rebuilding after deconstructing: 4. finding what works

blog finding what worksthis is the 5th post in a series here on rebuilding after deconstructing and navigating through deep shifts in our faith.  the other posts are:  introduction, 1. honoring the process, 2. acknowledging losses. 3. discovering what remains.  thank you for all of the responses.  hard but beautiful stuff. 

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every wednesday night at our house we have a “house of refuge”.  it’s a wild, diverse & open group that’s been meeting since the refuge started in 2006.  we share a meal & spiritual conversation lead by a different person each week (i call it “spiritual show and tell”). it’s so fun (and wacky, too). a few years ago, a friend shared at our group a significant truth from alcoholics anonymous that i have never forgotten.  she has a lot of sobriety and has helped many others along the way.  she shared that when it comes to getting sober, people need to do “whatever works” (that doesn’t harm or hurt ourselves or anyone else).

desperate circumstances require desperate measures.  whatever works means finding something that keeps us sober so that we can get some healing underneath our belt and get on more solid ground.

these words have lingered, and as someone who journeys with a lot of hurting people related to life & faith, i use it all the time.

when we are in a battle to rebuild our faith, we need to do whatever works.

when we’re tired, hurting, and confused, we can’t worry about spiritual technicalities and what other people deem as must-have-beliefs-or-practices-that-“count” as spiritual enough.  these are things that got a lot of us into trouble in the first place.

from what i can tell, God is not a God of technicalities. 

people are.  but God’s not.

God is bigger than our boxes–and other people’s boxes, too.  

part of rebuilding our faith requires finding ways to connect with God & our souls that make us come more alive. 

finding what works is about experimenting with practices and ways of being that create life, passion, and connection.  God is in those places, even if none of these areas seem overtly “spiritual” in the weird & limiting ways we have been taught to define it.  we must keep bridging the divide between the sacred and the secular and respect that God is always present–revealing, stirring, challenging, reminding, healing, inspiring, convicting, loving.

i realize some of your evangelometers might be going off right now, flashing “warning, warning–whatever works is dangerous, whatever works is dangerous.”  but on this rebuilding & renewal process, i am going to firmly say that i think any connection with God is better than no connection with God.  technicalities, forced-practices, and assuming that God needs our “perfect” ideas about the Bible, typical church, and certain specifics in order to show up will wreck our rebuilding because it’s just far too limiting.

remember my friend’s sharing–when people are getting sober, they need to find whatever works.  it’s not forever.  over time, those-in-recovery will have to do all kinds of other things & participate in all kinds of other practices that don’t feel great as part of our healing. as people of faith, people renewing our faith, whatever works won’t work forever.  there are many times we will need to engage in different practices we don’t like in order to grow.

just not right now.

some of those practices almost ruined us so we can’t expect them to bring us life today.  during the time of trying to find our way back to God & hope & faith & more secure ground, i strongly and firmly believe we need to start with whatever works.

here are some of the ways “whatever works” can look:

what makes us feel alive?  what makes us feel loved?  what are we passionate about?  do those, do those, do those.  try not to evaluate its spiritual-depth but just enjoy the feelings of connection & hope.  

there are lots of ways to connect with God .  this exercise is really freeing, check it out if you haven’t already.   

if reading the Bible freaks us out right now, put it on the shelf and find something else to read that is inspiring and challenging.  

if we miss the Bible and want to try to open it again, do, and allow ourselves the practice of reading it for its beauty instead of study or in any way that inspires & challenges.   

if connecting with God as father is jacking us up, consider another aspect of God’s character and image that does bring life (i often ask–what part of God do you want to connect with, do you really need right now & start there. a lot of people say Jesus as my friend but there are a lot of aspects of God to work with!).

practice soul care – rest, play, fun, art, music, movies, beauty.  when our souls are nurtured & strengthened & find rest and peace, God is there.  (i meet God at the movies almost every time). 

go to the social hour at church & visit with people you love…then leave when they start preaching or singing or whatever-might-cause-an-allergic-reaction.

dig down and find what feels helpful to us, not what we see someone else doing or think we “should” be doing.  keep asking–what helps?  what helps us feel more alive, more human, more awake?

for me, one of the most sustaining pieces of my faith journey has been sticking with what makes my heart come alive–people.  community & connection & conversations have been my “whatever works” and have kept me tethered to God.  i am often criticized for not being spiritual-enough, biblical-enough, christian-enough.  but i don’t care because people have kept my faith alive.

and i’m pretty sure that’s enough for God.

it’s certainly enough for me.

what’s “working” for you right now?

