Thoughts of a deconstructing pastor's wife
Welcome back on the guest posts section of this blog. Read below how Rachel, today’s author,
"I am Rachel, I am the author of the book “Where Hope Begins, Decoding Depression For You and your loved ones.” I am a blogger, content editor and copy writer. I live with my husband, three children and our pets. My passion is to help others through my writing and to live my life on my own terms!"
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Her book can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Where-Hope-Begins-Decoding-Depression-ebook/dp/B08MDM6XWX/
And please, take the time to react, comment, share your insights and your own stories. Let’s open up conversations around our journeys of faith and doubts, deconstruction and healing of religious toxicity. An maybe you too have something to share that could become an article on this blog: please send it to me email@example.com
I was a third generation Christian, second generation pastor’s kid, and second
generation Pastor’s wife. I was taught, and fully believed, that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. To question the legitimate truth or historical value of any part of the Bible was wrong and would cancel out your ability to believe the other parts. Anything you didn’t understand would be revealed to you through the Holy Spirit or you would just have to chalk it up to “only god knows everything, some things we just have to accept through faith”. Then, through a series of events, I began my deconstruction.
Deconstruction is an involuntary dismantling and dismembering of someone’s entire belief system, and consequently, their life. Deconstruction happens when something shifts inside you and the questions you never asked, for one reason or another press in for answers. You find yourself searching in ways you never did before. For me it was triggered by a persistent nagging in my gut that told me that things just didn’t add up.
Trauma can be a trigger, and though it isn’t a cause, it is a common denominator for so many. To me, trauma triggering a deconstruction is actually proof that the actual root cause is that your belief system is incomplete. The gaps have been filled in with opinions, manipulations, and misrepresentations. If it were true, there would be no gaps, and if one perceived gaps, they would be able to be filled in with truth.
For me, I went searching for the truth of why things didn’t add up, why the abuse I suffered was allowed and condoned, and why the obvious gaslighting had been perpetrated against me. If what I believed and was taught was actually true, how could this be? I was fine with unanswered questions, it was the answers that didn’t make sense anymore. It was like being given a looping standard message that didn’t hold up, but was consistently presented as truth, and enforced with guilt and fear. Suddenly the “powers that be” had more cause to lie and control than they did to live truth. Yet they were constantly touted as the holders of the keys to freedom, light, and truth. I had always seen them as the ones who held the keys. I didn’t realize, till I began my deconstruction, that they were actually the ones bolting the door.
The problem is, that when you have been told you were supposed to be one thing your entire life, and wake up one day to realize that you are not that thing, it is very disorientating. For a while you are not sure what you are, only what you aren’t anymore. Believe it or not that is a good place to be. For me, It was the beginning of the solidification of not just finding out who I really am, but relishing in the idea that what I do with who I am is my decision and mine alone. I don’t have to follow anyone. For a girl raised in the Baptist world, that alone was freeing. I don’t have to follow anyone!
Once you start peeling the back of the sticker of religious oppression, it's almost impossible to come off clean. So much of our life in the church has been plastered together. It can be difficult to distinguish what we actually are, from what we were told we were and should be. That is why it is so grounding to begin with what you are not. Then the long painstaking process of removing the actual sticker (who you are, and who you want to be) from the mess of adhesive and paper backing that needs to remain behind begins. Beyond that, the messy part of putting yourself together, finding a new backing (belief system) and continuing on to build your life from the ground up. The sad fact is: you lose a large piece of yourself, your old foundation, and people in the process. Try as you might, those you once knew may only ever see you as broken, torn, and damaged forever. It’s hard, it's lonely, but it is worth it.
It is interesting to me, that so many people who have deconstructed, began their process by going to the Bible, and church leaders first when the doubts and questions persist. I think it is important to note that deconstruction more often than not happens when someone does what they were told to do, “what is right”. They seek out the approved sources first. Not one person that I have talked to or read about came into full deconstruction without taking their first steps in the Christian community.
There is an important distinction that I have seen. Many Christians who think they came through a deconstruction but came back to faith, began with having doubts based on outside influences. They began with the fear that maybe these secular sources had a point, and ran back to their pastor, parent, or the Bible to get their reassurance that what they knew to be true actually was. After asking their questions and searching the “scriptures”, they feel better and move forward. This is a common occurrence. Especially typical among young people raised in the church. It usually develops in early adulthood when they are discovering their independence and that their life is their responsibility for the first time, not their parents’. I myself went through a similar experience. That is not deconstruction.
