rebuilding after deconstructing: 3. discovering what remains

blog discovering what remains* this is the 4th post for a series on rebuilding and renewing our faith after going through huge scary shifts.  i have never posted this much in the entire life of my blog!  but i do kind of like moving through it quickly instead of over several months and then  people can come back and access the material whenever and however they need.  this is only meant to provide an overview of some of the major themes on this journey.  i realize it’s kind of like drinking water out of a firehose, but i’m not quite sure if there’s a way around that feeling on this big stuff.

here are the first 3 posts:

* * * * *

when our idea of our own faith goes downward, so many things can look different–the bible, the creeds, and all kinds of things that we were told we had to have as a believer. this will leave us feeling very lost sometimes.

one of the things that gives us the most trouble is that we have been taught that in order to “belong” we needed to “believe.”  so when we aren’t quite sure what we believe anymore, we can definitely feel like we have nowhere to belong.

recently i did a little exercise by researching things that were written on typical christian statements of faith.  warning:  don’t do it!  it’s rough out there and so many different groups have their different opinions on what qualifies as being “the right kind of belief to belong.”

while i value the centering premises of creeds & statements of faith because they help orient people around common beliefs, i also think they can be very limiting, especially for those who find themselves on the fringes.

the first part of rebuilding our faith after losing some of it is to discover what remains. 

often, we think it’s all gone because it feels that way.  but if we dig down deep, we discover that there are remnants of our faith left.  parts that still are alive.  parts that can’t be taken away.

when i look at Jesus’ ministry, i do not see him sitting all of these new followers down and making them sign doctrinal statements of faith.  the one requirement seemed to be an open heart toward him.  

i’m reminded of the first beatitude here, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).

sometimes, to protect ourselves from the pain of deconstruction, we close our heart to God because it hurts too much.

part of rebuilding does require an open heart; i don’t think we have to fling it open for God but we need to somehow open it at least a little.  a practice we can do to help us open our heart is “discover what remains”, no matter how simple or complicated.

it seems like Jesus summarized a heck of a lot of teaching into: love God, love others as yourself.  

i’ve yet to see a doctrinal statement that said “we are committed to trying to live these simple-but-hard-to-actually-do tenets out as best we can.”

i believe, more than ever, that God doesn’t seem to have the same lists men make.

when we are deconstructing and can’t hold to some of our old beliefs anymore, the biggest question that remains is:  what might be left when it comes to our faith?

what’s something we still believe in, no matter how big or small?

what’s something that hasn’t been lost or taken away?

what’s something that still brings us hope?

what part of our faith still remains?

what do we still trust about God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit or all three no matter how simple?

for me, something that has sustained me deeply is that God is Emmanuel, with me, with us, and will never leave or forsake me. that has carried me through many a dark night.

years ago at our house of refuge the person facilitating asked us to think of the “one thing” that when it was all said & done we held on to when it came to our faith.  for the conversation, he used this film clip:

when it comes to finding what remains, “one thing” looks different for each of us.  some of us need much more than one.  for others of us, realizing we actually still have one can bring hope.

an important part of this step is to remember is it’s not bad to still believe a lot of things that others may have let go of.

and it’s also not bad to let go of some of the things that others still hold on to.

i really love the refuge’s “what we believe (so far)”; it’s got more than one thing on it but as i read through them, they resonate deeply.

part of our own personal work requires excavating through all of the rubble to find what still remains.  to center on what is still part of our faith, no matter how big or small, instead of only focusing on what isn’t.  

people around us might not be able to hack this kind of excavation and stripping-away-so-much-of-what-was, but i believe God can.

i still think it’s quite amazing what God seems to do with just a little.

discovering what remains is a critical part of rebuilding our faith. it can be as simple or complex as it needs to be, but i think it’s helpful to try to find it.

and own it. at least for now.

what remains for you that brings you hope?

* * * * *

next, on monday:  finding what works  

tomorrow i have a guest post up as part of ed cyzewski’s series on women in ministry. i’ll link to it once it’s up so you hopefully can go over there read it.  it makes me smile whenever i think of it, it’s called “well-behaved women won’t change the church”.  i hope that makes some of you smile, too.


