the dangers of deconstruction

"The Dangers of Deconstruction" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“The Dangers of Deconstruction” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

[GET THIS CARTOON!]

Deconstruction… the changing of your beliefs, the crumbling of your faith, the loss of your religion… can be a dangerous process. It isn’t for all, but I think it is for most.

This is a letter I wrote to the members of The Lasting Supper, my online community where we help and support each other deconstruct and reconstruct our spiritual autonomy and independence in healthy ways.

What I want to write about today in my weekly letter to you is a kind of a warning. I want to warn you about the dangers of deconstruction.

I’ve been through it. When I left the ministry and the church five years ago, I had no idea what devastation I was about to undergo.

Deconstruction = Devastation.

There’s no other way of looking at it. Sorry. It’s for the good, but getting there can be rough.

I suppose there are some people who experience a very smooth and serene transition in the deconstruction of their faith and beliefs. But in my observation they’re rare.

The norm is rocky and stormy.

So I will share with you a few of the dynamics I personally experienced, and still do to some extent.

1. DEPRESSION:

The first thing I want to warn you about is depression. For the first year after I left the church I thought I was okay. In fact, I thought I was really happy. I felt free for the first time since I could remember. But… and my good wife Lisa pointed this out to me after about a year… I was depressed. I wasn’t feeling anything because I was actually numb. Emotionally, I was frozen.

The nasty thing about depression is that it isn’t contained. It doesn’t restrict itself to one little corner of your brain. It’s like campfire smoke that permeates all it touches. It gets into everything and clings to it. No matter what you use to get it out, it still lingers.

This is what happens to anyone who experiences any kind of trauma. We lock down as a coping mechanism. It is human, natural and often healthy because it can protect us from something more serious. Freezing emotionally enables us to let the trauma melt in increments and slowly evaporate rather than melting all at once and drowning us in a flood of despair forever.

The best thing to do is recognize it. “I’m depressed. I’m in a slump. Emotionally, I am frozen.” Just admitting it is the first huge step. Recognize it. Acknowledge it. Embrace it.

Now that you’ve done that, you can take very certain steps to address it. It took me some good counseling, coaching and spiritual direction to guide me out of that slump. And the gentle patience of my wife, kids and friends.

In other words, get help! It’s just for a season, but you can make sure you weather it well.

2. CONFUSION:

The next thing I would like to warn you about is confusion. When I left the church the confusion that wrapped itself around my brain was debilitating. Theologically and philosophically, I had come to a place of peace of mind that has never left and is now, I believe, a permanent state I enjoy. But, on the other hand, I couldn’t see the road ahead at all. I was completely blind and in the dark. I’d always had a sense of purpose and destiny that was now gone. What’s next? I had no idea. This was an uncomfortably new experience for me.

But I recognized this from times it had happened before. I’ve personally tested this and now I know it is true: when you let a question abide in your mind, in time the solution will come. You can read more about this in my book Questions Are The Answer. I purposely didn’t say “the answer will come” because it often isn’t like an answer to a math problem. It has happened to me so many times and proven itself to me over and over again that when a deep question of profound importance troubles my intellect, I will just let it stay there and do its work. Over time, a peace will come that will resolve the tension in your mind. It might take days, weeks, months or years. But it will come. Promise!

Learning to live with the question is a skill you probably were not taught in the church. But it is a skill you must learn. This does not mean you give up. This does not mean you reject the question. This does not mean you cease your studies. This means you trust the question to unlock itself and reveal the deeper truth you are seeking when the time is ripe.

Seek and you will find. Wisdom is the reward of the patiently seeking.

3. STRAIN:

The third and final dynamic I want to warn you about is the strain deconstruction will put on your personal life. Especially on your relationships. Especially on your marriage. I saw it in my own life and I see it all the time in the lives of others.

No matter how young or old you are, it’s like a kind of mid-life crisis happens. Indeed, I claim that deconstruction looks very much like a mid-life crisis. It is a crisis. And it drops right in the middle of your life. Hence… mid-life crisis!