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tomorrow:  celebrating what was 

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.


  • Kathy,
    This is an absolutely lovely post. I’ve just begun my career as a professor of Sociology, and am finding that right now I am in deep and desperate need of the feminine divine. Granted, as a “recovering” evangelical (LOL), I am terrified of offending the God whose power is derived from his male-ness, but I’m finding that those ideas I’ve internalized just aren’t as important to God as they have been to me (and my denomination) up to this point. I’m reading books I would never have dared to read before, searching for God in ways that are new, and finding that the fear is slowly being replaced with fascination, awe, and wonder – pretty good things to have in a real relationship.
    Thanks so much!

    • hey lori, thanks for sharing where you’re at and the brave steps you are taking to search for God in ways that are new. although i know some would disagree since “fear of the Lord” is their starting point, but i feel pretty sure that it’s a beautiful & good thing when “fear is slowly being placed with fascination, awe, and wonder” in our relationship with God. love it. congratulations on your new career, too. glad you are here.

    • “…fear is slowly being replaced with fascination, awe, and wonder”

      Love that! God is so much bigger than whatever little drawers we try to cram them/her/him/it into.

      With eyes as big as baseballs, the little girl lifts the treasure out of the drawer and is filled to overflowing with the joy of her discovery.

  • Thanks, as always, for sharing. I seem to be directed here when there is something that I am in need of reading. Something for my soul’s growth. I’ve been helping out at a christian high school this year. Working with kids who are struggling with the work of school. The principal asked if I would be interested in being on the board of directors. She believed I could provide some insight between the actual classroom and the board. When I was being “interviewed” by the board they discovered I did not belong to an organized church. They rejected me on that ground alone. They weren’t interested in my reasons for not being a church member. Only that I didn’t play church the way they deemed it should be played.

    Since I stopped going to an organized church I have never felt closer to God. I was burned by my former church and lost my footing. It’s taken this time away from most church folk for me to heal. I have more passion for Christ and His mission than I ever did while attending weekly meetings. It’s what I need at this point in my life. I suspect at some point I will be ready to return to church. But for now I’m doing whatever it takes… for me. Thanks for writing about this. It gave me some confidence that what I am doing is okay.

    • gillian, you, like many others i know are finding a much closer, free-er, stronger relationship with God outside of “the church.” i think some people inside are just jealous 🙂 seriously. but your story points to the reality. “church” in its typical form is the end-all-and-the-be-all and somehow the only way that we can experience God in a lot of people’s eyes. i am so glad you are just doing what you need to do during this season to take good care of your soul & find a new confidence & hope in your journey with God. glad you found your way here yesterday. you are definitely in good company and i am glad you shared your story because others will find hope from it over time, too.

  • The main thing that works for me is reading books, and listening to podcasts. I learn so much from how other people have understood and implemented the Bible and following Jesus. I feel like I know the Bible so well that I have trouble learning anything new from it (which I know is ridiculous), but I just have trouble seeing the familiar stories in new ways. The Story of God by Gladding is helping with that some. But I love reading ‘christian living’ or theology books.

    • I, too, ran into the “nothing new in here” wall — then I started reading N.T. Wright’s For Everyone series. Wow! The Bible is once again reading me a whole lot more than I am reading it.

      • n.t. wright rocks. i always wish i had more time to process some of his stuff but i get the cliff notes now and then.