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.


  • *He lives
    *Love God
    *Love people

    Everything else that is important is a subcategory of those three.

    Lots of doctrinal statements are misguided at best.

    We won’t drink the grape Koolaid. Don’t like imitation grape flavor, don’t like Koolaid and don’t need no more sugar.

  • This is an awesome series, Kathy! Thanks for giving me some hope for my journey!

    • thanks for reading & sharing, too, ed. i am so glad it’s bringing some hope.

  • Your post reminded me of 2 things … That “only a mustard seed” is enough, and
    When Mary of Bethany sat at Jesus’ feet, he said, “only one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that” …and pointed to her, (a woman! )seated at his feet,

    So, my sure things are:
    I believe He is who He said He is and did what He said He did, and came for the reason he said he came,

    And the one thing is to sit at His feet.

    • oh mar, you and i are always tracking. the mustard seed verse came to me several times in writing this even though i didn’t include it. love that thought applied here instead of some of the different interpretations i have heard of it…

      • You can’t imagine how helpful it’s been to focus on “what remains” rather than solely on”what’s been lost (although that is very important ). It’s truly changed my viewpoint ….

  • *I have an open heart toward Jesus and a deep and intimate faith in God. I believe and trust that even when my life circumstances are traumatic and deeply painful, He will use what others intended for my harm… He will ultimately use those very things to shape and mold me into a better reflection of Him. I surrender all, my faith lives on!

    *I have a deep love for my family and friends and for the oppressed, abused and marginalized people in this world. When I look into the sparkling blue eyes of my grandson my heart is filled with hope. Hope lives!

    *I have a passion, deep love, and appreciation for true worship in all its forms, art, creative visual communications, music, and nature. I still see beauty in our world.

    *I still have a merciful spirit even though I have paid a very high price for that mercy. I still believe that love wins!

    FYI… I am 1 1/2 years out…still can’t set foot in a church, small groups feel safer for now, but these things remain!

  • Again, wow. This is the trickiest part, sometimes. Emmanuel is a big one for me, too. I have found that as I have tried to pick up pieces and begin reassembling, mostly, they just fall over again. But that one thing Jesus – God with me.

    I remember getting into an argument with someone in a comment thread early on in the process and I told him that if God was they way he (the guy online) described, then he (God) did not deserved to be worshiped. That didn’t go over so well – it was the first time I had be accused of not being a Christian and of being blasphemous. It is a bumpy, tricky road – this examining and sorting of beliefs.

    But through it all – and I mean ALL – Emmanuel. Even when I wasn’t sure any of it was real – Emmanuel still was.

    • Yes, I can see this. Even when I doubt he’ll answer prayers, I still know he’s there. I wanted to say that my one thing is “God is love,” but I get tripped up on things in the OT, and on Paul’s writings, and making those fit into the definition of “love.” Maybe Emmanuel is the very best “one thing” at this point in my journey. It helps me feel a little less lost.

      • The church that I grew up in believed that the Bible was God’s word infallible and inerrant, and that you had to accept everything or nothing. Only in college did I learn how the Bible came about, how many authors, how it was decided what went into the Bible and what didn’t, how it evolved over the years, and how much of a human process the whole thing was. Now I believe “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” I have freed myself from defending anything that doesn’t resonate as truth deep within me. I also dislike several passages in the OT, for example, it makes no sense that a loving God would ordered the massacre of all the innocent people living in the promised land, so I don’t try to justify it. But I believe the Bible reveals so much of God’s truth and is rich with spiritual teaching, and that Jesus revealed to us a deeper meaning of love and what a loving God is like. I also believe ALL Truth is God’s truth wherever it’s found.

        • so pretty, gita. thanks for sharing. i love that philippians passage, too. as i let go of reading the Bible for only study & knowledge, i am so much more deeply stirred by its power and beauty. living with the “i don’t know’s” about this passage or this story has been really freeing.

      • whatever helps us feel a little less lost helps…i like that you didn’t try to make something “work” just to make it work. so glad you are here, bonnie.