For now let me say this: the worst time to make big life decisions and changes is in the middle of a crisis. Endure the strain and wait.

I remember the overwhelming feeling I had at the end of my time in the church was feeling trapped. Then in one evening it became clear that my escape was laid out before me and I should take it. I did, and the freedom I felt was amazing. But this feeling of being trapped infiltrated everything else in my life, including my religion, my home, my work with nakedpastor, my marriage, and my family and friends. I wanted to run away from everything. Including nakedpastor! Lisa’s always been great. There was nothing wrong there, but my attitude betrayed that I didn’t want the feeling of being trapped in anything, and my confused mind translated this into the idea that I didn’t want anymore commitments, and that I wanted to run free and alone for the rest of my days. No, I didn’t run off with another woman. I just wanted out of everything! But I imagined myself a grumpy old fart alone in a one-bedroom apartment hanging over a stove with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, a tumbler of scotch in one hand and a stirring spoon in the other making Kraft Dinner. A nightmare! But at the time, it felt better than being trapped. Crazy! I know.

I’m so glad I didn’t act on this. Whew! Sooooo glad. But I confess to you that I dragged Lisa and my kids through my own personal Hell and made it theirs for a while as well. Rather than taking some advice from people, like, “Do what will make you happy right now!”, I took what ended up being saner and wiser advice, like, “Wait until the crisis is over and decide then. You’re not in a healthy enough space to make a wise choice.” I did wait. And am I ever happy I did. What devastation I would have caused!

This is not to say that your marriage or relationships won’t suffer, or that they don’t need to end or change. That’s not what I’m saying. The strain will either expose the faults that are in your relationship, or it might create new ones, or it will attempt to. I just want to warn you that during your deconstruction the strain on your relationships and your marriage will be real and threatening.

So go in with your eyes open!

Depression, confusion and strain. Not happy words. But real ones that describe a reality. My promise is that if you endure these unhappy realities, that happier ones will result. Some of the ugliest seeds produce the most beautiful flowers.

I hope this helps guys. I really do.

Peace on your path!

(** To receive lots more guidance like this, as well as the support from others on similar paths, join The Lasting Supper!)

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14 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    just had to say that it seems like your inside my head. I can relate so much to what your saying. I feel like I’m in that spot right now, just running in circles. Thank-you for letting me know I’m not alone in this and please keep up your good work with naked pastor!

  2. Adam Julians says:

    David, again this has been timely for me.

    Last night in the meditation group I go to I was listening to a short talk on the “Dark night of the Soul”. In this the speaker talked of a unioning process in which one ceases to be able to function to serve others, not unlike its seems the character in your cartoon today.

    I find this helpful to think of it as a process rather than some dysfunction or symptom an illness perhaps but what a normal healthy human being encounters.

    I wonder if you have read St. John of the Cross and “Dark night of the Soul” and if you have if you you perceive some similarities between this and “deconstruction” with a process of union to love.

  3. Caryn LeMur says:

    David, you wrote: “But I confess to you that I dragged Lisa and my kids through my own personal Hell and made it theirs for a while as well.”

    I did the same to my Bonnie during my fight against transsexualism. I lost that fight, and once I did… I then embraced living as a woman.

    Then Bonnie had to transition too, so to speak… after all, she was now married to a woman… and that was not exactly one of her expectations .

    Humorous that my fighting the changes was destructive to our marriage; but my embracing the changes in calmness and confidence suddenly gave our marriage stability. Then, Bonnie decided once again, I was worth living with…

    When I deconstructed my religious beliefs, and reconstructed them, I decided to just ‘let it happen’ quietly. Bonnie and I got along fine… especially if I ‘bit my tongue’ on my angry days…. lol.

    However, that religious deconstruction was lonely. Very much so.

    I am glad we now have TLS to at least let others, at a minimum, know that they are not alone.

