How to support someone in a faith deconstruction.
On Friday, I led a workshop with the London Centre for Spiritual Direction for spiritual companions who want to better hold space for those who are experiencing a deconstruction or faith shift.
This morning, as I sat with another directee in that sacred space of shift, I recognised that some of the things we talked about on Friday are also very relevant for people who may not be in that place, but find themselves interacting with friends, family members or colleagues who are (as well as anyone working in a church context).
One of the biggest myths about deconstructions is that it is somehow a spiritual laziness, an unwillingness to walk the hard path of faith, or a desire to find excuses to "sin".
Nothing could be further from the truth, in my experience.
Rachel Held Evans wrote:
“There is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you've mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud” ― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday.
It takes incredible courage and vulnerability to begin naming, first to ourselves, and then to others, the doubts and questions and complex feelings that accompany a faith shift.
So what can you do, when you encounter someone in that place of shift or deconstruction?
1. Be curious. Don't assume you know what's going on, or where a person is at. If they are willing (make sure they are truly willing), ask them to share with you what they are thinking and feeling - and recognise the deep privilege it is to receive those stories.
2. Resist the unholy desire to fix them. Hold in mind Eugene Peterson's words, that “People are not problems to be solved. They are mysteries to be explored.” So if someone expresses a doubt in a particular theology, for example, do not jump in with all the arguments you have for it. Ask what they most need - is it resources, or is it just space to explore for themselves?
3. Remind them to make space for self care. Deconstruction can be an exhausting place to be (as well as an exhilarating place sometimes!) What practices do they have in place to help them rest and restore along the journey? (And that needn't look like typical "spiritual" practices).
4. Let them know your friendship is not conditional on sharing the same set of beliefs or belonging to the same faith community, and then be sure to demonstrate that in your actions too. If it is conditional, stop now - you are not truly their friend and further engagement will only be harmful.
5. "Trust in the slow work of God" - Teilhard de Chardin. Resist the temptation to hurry them along to "rebuilding" or "reconstruction". This is rooted in your own fears, not theirs. Be willing to journey with them in non-judgemental companionship without the need for a deadline or finish line. Our lives are a constant unfolding of the Divine Story, and that story rarely looks like we imagined. That doesn't mean it's wrong - in fact, it is the greatest gift of all.
What would you add?