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Four Things to Remember When Deconstructing
Some things I wish I'd heard twenty years ago
Faith deconstruction is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. More and more of us are experiencing this unraveling of our beliefs and assumptions about God, the Bible, and the entire “sacred canopy” that once satisfactorily explained the world for us. This process is filled with so many emotions—fear, anger, curiosity, excitement, then more fear and anger—and it has a significant blast radius. Not only does deconstruction affect our theological world, but that also bleeds into other areas of our lives, like our relationships, and for some, our paychecks. From my own experiences over the years I’ve learned some things that I wish someone had told me at the very beginning, so I’d love to share them with you in the off chance that they will be helpful.
Four Things to Remember When Deconstructing
First, we don’t choose to deconstruct. I’ve noticed some posts on social media lately that have essentially encouraged people to “go against the flow” of deconstruction. Don’t deconstruct they say, choose to remain where you are. The inherent flaw in that line of thinking is the idea that anyone has made a choice to deconstruct. Who would choose this? It’s not some trend, like the kind of jeans we wear or a haircut. It’s a complete unraveling of our foundation. Deconstruction isn’t easy and it’s definitely not cheap. There is a cost to be paid, and that cost is heavy and painful (see number two).
If any choice is being made, then it’s a choice to pursue wholeness and integrity. That’s what is at the core of this deconstruction experience; it’s opting to no longer live with an incongruence between the head and the heart. That decision, to pursue a fully integrated humanity regardless of the cost, is an act of courage. If you’re reading this and you are in the throes of deconstruction you know that you have not chosen this journey, but you also haven’t shied away from the unknown. That is brave and needs to be celebrated.
Second, grief is a natural response. Deconstruction brings with it loss—the loss of a belief system, the loss of relationships, and more. So, even as you may be experiencing gratitude for a new way of seeing, you will likely also experience the grief that accompanies all of the losses that we experience in life. Early on, I thought it didn’t bother me. It’s fine, I thought. But eventually the strained and now awkward relationships and the breakup emails from those who played a significant role in shaping me caught up. It hurt. It was and is a loss, and I had to grieve it. I still grieve it, actually. I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t change my process at all. Yet, I still grieve.
Third, there is no script for how this process plays out. Often when people ask about the deconstruction process, they do so in terms of “how long it’s taking.” After all, isn’t the goal to eventually “reconstruct?” (Actually, I don’t think it is.)
I’ll never forget an interaction I had with a woman after speaking at an event. She came up to me in tears, because she didn’t feel like she was moving as quickly as she should have been. She was still struggling to let go of or reframe certain aspects of the Bible and her beliefs about it. The process wasn’t liberating for her because it felt like there was a rush to just arrive, to be “fully deconstructed.” Here’s the good news: You and I will never be fully deconstructed. That’s not the goal. The goal is to be on a journey of continual learning, growth, and transformation. That means we will always be in-process. We’ll always have new questions, learn new information that challenges our assumptions and interpretations, and be in a continual rhythm of letting go so we can embrace what’s been waiting for us. Every person, every experience, and every journey will be unique. Give yourself the permission to move at the pace that works for you. As the poet Mary Oliver beautifully reminded us,
“Things take the time they take.”
The seeds of my deconstruction began around the age of eleven, but blossomed abundantly around the age of twenty-three. That means I’ve been consciously on this journey for almost twenty years, and I am still being challenged to let go of understandings that no longer serve me well. Because the goal, after all, is transformation. It’s about becoming a more grounded and whole human being. Which is to say, it’s about human flourishing, becoming the best possible human we can become. For some that deconstruction journey will take them away from any connection to church or the Bible, and that’s okay. For others of us, like me, it will lead us to reimagine and reclaim our faith through these new lenses we are discovering, and that’s okay.
One final thought here: Reconstruction may seem like the logical progression, but I actually think it’s problematic. We deconstruct, tear it all down, and then immediately begin to construct something else in it’s place that we will eventually need to…tear down. I think there are other metaphors, organic ones like turning over the soil of a garden, composting the dead remains of last year that are then transformed into nutrients for this year’s growth. Perhaps I’ll say more about this soon in another post.
Fourth, you aren’t alone. This may be the most important thing. If you hear nothing else, hear this: You aren’t the only one experiencing this. You are part of a growing community of people who are asking questions, experiencing loss, anger and grief, and learning and growing in new and exciting ways. This journey will be unique, and we all won’t follow the same path or time table, but we share the reality that we are in uncharted territory. Not only are you not alone, but there isn’t something wrong with you. You aren’t being unfaithful or bad. You are doing exactly what you should be doing. You are paying attention to your head and your heart and seeking whatever might be true, wherever it might lead. That’s scary and beautiful and takes a ton of courage. Go you!
Those are just some things I wish I’d have heard a couple decades ago. I would love to hear from you! What are some things you would say are important to remember on this journey? Feel free to comment, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), and please subscribe and share this post if you found it helpful.