This whole series about deconstructing came from a conversation I was having with my wife. We were talking about a Christian leader who has been going through a very public faith crisis over the past few years. I mentioned to Ashley- "It's not only that he is deconstructing. It seems like he is self-destructing too."
In my opinion, this guy seems hell-bent on burning the whole thing down. He's verbally bleeding all over the place, being abrasive and arrogant, and seems to be in an unhealthy time of life. And I get it. Hurting people hurt people. My hope for him is that this is just a season for him. My hope is that when we look back a few years from now, he'll be in a much healthier place and this is just part of the process.
I've seen a lot of friends go through a period of disillusionment in their life and do a lot of harm to themselves and their relationships in the process. So what does it look like to deconstruct without self-destructing? Here are some ideas.
DON'T LET THIS CHAPTER BE YOUR WHOLE STORY.
The goal of deconstruction is not destruction, but a refined and renewed faith. To quote GK Chesterton again, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
When Jesus pushed and challenged the status quo of the day, it wasn't to destroy people. It was to build them up and grow them. To push them further into love. I've found that (at least in my life) this process can be a long one. Be patient, but also diligent. Deconstruction is a painful phase, but it shouldn't be a permanent one.
DON'T HARBOR ANGER. USE IT.
There is usually a deep anger to work through. Deconstruction requires a catalyst, and that catalyst is usually a hurt or disappointment. You might be angry at God for your life not working out how you thought it would. You might have been betrayed by a leader or friend or family member. You might be mad at yourself, feeling shame because you used to believe something you now think ridiculous or you can't believe you trusted that person. Regardless of the cause, anger is a normal part of deconstruction.
The trick is to not let anger or wrath build up in your soul. Anger is great as fuel for change and justice, but it is terrible when you let it fester in your soul and eat away at you. One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, says it like this:
“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Don't let your anger eat away at you until there is nothing left. Use it as fuel to make the necessary changes in your life and faith.
DON'T BE ARROGANT. BE GRATEFUL.
It can be really easy to look down on the community that you used to associate with. It can be easy to feel 'enlightened' or like you've 'evolved' or 'progressed' further or whatever. The problem with thinking in these terms is that it implies you are better than them. Please remember, you used to believe the same thing only moments/weeks/months earlier. Don't be so arrogant!
Deconstruction can be a very lonely process because you think no one else gets it or understands. But you can certainly amplify your isolation by being arrogant towards others.
Rather than being mad at the unmet expectations of others, focus on what you can appreciate about your community and how they've added to your life over the years. Gratitude is a great balm for an inflated ego.
BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR MOTIVES.
You need to be honest with yourself about the real reasons behind your questioning. This. Is. Really. Hard. Are you questioning your faith because you're just trying to justify living however you want? Be honest. Be aware.
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard P. Feynman
Jesus said it like this. "Before you worry about the speck in others' eyes, look at the plank in your own. Once you've removed that, you can see clearly." A part of the process is growing in self-awareness, and becoming more aware of your own biases, strategies, and shortcomings.
GROW IN EMPATHY AND HUMILITY.
When Jesus pushed people to expand their faith, it was often done in order to break down their prejudices and expand how they show love and who they show it to. Jesus is constantly pushing us to grow further in grace and further in truth.
As I mentioned before, deconstruction is about shedding the legalistic aspects of your faith that prevent you from loving God and loving others.
Quick side note here- the term 'legalism' gets overused a lot and often used incorrectly. I often here someone say "stop being so legalistic" when what they really mean is "stop calling what God plainly calls a sin in the Bible a sin." Legalism is not about having freedom to disobey God's commands. It is about divorcing the law of God from the heart of God. Legalism is using the Law as a means of controlling others and controlling your 'relationship' with God. I love RC Sproul's thoughts on it here.
Back to empathy and humility- If your 'deconstruction' is causing you to be a small, bitter person that treats everyone with cynicism and disdain...this is not of God. This is just you being a jerk. You are simply exchanging one form of legalism for another.
FIND A MENTOR. FIND YOUR TRIBE.
It can be easy to feel alone when you're asking difficult questions about your faith. You aren't. You might think you're the first person to think ____________ about God or __________ about Church. You aren't.
Find someone who's been there before. Find a safe place to ask hard questions. We are fortunate to have a global digital community at our fingertips. Find healthy people to have meaningful conversations with. If you get desperate, shoot me an email.
Regardless of what you believe, we are all created to be in community. Be in community.
DON'T EXPECT IT TO BE EASY.
Deconstruction is a transformation of sorts. Transformation is change. Change is hard and painful. I love the way my friend Dan Tocchini puts it:
"Transformation constantly has the character of doing violence, whether to the claims of everyday interpretation or to its complacency and its tranquilized obliviousness."
DON'T LUMP IN THE NON-ESSENTIALS WITH THE ESSENTIALS.
More likely than not, the catalyst for your deconstruction doesn't have much to do with the core tenets of Jesus. That's not to say that your struggles aren't important, not at all. But don't lump, say, the Resurrection of Jesus, into the same category as Arminianism vs. Calvinism. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. (What a weird expression.)
If you want to know what is 'essential', the Apostle's Creed is a good place to start:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Now look, you might actually be wrestling with the aforementioned tenets. And I get it. Wrestle away. But if you aren't, don't think that you have to abandon Christianity altogether because you don't know what you believe about a 'non-essential' tenet. Odds are, in this day and age, there is a faith community out there that agrees with you on that issue. Or, and perhaps this is a better option, you can stay with the community you're in and simply agree to disagree with them. (Unless it's a really unhealthy situation.)
Deconstruction is hard. It takes a lot to make you challenge what you already believe. So it's normally painful. But there are things that we often do to make it more painful. These are just some ideas I have on how you can walk an intimidating path with a little more wisdom and resolve.