In my experience, and in my research, I have noticed many Christians trying to relate to people in the deconstruction community by sharing their experiences like this. They talk about their period of rebellion, their selfish days. Their infatuation with doing the “bad stuff” such as drinking, smoking, or engaging in premarital sex. This is followed by a period of conviction and repentance. The result is turning back to Christ and coming back into the fold. “See, I know what you are going through. I went through the same thing. I wanted to be free to sin too. You have been hurt, it's understandable to have doubts, we all do from time to time. The important thing is to turn back, pray, and do the right thing. Take all the time you need, just make sure you come back to the truth.” It isn’t the same though. This line of thinking and speaking only pushes people away. It only proves to them that the voice inside them, warning them to run as fast as they can the other way, is right. They aren't understood or accepted here.
People who deconstruct do so not because of outside influences, but because of inside influences. Their search is prompted by things that happen in, and because of the “church”. Their questions are also taken to the Christian community first. When they are unsatisfied with the answers, and ask more, they are shut down. Instead of being answered, they are given the same scripted message, told they are sinful, bitter, and need to repent. They are told that you cannot possibly know everything that God knows and to just trust that he knows what he is doing. They are told to stop searching and rest in Christ. This lack of understanding, affirmation, and support reinforces their inability to trust the things and people they always trusted. When they pour their hearts out to God for understanding they get NOTHING. Their only recourse is then to go to outside influences, searching for understanding, peace, and truth. What they find is in stark contrast to what they were provided with in the church. Love, acceptance, comrade, and peace. They don’t find all the answers, no one has them. What they find is the ability to rest. The very people they were warned about, the (insert spooky voice here) unsaved were the exact opposite of the sinful, hateful, mean spirited, manipulative beings they were so convinced by the church that they would uncover. Again widening the gap between themselves and the church. They begin to realize that the aweful, dirty, unloving, worthless, untrustworthy person they believed themselves to be is also false. They find that they are more loving, more genuine, creative, and essential to the world than they ever could have hoped to be. For the first time, they are free. They don’t become a different person, they just outgrow the cage. Anyone who has ever worn six inch heels can tell you, once you take them off after wearing them for hours, you are not going to be able to put them back on right away. Your feet don’t fit them anymore and it is too painful to try to squeeze them back in. That is what it is like to try to go back to the church and Christian community after deconstruction. As painful as it is to get out, it is too excruciating to ever return.
Most of us spend the first chunk of our deconstruction trying to stay in the church. We desperately try to hold on to some assemblance of normal only to be pushed and pushed till we had to take a break. Even while still clinging to the hope that this was a temporary setback. Believing that at some point, surely, god would bring us back. He doesn't. But we are going to hell for this? How is that fair? That is why I say it is involuntary.
We didn’t go looking for this, we didn’t want this, this happened to us against our will and supposedly against god’s will. Yet another piece of evidence that he never actually existed, at least not in the way we believed he did before. Some people who deconstruct do find a version of their faith remains, but It looks very different from what it did before. Then they are chastised within the Christian community and labeled a fake Christian. More often than not, though, the result of deconstruction is a departure from faith altogether. That is what happened for me.
My best advice for anyone who is deconstructing is this: lean into it. If the god you were taught is real he will answer you, if he is not, what’s the point of believing? There is only one way to find out. It’s a heartbreakingly long road, but at the end there is peace.
My best advice for Christians who see their “brother” or “sister” deconstructing is this: pray. If your God is who you think he is, he will help them. When he doesn't it won’t be YOUR fault. Listen to them, love them, and keep your judgments to yourself.
Deconstruction isn’t contagious. It is, however, growing a rather large community. Despite the fire and brimstone that supposedly threatens it. What does that tell you? It tells me that fear is a motivator, but it doesn’t have to be. Just as nature cannot be stopped, neither can truth. Everyone’s journey is different. The presence of judgment does not prove that the truth does not reside within us. Each person must decide for themselves. We cannot, and should not tell another that their way is wrong and ours is right. We are capable of great things. Trusting ourselves is one of those great things. It’s a gift denied to many. I was one of them, but not anymore.