Are you really starting over?

Or are you just starting?

Dear fellow deconstructing one,

It didn’t used to have a label.

“I’m having doubts,” is how I heard it expressed as a kid. The follow up was prayer and a heavy dose of question-smashing indoctrination. In the evangelical world of the 1980s and 90s where I grew up, questions were dangerous red flags that one’s faith was on the line. Questions signaled it was time to double-down on theology, social exposure, and time commitments. Staying too busy to have doubts was a lifestyle.

This reaction by the faith-community was called “accountability” and “protection of the flock.” Dissenters were contagious. The concern (control) may have seemed benevolent, but ultimately it denied any personal autonomy or strength of belief.

I always thought this was curious. Wouldn’t it mean I was a stronger Christian if I knew why I believed what I believed and chose it in knowledge and conviction?Carrying another’s beliefs is not the same as embodying those beliefs on your own.

But a question is a fork in the road. It’s a signal there are two ways to go, and one of those ways leads away from the shared road.

The process of asking questions about established beliefs has been labeled deconstruction and it’s a hot hashtag on social media now. To deconstruct something means it was first constructed. The belief system was built up, reinforced, practiced, and claimed as an identity. Now, there are doubts and questions piling up:

Why do I believe that?

What if it’s not true?

That’s a Christian? Well, I’m not like that. I’m a Jesus-follower but I don’t want to be affiliated with what they’re calling Christian.

What about science? What about racism? What about privilege, progress, and inclusion?

Deconstructing trusted beliefs in midlife is emotionally expensive and painful. It’s an insatiable process of curiosity and wonder, one that challenges decisions, relationships, and priorities. And when you’ve spent a lifetime devoted to one world, the extraction experience once begun is unrelenting. The best comparison I have is childbirth: the only way out is through.

The evangelical world is pretty hot and bothered about the virality of deconstruction. Preachers have launched an entire offensive declaring the “rules” of deconstruction and such. You can question your faith as long as you don’t lose it.

But deconstruction doesn’t invest in a predetermined outcome. Its coloring outside the lines. It’s a journey to your self, and away from a system. Otherwise, to go from system to system, is trying on clothes, not taking them apart. And, it’s easy to swap one set of fundamentalist beliefs for another.

Are you deconstructing? Or differentiating?

I noticed my cohorts in crime were skewing younger and younger, sharing the painful steps and process of their deconstruction, agonizing over the strain it caused their relationships. With twenty and thirty years between us, I still related to the shared traits of a faith breakdown and the hunger for a tribe. But as a mother, I recognized an underlying dynamic that I hope offers some comfort: When it comes to deconstruction, age matters.

Psychological differentiation is a powerful stage of self-development and lifelong process that begins as we enter adulthood.

In order for us to live our own lives and fulfill our own destinies, we must differentiate ourselves from destructive family and societal influences.

PsychAlive quoting Dr. Robert Firestone, author of The Self Under Siege: A Therapeutic Model for Differentiation

A belief becomes destructive when you’re living someone else’s. That’s inauthentic and happens all the time, especially to children raised in religious traditions that teach them how and what to think.

As children, we internalize what our parents and leaders say about us and what we should believe. As adults, we have a chance to hold each of those statements in our hands, turn it over and examine it, determine for ourselves if it resonates or not, and then decide if we keep it or not.

Adults develop their own values.

An adult who’s invested decades of their life to a belief system they chose or never examined for themselves faces a larger, deeper, and higher mountain than someone just starting out. There’s likely layers of shame to unpack. And perhaps children who deserve amends, having been raised in fundamentalist abuse. Careers may change.

The twenty-something year old who’s deciding for themselves for the first time what they believe may have a quicker, comparatively easier time of it. There’s no shame in growing up.

I usually don’t find comparisons helpful. But in this case, I wonder if it doesn’t offer some freedom and hope. If you’re young and deconstructing your childhood beliefs for the first time, you’re experiencing a normal, psychologically healthy stage of human development. You may save yourself decades of heartache from systemic control. You may avoid marrying the wrong person and may offer your future children a healthier parent. Perhaps its less about your faith and more about you than it may seem — it’s you becoming you, before you spend half of your life being someone else.

So, dear fellow deconstructing one… if the label isn’t helpful, feel free to set it down. Don’t let the system decide the terms or outcome that’s acceptable. We all deserve to know who we are and what we think without interference.

Love,

Tia

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