        • I’m the same way. I get his stuff from the library, but it’s so time consuming I can never get it done in time. I need to just buy a few books so I can think my way through them.

    • thanks, caris. yeah, i needed a break from the Bible in the same-old-ways so that when i did pick it up, i could see it through new lenses, but still, when i go to certain passages, some of the very specific teachings on it can come flashing back and i have to remember “it was just their interpretation, it was just their interpretation, there are other gems in here to find, there are other gems in here to find” i need to check out sean’s book, what’s it been like for you? any other ones you want to toss out so that others might go “oh, i might need to check that out.”

      • This is such a terrible question to ask me. I always have a million books that I’m reading at once, lol. I’m so lucky that I’m able to read quickly.

        My favorite spiritual books have been:
        All of Donald Miller’s, especially Searching for God Knows What and A Million Miles.
        All of Rob Bell
        The Blue Parakeet, One Life, and King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
        Mere Discipleship – Lee Camp
        All of Lauren Winner
        All of Shane Claiborne
        Divine Embrace – Robert Webber
        The Holy Longing – Ronald Rolheiser
        Culture Making – Andy Crouch
        Telling the Truth – Buechner
        Madeline L’Engle’s non-fiction

  • For one person, country Western music, pizza or chenille bedspreads may be somewhat innocuous. For someone else any one of those items may bring back unpleasant memories. Likewise, church music, sermons or even certain Scriptures may remind me of some very painful past memories, even thouggh those things in and of themselves were not the cause of the pain.

    What works for you may not work for me and what works for me may not work for you. I promise not to try to make you participate in what makes you want to run the other direction, screaming as you go, if you are willing to extend the same courtesy to me. Similarly, if I understand God or the Bible differently I’ll not force my views on you if you are willing to extend the same courtesy to me. Now why is it that so many churches and religious people don’t get this? Screaming at me and trying to force what works for them down my throat is supposed to make me agree? It doesn’t work. At best it repels people. At worst, it makes enemies.

    • so good. i think that might be at the essence of so much of our trouble as a christian religion–we want what works for us to work for everyone else and have gone around the world trying to make it be that way. instead of introducing people to Jesus and trusting that there are a lot of ways to connect with him. i like that Jesus healed people in all different ways, not just one.

  • Thank you for this series Kathy, it has been very helpful to me as I have been rethinking my journey of faith and asking, considering all my church experiences…how then do I live.

    I want to tell you that I see something truly beautiful, I see Jesus’ love reflected in this post. God bless Christian leaders that can lay down all that they have been taught about “assimilating” the “target audience” and simply love and connect people with God and facilitate healing in people’s lives! Laying down the “Three ways to do this” and “ten ways to do that” and the “five ways to have the coolest church in town” consumer focused, business model, human, non-Christian formulas that leave some people abandoned, oppressed and abused by the church. Seriously… wish there were more church leaders like you out there, that is the church community that I’m searching for and it is hard to find in my neck of the woods.

    The sustaining pieces of my faith are Jesus Christ Himself, I still feel loved and cherished by Him and I love and cherish my relationship with Him. I love the Bible and still find it a great source of deep wisdom and comfort. Another piece is people based also; I am blessed by my family and friends and by most of the people that God puts in my life. I learn a lot from other people, some good stuff and some bad stuff. I agree with Sam, live and let live. If the church would stop trying to micro-manage everyone’s lives and mash them into a one size fit’s all relationship with God box, not necessarily something so linear and so charted out, possibly something more organic journey/process, it would be much more loving, egalitarian and non-oppressive environment.

    • thanks, laurie, amen to this: “If the church would stop trying to micro-manage everyone’s lives and mash them into a one size fit’s all relationship with God box, not necessarily something so linear and so charted out, possibly something more organic journey/process, it would be much more loving, egalitarian and non-oppressive environment.” so with you!

  • Man, I think the is the hardest part of the process. Although that might be because it’s what I’m in the middle of. A lifetime of religious indoctrination does not uproot as easily as I would like. I keep finding roots of things I thought were gone. Sigh.

