severing: some do, some don’t.

kathyescobar faith shifts 11 Comments

Oh, how I want to spend the next month just unpacking Unraveling, but the truth is that is what the book is for! There are also all kinds of blog posts I’ve written here about deconstruction and unraveling over the years, starting in 2008.  The purpose of this series wasn’t to flesh these out, but to provide a way to share the widest, broadest strokes of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart in one place.

So far, we’ve touched on the certainty, conformity, and affiliation of Fusing, the rumbles of Shifting, some of the reasons for Returning, and losses of Unraveling as we move toward greater authenticity, autonomy, and uncertainty in our faith.

Today I want to share briefly about a tricky stage that not everyone who unravels experiences–Severing.

Some people sever from their former faith, some people don’t. Severing isn’t right or wrong, good or bad. It just is, and I’m grateful that my editors agreed on the importance of this stage, no matter how hard it is to talk about in so many Christian circles.

Whether we agree with Severing or not, it’s real for so many.

I feel passionately that it must be truly honored.

Trying to control people’s faith experiences will just not help; it always backfires. 

I also want to honor that not everyone cuts ties completely with their former faith. That’s my personal experience; I never completely severed, and that doesn’t make my unraveling less or more difficult or painful or valid. It just means that in my own personal experience, I tried to shake Jesus, I really did, but I just couldn’t. His upside down ways just kept drawing me in despite all of my issues with the systems built on his name. At the same time, I know that others have had completely different experiences and I completely respect that.

One thing I mention over and over in the material is letting go of looking at others and measuring our faith shifts against theirs or worrying about how others might be looking in on ours. I realize that’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s such a critical part of owning our own unique story.

There are four specific conclusions that I touch on in Faith Shift. They are fleshed out in more detail in the book, but these are places that some people arrive at after Unraveling, even if they are temporary, to find some peace. I realize that some of these are part of the doubts and questions that come into play during Unraveling, too, but when I’m talking about Severing, I mean more of a landing place (of all possible lengths) than a quick cycling through process.

See if any of these resonate for you, either now or in the past as part of your evolving faith.

“Maybe There Is No God”  / Atheism and losing belief in God all together, sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily, is where some people land after Unraveling.

“I Think Some Kind of God Exists, but…” /  Many people become agnostics or spiritual but not religious (SBNR) after Unraveling, holding onto a belief in God but without the specifics.

“I’m Done with Christianity, not God” / A lot of men and women don’t sever from God but rather from the conception of God expressed in their former faith systems. All ties with church systems are completely done.

“To Save My Soul, I Need to Let Go of My Faith” / Spiritual abuse is so real, and often severing completely is the best hope to find true healing. The toxicity is too great, and the tendency to end up “underneath” in another oppressive system is too risky (pp. 116-123).

From talking to a lot of people about Severing over time, one thing is clear–it can be really lonely. It’s hard when others are rebuilding or never left and we’ve cut all our ties.

At the same time, it can also feel very freeing for some people, too.

This particular chapter is filled with stories of people who have severed for all different reasons and intersect it with from all different places. My hope is that those who need it will find comfort in their stories.

I also know that although a lot of people sever, some do eventually feel a pull toward wanting something spiritually again in some shape or form. This is why I wrote the whole last section of the book on Rebuilding (and the blog series it was based on called Rebuilding After Deconstructing).  That’s tomorrow and the final post in this 6 part series.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Severing.  

If you’ve experienced it, what was or is it like of you? What do you wish people understood about it?

Tomorrow–Rebuilding: Finding Life Again.


ps: One of the things I care deeply about is creating places where shame can lose its grip.  My life is completely different because of that safe space many years ago and I have seen over and over what can happen when we have places to share the truth of our stories without fixing, scripturizing, or judgment. Tamara Buchan recently interviewed me for her blog about breaking shame through community and the post just went up. It’s called The Impact of Shame on Communities.