      • My favorite Christmas song is O Come O Come Emmanuel. I love the line ‘Emmanuel shall come to thee, o Israel’. B/c Israel means ‘wrestle with God’. So I just love that ‘God With Us’ comes to “Wrestler With God’. It’s just so beautiful.

  • My two favorite parts of this were:
    so when we aren’t quite sure what we believe anymore, we can definitely feel like we have nowhere to belong
    an important part of this step is to remember is it’s not bad to still believe a lot of things that others may have let go of.
    and it’s also not bad to let go of some of the things that others still hold on to.

    One of my Quaker friends asked me to think about what does ground me when I feel so groundless. Ok, it still pains me to say something that sounds so heretical, but what is deep in my heart grounds me. I have a deep sense that God has not rejected me, and that what has been going on in my heart and my life is good, no matter how wrong others may feel that I am. I also hold on to stillness in the presence of mystery. And I also see threads of beauty and value in some of my Christian experiences, and particularly of God’s presence with me through the journey even though I feel that the foundation they used to rest on and my framework for understanding those experiences had some serious flaws.

    • Yes. This. I like the image of holding onto God’s presence even when the foundation is flawed. I am in a place where I am holding onto Jesus – Emmanuel – and being accepted by him while looking at the foundations and wondering if they need to just be ripped out and new ones laid – cautiously, carefully, purposefully….

    • love this christen. i think a lot of our christian experiences have told us to doubt our hearts, that our hearts are completely wicked and can’t be trusted at all. when in reality, God’s image is in there and because he’s not in a box, oh there’s a lot of amazing stuff to be uncovered. i respect your journey so much.

  • God is good.

    Jesus is alive.

    The Holy Spirit can teach us what we are unable to learn in our own power.

    His Word is reliable.

    The two greatest commandments do not conflict with each other.

    The body of Christ is flawed, but beautiful and redeemed.

    Every human being bears the Image.

    I am His.

  • The Apostles’ Creed, in full.

    Dante’s image of the broken gates. (Not sure where, alas.)

    “And in His name all oppression shall cease.”

    To love another person is to see the face of God.

    • “to love another person is to see the face of God.” love. thank you for sharing.

  • Having shared some losses, so good to share what remains.

    God is love and nothing can separate us from His love, including our doubts fears and feelings.

    With God all things are possible and equally nothing is impossible with God.

    God can use me in ways I never would have thought of, and has in different ways and places I would have never known had i not gotten a glimpse, even in the midst of my pain and struggle.

    Awesome series Kathy and sooo excited to be seeing you live in person in a couple weeks!!! I am bringing my sister who also is a Kathy 😀

  • I remember being asked at one point in my faith journey to examine my theological “non-negotiables.” And if I have more than two or three, being challenged to start looking for idols. Am I idolizing the Bible? Am I idolizing myself as a gatekeeper of orthodoxy? Am I placing anything created on a platform above the Creator? etc? etc? etc?

    I have very few non-negotiables — partly because I am not very left-brained and not comfortable with static, analytic, cast-in-concrete, pillars of faith. Here are the ones for today. Tomorrow’s list will undoubtedly be different because in order for the Holy Spirit to do Her work in me, I always need to hold these loosely (click on my name for more).

    (BTW, I use the symbol G-d to represent all three persons of the Trinity)

    1. G-d loves me
    2. G-d loves where I am
    3. G-d loves me enough to not let me stay where I am

    Divine hide-and-seek: it’s the little game we play which draws me closer to where G-d wants me to be. I never really find G-d. Nor do I want to. If I ever thought I did, I would stop becoming. May I never be satisfied with mere be-ing and always thirst for be-coming all that I was meant to be.

    • thanks, jim. it’s amazing what can be enough, especially when we used to have really long lists. beautiful.

  • Thanks so much for this series.

    After 12 years in an abusive church, and 8 years trying to recover from the abusive church, I finally realized I had to let go of all things related to Christianity. I thought it would be more painful than it actually was. The reality is, it felt like finally ceasing hitting myself in the head with a hammer.

    I do think there is a “God” out there. I don’t think he/she/it looks like anything found in the Bible. Right now, I am not capable of putting any kind of theology around that. I guess I would describe myself as “open, but no longer seeking”.