    I really don’t think church will ever be on the list of things that work for me. So…. I need to find another way of having community with other believers. It is just so hard to find ones that don’t want to ‘fixed’ you and get you ‘back in the fold’.

    So, yeah, still looking for what works. 🙂

    • yeah, when those tracks have been layed so strongly, it is very tricky to build new grooves that lead toward hope & life & freedom. that reality is hard to accept, that somehow we’ll have to deal with it forever, but i love what’s possible. you and my other friends who are in the same boat on really pulling up some of these core oppressive roots from spiritual abuse are extra brave. it’s so tiring, what you have had to break free from, such tough stuff and honestly, it makes me so mad that you have to. i pray rest and peace as you keep walking this new road toward life.

  • Yeah that sheep image of “back in the fold” made me think that there are actually a lot of different kinds of sheep in the care of the great shepherd. I have driven past a lot of wild sheep up in the canyons. They seem to be doing fine. Their life is not one that the typical sheep can pull off, but they are beautiful if you can find them. They are not “wild” in the sense of being party animals, but rather simply undomesticated. That doesn’t make them non-social or non-valuable, just natural. A little analogy from wikipedia is amusing to me-
    “Bighorn sheep generally inhabit alpine meadows, grassy mountain slopes and foothill country near rugged, rocky cliffs and bluffs…Bighorn sheep live in large flocks, and do not typically follow a single leader ram, unlike the mouflon, the ancestor of the domestic sheep, which has a strict dominance hierarchy. …Bighorn sheep are highly susceptible to certain diseases carried by domestic sheep; additional mortality occurs as a result of accidents involving rock fall or falling off cliffs (a hazard of living in steep, rugged terrain). Bighorns are well adapted to climbing steep terrain where they seek cover from predators.”
    I guess what works best for me is learning to climb up and down on the rocks, into ravines to drink, and up to pasture to graze. All the while carrying on the social dance of just being a sheep. 🙂

    • now that’s pretty fun. love. now when i see these wild sheep on the canyons i am going to say “there are all my friends”!

    • I’m re-reading Scouting the Divine right now and she talks about sheep in there, and oen of my favorite parts is when she says how there are so many different sizes, shapes, colors, and textures of sheep. I just love that. I don’t have to be the snow white sheep of Sunday School handouts to fit in with the flock.

  • What works for me right now:

    1. Skipping church, the Bible, and praying.
    2. A vague belief that the universe probably has a creator.
    3. This hypothetical creator is not all knowing (though it certainly knows a good deal more than me), not all powerful (though it’s certainly much more powerful than me), and most certainly not all loving.
    4. If my kids ask me questions about God, I will most likely answer “I don’t know.”
    5. Spending time with friends, Christian or otherwise, with whom I can talk honestly about this.
    6. Reading books. So far just Evolving in Monkey Town, but I started Still.

    • thanks so much for sharing your list. i always love when people give themselves permission to stop doing certain things for a while. we won’t die if we don’t go to church or read our Bible for a while or pray intentionally. the earth won’t come to a screeching halt and our souls will not go into mortal danger. but somehow we’ve been taught it might. glad you’re finding what works for you. evolving in monkey town is a great one.

      • This i where I am stuck…the fear of mortal danger rears its ugly head now and then. I vascilate between peace and fear.

        • it is so hard to break free from the “mortal danger” when so much fear has been embedded in our experience for so long. it is really tricky, that voice that haunts us with doubt, with fear, that maybe we really are on our way to hell. praying for peace and healing for you as you continue on this bumpy road toward freedom. you are so not alone!

    • “I don’t know” is a really healthy place to be … the Spirit can work with “I don’t know” … with the innocence and heart of a child.

      That works. I think it works much better than a stiff-necked “I know” … and certainly better than “I don’t care.”

      But … hey! … what do I know?

