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.
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.
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.
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!)