  4. It is a process. Sometimes longer for some than others. Yes I’ve read St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul. Similar for sure, if not the exact same thing.

  5. Oh yes Caryn. I provoked Lisa’s deconstruction as she did mine. I’m glad we’re still together and better than we ever were.

  6. Adam Julians says:

    Thanks David – I find it reassuring that what might be called deconstruction today could also be considered to be a “Dark night of the Soul”. There’s something transcendent of time, culture, worldview etc about that.

  7. Adam Julians says:

    PS I didn’t have a partner to deconstruct with. But I do have a Jack Russell Terrier. I’m not sure if he would have any concept of whether living with me was hell or not. Mostly he seems happy just to get fed, walked and have his tummy tickled 😉

  8. Jose says:

    Timely word David. I am in the Strain stage and I’ve been feeling the urge to make a quick yet major decision in my life. I’ll take your advice and will wait until the waters reside.

    Thanks for your help!

  9. Glad to help Jose. Really. Peace on your path!

  10. Shazza tha dazzla says:

    Great cartoon and post David. Thanks again. I can very much relate to your comments around questions. For years before I deconstructed I was aware that big questions didn’t get answers. They just stopped being the big questions somehow. Resolved rather than answered.

    Depression, confusion and strain. Yep! CRISIS!!!! YES!!! It was all that! Personally devastating and liberating at the same time. And after 8 years I’m still on the journey, but in a very healthy place now.

    My marriage survived – only just at some points- any my husband and I are better friends and lovers than we’ve ever been. I needed to let go of the “roles”, and just let who we genuinely are be OK. I could finally be realistic enough to say “This is who we are. We have each other, so how are we going to do this marriage so we’re both happy?” And the answer? Take the pressure off. Have fun. It was so simple. How did we miss that for all those years?

    I’m thankful I didn’t act out of the misery of the moment and run too David, although “cigar-smoking cat lady” still sounds inviting on some days. What I did get right was to jettison some very negative relationships and refuse to be overcome with guilt about it. And I refused to listen to anyone who tried to drag me back into the spider web I’d finally escaped.

    Great to read everyone’s comments here. It’s a lonely journey but we’re not alone!

  11. No, we’re not alone. Thanks Shazza.

  12. devin bouchell says:

    i’m going through the thick of this, right now. major depression. major deconstruction of my theology, ideologies, doctrines, and traditions. about the only thing i can stomach is the apostle’s creed and two lines from it don’t sit right with me. it’s alot of tension. all my beliefs and convictions changing, but awakening to perceiving an authentic Jesus and how the god of the old testament can be and is the abba of Jesus. feeling like the ocean i was swimming in became a pond, but the most beautiful saltwater tropical fish are in it and there is Atlantis in all it’s glory and luminescence, ya picking up what i’m putting down? but when i take my eyes off my discovery or try to relate with someone that god hasn’t taken to this place i am bombarded with intolerance and pious snarkyness. people meet me with indifference when i tell them i don’t want to go to church anymore cause i find it more aggravating and detrimental than good. that i’m connected with the body of Christ outside of the church walls in fellowship and the church doesn’t define my Christianity or make it or me. i find alot of the people i found commonalities with don’t want to think critically. that we sit in a building for two hours and many congregants never know each other on a venerable and honest level, but instead we keep the show going like the priests did in the old covenant temple after the veil was torn.
    i think you could add to that list anger. i feel like the Christianity i was sold was snake oil medicine. it does nothing. it is a loop or dead end. but i think i’m moving into something new with Jesus and some of his followers where we really start walking like Jesus in the earth in this century and get down to business.
    what i want to know, and please send me an email, is what was it like afterwards? what did life become like? what did your belief practices become? how did sharing your faith change? etc etc
    i have alot of questions about this, cause this season of deconstruction is tough as nails.

  13. Devin: I would strongly recommend you join our online community The Lasting Supper where you can process this stuff along with others. It really does help. People work through their deconstruction in healthy ways and become better for it.