  • What works right now:

    * A study bible chosen for transparent biases and lay-flat binding
    * A $4.95 journal from a bookstore chain, and a few pens to go with it
    * Reading to reflect, not (for the moment) study

    Whenever I remember to start before midnight, I write a few pages.
    Most of it is disgracefully bad by my standards. Which works.

    A lifetime’s worth of attempted prayers also felt disgracefully bad.
    Page by page, the writing is starting to form into a voice.

    • it’s amazing how what works can be so simple, especially when we let go of critiquing it. thank you.

  • What works for me right now is an online message board frequented by egalitarian Christ-followers. The forum itself seems to make it easier for me to find real conversation, than I am able to manage on blogs with hundreds of commenters. (And it’s slower-paced than a chatroom, so I can keep up!)

    The people there are so loving and humble, and as a group seem to have modeled Christ more than any physical church body I’ve ever been a part of. I feel encouraged to follow Jesus and become more like Him in that environment.

    Face-to-face interaction is important too, but I believe Christ’s church exists online, as well as in the “real world.”

  • thanks verity, i do believe that Christ’s church exists online, too. it’s amazing what can happen through this connection and i’m so glad you found a safe space right now. beautiful.

  • Kathy, I have been loving this series. I started it a little late and have been reading through it slowly to give myself a few days to absorb each installment before moving on to the next one. This one was really on my mind when I wrote my latest blog post, and I hope it’s okay that I quoted you and linked to the series.

    • hey liz, of course, that is what they are here for and glad you are taking your time. that’s really what i had hoped for, it’s way too much each and every day but i did it that way because everyone is, indeed, at a different spot and it wasn’t meant to all travel at the same time together. plus, if i draw things out, uh oh. it’s really hard for me to finish 🙂 do you have the link to your posts?

  • What works for me? Blogs like this one, a few scattered friends who are on similar journeys, attending church now and then as an observer–watching the service from a distance, trying to stay calm, listening, talking with friends about what was said (and usually why it upset me). Peaceful music helps and so does nature.

    It helps to look at the moon and remember that though I can’t see the sun, it must be there somewhere or the moon wouldn’t be illuminated. It helps to watch a stream wind its way around smooth rocks, or to listen to the interplay between the wind and the trees, and to watch them sway.

    I may not be able to answer the BIG questions, but I am okay with not knowing for now.

    • what a great list of what works. i love that thought about the moon….beautiful.

  • Yoga is working right now… getting my body engaged. I feel like I need more vertical growth – including cultivating a better body awareness and exploring the connection between body and spirit. Surrendering my body to God as opened new vistas and I find Him whispering to me mid-practice. I know some evangelicals are wary of yoga, but it has been a great addition to this season of my life as I move in different directions.

    • thanks, kelley, sorry for the late response. that mind body connection so powerful!

  • ~ painting, gardening, playing with my kids
    ~ reading – but not limiting myself to religious books. If God made this brain in my head that’s interested in economics, hunger, human rights, and development MUCH more than another book on theology, then maybe I can hope to find him in the pages of Amartya Sen? That’s what I’m trying right now, anyway.
    ~ Learning to be honest. I’ve spent a long time holding thoughts and questions that feel like live grenades, and in trying to be diplomatic and tactful I end up falling on them rather than letting them go and risk hurting/offending anyone else. Someday I hope to learn a better, more thoughtful kind of honesty, but for now I’m trying to spend time with safe people who can handle the ugly mess of me learning how to be honest without trying so hard to be nice about it.
    ~ reading this series – it’s giving me some direction and structure for some of what I need to work through.
    ~ I’ve let myself meditate on a little atheism. what if this is all there is? if there was no God, no heaven, no eternity? If it’s all a lie, how much of what I’ve been doing is a waste of my time? If my existence was limited to a few decades on this planet – how would I want to spend it? Not serving a structure I don’t like and not souring and suffocating in the box of religion – for sure! But, oddly there is a lot in my faith I would still want to embrace because there is beauty and life there. That’s the filter that’s working for me right now, anyway!

    • this is an awesome list! thanks for sharing it, so encouraging.


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