By Will Small
Deconstruction has become a buzz word in recent years. But it doesn’t feel like such a buzz when you are questioning everything you have always believed, and juggling mini existential crises in between all the other regular life chaos. It can feel pretty dang stressful!
What makes it particularly difficult is there is no clear road map for how to do this. Many of the questions you may have begun asking have previously felt forbidden or off-limits. It can feel like Christian people you know might burn you at the stake if you share openly. And people without a Christian faith don’t care about your questions regarding penal substitutionary atonement.
But, you are not alone. What you are going through is a normal, healthy part of growing, and I believe that leaning into your questions and doubts can be the beginning of resurrecting faith (after all, you don’t get to resurrection without something dying).
Healthy and safe community can play such a key role in reconstructing faith, and it grieves me that many people feel like they have to choose between staying in community and hiding their questions, or exiting the community to embrace their questions. What if personal authenticity within a safe spiritual community is exactly what we need?
I recognise that every journey is different, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But as I have been on my own journey of deconstructing and reconstructing many aspects of faith over the last few years, I have stumbled into a whole bunch of perspectives, ideas and voices that I wish someone had told me about earlier in life. It could have saved me a few sleepless nights. My hope is that maybe sharing some of what has helped me will help others.
Here are a few key thoughts to keep in mind when it feels like your faith is coming undone.
- Questioning your faith doesn’t have to mean losing your faith.
I often joke with people about how I never converted to Christianity….but every aspect of my Christianity has been converted. I don’t think this is wrong; I think maybe this is how it is actually supposed to be. Don’t buy into the polarising narratives that say you’re either ‘all in’ or you need to ‘get out’.
- Think of your faith as a living being.
Your faith was once a cute baby. Then a curious and relatively innocent 5 year old. Then a moody teenager who knew everything. Maybe now it’s a back-packing young adult who doubts everything. Maybe it’s in a quarter or mid-life crisis. Point being, faith is not supposed to be some static thing like a trophy gathering dust on your mantel (if you have a mantel. Side note: who has a mantel these days?) It’s a living, breathing thing. But if we weren’t taught to expect this it can feel real weird when our faith doesn’t behave like it did yesterday. But when you really think about it, it would be a lot weirder for it to stay the same, while everything else in your life grew, changed and evolved.
- Having the answer to everything doesn’t really matter; knowing there are different options is hugely helpful.
The problem is not with having a particular view on any given topic. It’s believing that is the only option. That’s fundamentalism. I have become increasingly comfortable with people holding different views and perspectives – I think the list of Christian ‘essentials’ should be small. There are people smarter than me with opposing views on every issue of doctrine. So at the end of the day, I do my work, read different books and try to develop views that align with my own sense of integrity. But even just knowing there are a range of different views available that all fall within the one big umbrella of Christianity is really liberating. The Bible talks about people from ‘every tribe, every nation’. In other words, not just your tribe. That sounds like good news to me.
- Think of it as renovating.
Deconstruction can be an important part of a process. But as an end goal it is pretty depressing. I have also found that everything is always a mix! Sometimes I feel like I move between deconstructing and reconstructing five times a week. According to the Psalms this is pretty standard spirituality. So, it’s a small thing, but I’ve found it helpful to think of the whole thing as a constant reno project. I live in this house. I don’t plan to move out. The plumbing needs work. Nice view out the window though. I want to invite people to eat at the table with me. But I also need to tidy up the mess around the place and take out the trash. Things can be two ways at once. This can be a breath-of-fresh-air kind of reminder.
- Maybe you’re the one who is anchored.
A while back, I asked someone I really look up to what has helped them continue to follow Jesus over many decades, even with all the questions they have struggled with. I asked, what has helped you hold on? This person, with some time-earned wisdom basically responded: “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve been the one holding on. I feel like Jesus has held onto me.” I know this might sound a little corny but there is a beauty in it. If God is really like the love that is revealed in Jesus, then we can rest assured that we are held, rather than needing to always be the one grasping. Maybe when our grip is weakest, we are the most deeply cradled in grace (2 Corinthians 12:9 would suggest so).
- Healthy Community is Key
Let’s do this together. Find good people who have a faith you find attractive/feel safe with and walk the road together. I don’t think many things are more important than this.
Next week I’ll share a bunch of books, podcasts and other resources that have really helped me put my faith back together. For now I hope at least one of these tips gives you the courage to keep walking your path.
If you’ve walked a similar road, what has helped you? Are there any tips you would add to this list?