I once heard the saying, “If you walk ten miles into a forest, don’t expect to get out in one.” This saying is as true for faith as it is for anything. During my deconstruction, I had walked ten miles out of the Church, and I expected my relationship to Christianity to be healed right away, on my terms. The reality is that, just like any discipline, spiritual reconstruction takes time and consistency before any change is felt.
What is Reconstruction?
We don’t talk much about the process – or option – of reconstructing a broken relationship with the Church. Reconstruction is the process of binding things back together and learning (or re-learning) our relationship with God. When I came to the point of wanting to re-engage with the Church, I found very few voices speaking on reconstruction. In part, this is likely because spiritual reconstruction doesn’t garner as much attention or share the same spotlight as deconstruction does. Especially in the past couple of years, it seems like there are no shortages of blog posts and media coverage for Christian influencers who leave the Church.
Rhett McLaughlin – co-host of the YouTube channels Rhett & Link and Good Mythical Morning – posted an open letter titled ‘An Honest Response to Your Thoughts on Our Deconstruction.’ This letter came after he and his creative partner Link Neal shared that they had decided to leave the Church. I know many people who shared McLaughlin’s article and affirmed that his experience of leaving the Church mirrored their own – intellectually and emotionally exhausting. Deconstruction and disillusionment with the evangelical Church are two of the most pressing and painful topics for this generation of believers to address.
Deconstruction can be a helpful process for many, but there can also be an edge to it. I’ve noticed in myself and others that over time, there’s a tendency to move from critical thinking to just being critical of every Christian and how we think the Church dropped the ball. In this way, we talk about deconstruction as a form of release – of letting go of the belief system we grew up with. We hold certain doctrines and dogma and Christian cultural values at arm’s length to critically examine them.
Paradoxically, the process of reconstruction felt similar to this in many ways. Just like deconstruction, reconstruction too is a form of release and letting go. But this time, it’s the process of letting go of cynicism, bitterness, and to some degree – our pride. When I was deconstructing my faith, I’d often describe it to others as holding ideas loosely, or in an open-handed way. During my reconstruction, I found the same mentality helpful. I approached the Church with an openness and willingness to engage differently than I had before.
As someone who is still learning to reconstruct their Christian faith, here are some practices and resources that I have found helpful along the way:
1. Connect with believers who have gone through reconstruction:
During my faith deconstruction, it was important for me to talk with others going through the same experience. Likewise, as I moved towards reconstruction, it became essential to connect with people who could provide advice on how to re-engage with the Church’s complexity.
If you don’t personally know anyone who has walked the road of reconstruction, then I would point you in the direction of author Sara Billups and her blog ‘Orphaned Believers’. She was the first writer whose work I stumbled upon that addressed disillusionment with the modern Church from a posture of stubborn hopefulness.
2. Go back to the basics:
As I first began to reconstruct, I found it challenging to connect with the personhood of Jesus in a meaningful way. I had become accustomed to spin-offs of Jesus – versions where he was commodified, politicized, turned into a felt board character, or morphed into a swear word.
Considering that Jesus is the central focus of the Christian faith, part of my reconstruction process was to go back to the basics of Christianity. I tried to re-read the gospels as if for the first time and see Jesus with fresh eyes. It was re-orienting to be reminded that God-as-a-human looked more like a social justice advocate than our culture might have you believe. A book that I found immensely helpful during this process was The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey.
3. Find different ways to engage with your faith:
One of my issues with the Church during my deconstruction period was its lack of environmental justice engagement. To this end, my reconstruction involved volunteering at a local environmental advocacy centre. There I met other Christians who also saw creation care and justice as integral parts of Christianity, this meant I could redirect my frustration with the Church’s apathy into something hopeful and productive.
Connecting with God through the framework of justice turned out to be a healing process. I would encourage you to find ways to connect with God that are restorative, faith-affirming, and specifically challenge some of the reasons behind your deconstruction.
4. Try traditional spiritual practices:
I was surprised by how helpful it was for me to learn and practice traditional spiritual disciplines. As someone who did not grow up in a liturgical church, I found it profoundly moving to start attending a more traditional service and root myself in the liturgy’s rich words. These powerful words have connected believers to God throughout time and space, worldwide and through generations.
I began to value slow disciplines. I tried Lectio Divina, a traditional monastic practice that centres around meditation and contemplation. I tried embodied postures of prayer, actually bowing or kneeling, raising my hands in worship. I went on a silent prayer retreat and listened for the first time in years to hear God’s voice. I re-committed to a weekly Bible study to read Scripture.
I had never connected with God well during showy worship services, which (whether this was true or not) I had always felt were trying to manipulate some emotional response out of me. But returning to the practices that have sustained Christians for hundreds of years brought some peace to my spiritual restlessness.
5. Seek out Christians who love the Church:
Not just Christians who love going to Church. Christians who believe with a stubbornness born out of deep hope that the Church is still God’s plan for redeeming our world. People who believe that when God says he is moving all things towards healing and wholeness, this promise includes the brokenness in the Church as well.
I found, in times when my lack of faith was draining me, it became essential to have a community whose steadfastness was something I could count on. I was encouraged by Christians I met who had thought through their faith well, who made space for hard questions, complex realities, and spiritual cynicism, but who continued to remain committed to loving the body of Christ.
In the Anglican tradition, part of the liturgy involves reading and reciting a series of verses known as The Comfortable Words. Not comfortable in the sense of ‘easy’ or ‘relaxing’, but comfortable because they are full of comfort and relief. The liturgy begins: “Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Jesus Christ says to all who truly turn to him”, and is followed by the words we hear Jesus speak at the end of Matthew, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11:28-29).
The idea that faith could be a place of rest was critical for me when I slowly began the process of reconstruction. There was no giant turning point for me, from deconstruction to reconstruction, where all of a sudden, all of the reasons I was disenchanted with Christianity were gone, or all of my questions had neat and tidy answers. It was more of a question of time and a tired soul. I burned out of the Church, and then I burned out of deconstruction, and then I wondered if there was a new way forward where I could feel at peace with my faith. The good news is that there is a redemptive way forward. Reconstruction means that our relationship with God is one in which we can find peace and purpose.
Photo by Nolan Isaac