    • “I do think there is a “God” out there. I don’t think he/she/it looks like anything found in the Bible. Right now, I am not capable of putting any kind of theology around that. I guess I would describe myself as “open, but no longer seeking”.

      I think I’m headed in this direction as well. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. Being “open” still leaves us so vulnerable though.

      • thanks for sharing & yeah, even a little bit of ‘open” leaves us vulnerable and is always a risk. but i also like that part because it means we’re human somehow.

    • kat, thanks so much for sharing. that is powerful imagery, that leaving finally let up the swings of a hammer on our head. abusive systems do so much damage. i really like the way you describe yourself, which is brave after what you’ve been through. much peace and glad you’re here.

  • The one thing I know for sure is that He gives me my very life, my next breath—that is enough for today. Is He good and can He be trusted are the two biggies He and I are wrestling over now.

    • thanks for sharing jeanne….I really love hearting these simple but powerful statements.

  • I think that my problem here is that while I have hope for whatever lies beyond… I have very little hope for this life. This life is made up of people, who I cannot control, and while I can grow more stoic and at peace with myself, i will continue to be surrounded by chaos and those willing to settle for mediocrity, even when it comes to God.

    I simply don’t know where to find hope in this life.

    • thanks todd for your honesty. is there anything that does bring a sliver of hope, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant?

      • Not particularly. But then, the tradition I’ve come out of generally promised that life would only get harder, and anything I really loved or enjoyed, I’d have to sacrifice for God.

        I’m not sure that this is realistic or reasonable, but the alternative mostly seems to be mediocrity.

  • Thank you for this series. It helped me see that this is what I’ve been going through over the past year. I’m looking forward to Mondays post.

    I have to admit, this is the most challenging for me, getting past dwelling on the losses and pushing on to pinpoint what remains.

    I know God is personal and cares deeply about me and each person on this earth.

    I know God was revealed in Jesus Christ.

    I know that we know God better through others and therefore it is important to be in relationship with others as well as God.

  • thanks for sharing joy. yeah, this process is messy and takes a lot of time and guts. glad you are here.

  • The building blocks of my deeper faith are:
    All of humanity is made in the image of God.
    The resurrection changed everything. The power of sin and destruction has been broken.
    We are in the process of restoring ourselves to how we were originally made to be.
    We are called to love the unlovable and forgive the unforgivable, because they are image-bearers.

  • What comes to my mind when I read this is a lot of John 6, where Jesus is talking about being the bread of life and how anyone who comes to him will never be driven away.

    For me, I sometimes think of all that was once criteria for correct belief – so much of which I now reject as false and destructive; and in those times fear can really grip me when I start to wonder, “what if I’m wrong?”. What if I really am on that “slippery slope”, “backsliding”, “double-minded”, “unstable”, “rebellious”, “astray” and the hundred other labels that I’ve seen slapped on people who reject some of those same things I reject? When I focus on those doctrines it can be pretty scary…

    …BUT when I focus on who Jesus was, how he lived his life, what he said…
    …and when I when I really allow that to soak deep into my heart…
    …and I let it change me and change how I live my life…
    I don’t know. I just feel deeply nourished (still hungry, still thirsty, but strangely satisfied too), and I don’t feel like He’s let me go or forsaken me. I feel like this place I’m in is walking right behind him, even tripping on his heels. And that is where love casts out fear.

    So my one thing, my hope is in knowing that whatever else I have rejected, I have not rejected Jesus. Instead, my heart echoes Peter’s words in John 6. There’s no other place I want to be.

  • I get so caught up with the why’s and what for’s. I tend to focus all my attention on how we were wronged, how what the church was doing was wrong, and how hurt we are as a result. Thank you for reminding me to change my focus to what remains.
    My one thing:
    Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man will come to the Father except through Him.
    I have spent far too much time and energy serving the church. It is time I redirect my focus on the Truth…my Savior, my Lord!

    • thanks, lisa, i really appreciate your sharing. do think those raw emotions are so important, and real. the anger, the sadness, the loss. but remembering what’s left, even if it’s just a shred, is so helpful. your shred is a very powerful one!


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