rebuilding after deconstruction: 1. 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 growth. it 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.
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next in this series: acknowledging losses.