God is so much grander than i realized..” we can feel so insecure during this process but as we keep walking and trusting and letting God-in-in-new-ways we find a greater security. for me, it has often felt like moving away from fear-based faith to love-based faith. love to you from colorado, my friend. i’m glad we can stay connected out here and am glad that you are helping others journey to greater freedom through heartworks. beautiful.

  • Oh my goodness! I love this series so far. “The Wall” expresses almost exactly what I have been going through for the past six years (at least). I guess I am at the point where I’m ready to try to enter stage four.

    BUT… I have a fairly significant objection to one word in The Wall’s description. Please bear with me; I don’t mean to discount the value of everything else you say here, but this is one area I believe is truly in need of improvement: Under “Resistance at the Wall” I find the word “intellectuals,” with no qualification. I notice this for the very reason that part of my journey of even finding the wall was a rampant *anti-intellectualism* in the church, that I realized I could no longer be a part of.

    To be sure, intellectual *pride*, and *rigid* intellectualism, are sources of resistance to maturity. But so are anti-intellectual pride and rigid non-intellectualism. I realized this after years of trying to be comfortable in my own “analytical” skin (avoiding any hint of connecting myself to the term “intellectual”), while at the same time trying to fit into the anti-intellectual circles I found myself in.

    I no longer am willing to believe the false teaching that the Holy Spirit is somehow anti-intellectual. God *created* the intellect. Every human being’s intellect is flawed… but so is our ability to hear the HS in our own power.

    I firmly believe that *both* non-intellectuals and intellectuals potentially have far more in common *with each other* — in the sense of commitment to following Christ, humility, and maturity — than they do with either anti-intellectuals or intellectual elitists. I implore you to reword “Resistance to the Wall” to reflect the damage that both anti-intellectualism and intellectual pride, as well as rigidity, can do to the body of Christ, and ourselves.

    • thanks for sharing & glad you are here. yeah, charts and one-word descriptors are always tough so it’s good to toss around what it stirs up. i think the point is centered on intellectualizing (head) vs. feeling (heart) and that part i do resonate with personally. i haven’t heard this reaction to it before so will be reflecting on it a bit. thanks for putting in your perspective & some challenging thoughts to consider about it.

  • Hi Kathy,
    Just stumbled on your website today via google search. I am in the process of deconstruction for the second time in my life. I am clearly in the grieving of losses process and find everything just not working anymore. Your words are so encouraging because even though I attend a church where they so get this journey, I still feel alone and isolated (part of the process itself). Reading your blog reminds me that it is ok to be where I am and that as scary as it is, this is a necessary and worthy journey—even if everything in me screams I want out! I have known about the spiritual stages, but today just needed some words to say it’s ok to be messy, scared, depressed and questioning everything I once held as true.

    I have two teenagers and I am trying to explain to them what I am going through, but it worries me that they may get derailed because I am right now. I have decided to take a break from church for awhile. This is so out of their box—we have always attended church, and now I just can’t. Do you have any advice about how and what to share with them in this journey?

    Thank you for your words of grace, they are incredibly helpful in this deeply painful place.

    • hey jeanne, glad you found your way here and thanks for sharing where you are at. i like the reminder that even when we have a safe church or community that isn’t afraid of this process, it is still a lonely and scary and freaky process and it won’t take care of these feelings and the grief. i need to remind us of that in my last post. thank you. oh, the kid thing is so hard. i have 5 kiddos, 20, 18, 16, and twins that are 12, and it’s been a pretty wild journey for all of us. i think honesty is the best strategy with teenagers, it is respectful and also can honor “what do they want to do for this season” so that they have freedom to still go or how can you guys work together to figure out the best for everyone so that you can honor what you need to do but they can be heard, too. i know people in all different combinations on this one. when i say honesty, though, i have to say that there are things that maybe they don’t need to fully 100% know because it can feel so overwhelming–“what in the $*#@^$%!&! is happening to mom?” and if they knew everything going on in our heads it might be a little too freaky. but i think some degree of honesty is necessary and ongoing communication. i have a feeling it might open up some amazing conversations, too. in our situation, it did, and we ended up talking about all kinds of things that were so hard but so good. just a few thoughts, always take them with a grain of salt because every situation is so different. much peace.

  • Kathy,
    It was great to find your blog (h/t to The Crooked Mystic) and I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts on developmental thought. My journey has been the opposite, coming from a background in Moral Development after studying under Donald M. Joy at Asbury Theological Seminary to beginning my own work in certification in Spiritual Direction right now.
    I’m looking forward to more time than I’ve had to read fully all of your work here. I am curious though, regarding your placement of The Wall. In both Real Power and the Critical Journey, Janet places The Wall after stage Four.
    There are people who go on the inner journey without facing the pain, suffering and transformation of The Wall. Moving to stage 3-4 isn’t easy but it isn’t equal to what Janet describes as the work of The Wall.
    Thanks again for your writing on this and getting it out there. I look forward to further reading!

    • nice to meet you out here, thanks for reading and sharing. my interpretation of the material is that the wall is between 3 and 4. it isn’t after the journey inward (4), but rather was the catalyst for it. that’s why many people hit the wall but don’t ever enter into stage 4, they dance around and go back, but going through the wall is stage 4 and doing the hard inner work that is necessary to hopefully eventually emerge into stage 5.

      • Gotcha. Just want to be certain your reasoning for the change. Janet puts The Wall after stage 4 (though connected to it: pg 114 in Critical Journey). This appears consistent in other developmentalist theories (James Fowler and Robert Kegan to name those most spiritually oriented).

        The change from 3 to 4 is spurred by questioning the symbols and trappings of success. 4 then gives us the freedom to question and explore. Ultimately, we can stay in this reflective mode or we can “see how far the rabbit hole goes,” which leads us to The Wall. I agree 3 to 4 is difficult but The Wall is Janet’s “Dark Night” and nearly all apophatic, very much like St. John of the Cross’ experience and teaching.

        Thanks for your thoughts and work!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.