311 – How to Help Others Who Are Doubting Their Faith

This Week on Soul Talks

Many who deconstruct their faith do so because they feel it’s not working for them, or it’s not working for the people that they see; They’ve experienced a trial, been hurt, or had upheaval in their lives. Maybe you know someone going through this. Maybe, it’s you.

To have doubts, questions, and to be wrestling with faith is natural. Similar to remodeling a house, our Sovereign God uses deconstruction to do or build a new thing in and through us. When we lean in, the risen Lord reveals the opportunity of deconstruction: reconstruction. 

Tune in to this Soul Talk where Bill & Kristi discuss why deconstruction happens, what you can do when you or someone you love is working through a faith crisis, and how to come out on the other side with a greater sense of intimacy with Jesus.

Resources for this Episode

Deconstructing Faith Transcript

Bill & Kristi Gaultiere

Kristi 

Hi friends. Thanks for joining Bill and I for another Soul Talk. 

Today, we’re gonna have a conversation about deconstruction. 

This is something that I have been hearing. 

A lot of people are concerned. 

They’ve been asking questions about deconstruction. 

I think there’s some confusion and some alarm and panic about this today. 

Bill 

During our conference on Journey of the Soul at The Apprentice Gathering in Wichita with James Bryan Smith, a student there was really troubled by experiences in his church. 

He was troubled by people that are deconstructing their faith, leaving the church, and not walking with Jesus. 

And gosh, in the pandemic, what is it? A third? 

A third of people that were attending church stopped and haven’t come back. 

There’s just a lot of destabilization. 

Particularly right now.

The Wall

Kristi

And yet, this isn’t really anything new. 

There’s always been people deconstructing their faith.

Maybe that terminology hasn’t been used, that wording hasn’t been used. 

But we find this in our research. 

We found this in our own experience and the experience of people that we journey with on their pilgrimage and walk with the Lord.

Bill  

Well, it’s really right at the heart of the Journey of the Soul in our book and we call it The Wall. 

There are different examples of hitting The Wall, like burnout, a dark night of the soul, or a time of grief. 

But a major example of The Wall is a faith crisis. 

That’s what “deconstructing faith” is. 

It’s when you’ve grown up, or come along for a number of years in a tradition of faith; On a journey with Jesus, and in the bedrock of scriptures and within a church community, a community of Christians. 

You had a certain way of thinking about your life. 

It was in the context of your discipleship to Jesus, and your values being formed around biblical values and things that you were taught from your pastor or your teacher. 

Then when you come into some sort of a crisis or a questioning—when you see a Christian who has a sanctification gap and seems hypocritical or is hurtful to you—different things, different experiences of suffering that we go through can lead us to question God and question our faith. 

Where we used to have this sense of orientation and experience of God’s blessing.

Now, we’re not experiencing that. 

We’re not feeling that way. 

We have these questions and are going through a time of trial, maybe a time of spiritual warfare, and God doesn’t seem to be the same anymore. 

And the Christian life doesn’t seem to work the same way as before. 

Or now I have some new experiences that I’ve had that are surfacing longings and questions spiritually. 

And the faith tradition I was raised with doesn’t seem to answer those. 

All these things can become a faith crisis that could lead someone to deconstruct their faith, to take it apart and, and maybe throw it away or replace it with a different set of values that they might call spiritual, but aren’t centered on Jesus.

Creative Destruction

Kristi

It feels really stressful and it feels scary. 

Especially if it’s someone that you love, or you know personally, or you’ve invested it in. 

It’s a big grief when you’ve worked hard. 

I think of it as I think about leadership: We talk about, you know—you need to help me with this. I’m not gonna say it right. Destructive…

Bill 

…Creative destruction…

Kristi 

Thank you, creative destruction. 

That’s what’s happening in deconstruction or at The Wall.  

We need to remember that it can be creative because it usually just feels like destruction. 

If we’re observing this in someone that we love’s life, we might be lamenting, or fearing, or grieving the destruction that’s happened there—seeing them destroy things. 

I remember when our son David was a boy, he had spent hours and hours constructing this amazing amusement park in his room.

It was huge. It was the size of a twin bed with Legos.

Then one day he deconstructed it and I was like, “Oh no!” 

I mean, it was amazing what he’d built and I was so upset about destroying it. 

But when I asked him, “Why did you do that?” He began telling me all the new ideas he had for rebuilding! 

And that’s what can happen.

I think it’s helpful for us to keep that in mind. 

Deconstruction is a serious thing. 

It does look like wreckage and there is something there that’s lost. 

It’s messy. 

We were sitting in our den and I was thinking “We’ve wanted to remodel this, but the deconstruction of it would be so stressful and so upsetting and so messy and so uncomfortable.” 

We have things in here ordered, they’re ordered around our needs. 

We know where things are, we know where to find things. 

And that’s kind of the way things are before deconstruction and it’s working for us. 

But at some point it stops working for you.

Something new happens, that’s what’s happening for us —new ideas, new work, new decorating styles. 

We get tired of the familiar and we have ideas for improvement.

At some point it is worth it to do the deconstruction in order to do the recreating. 

God seemed to create us in a way that in faith, he allows us to do this deconstruction because along the way, some things have gotten in there— in our order—that aren’t of him. 

Or we’ve gotten overly rigid and it’s holding us back from something new he wants to do in us. 

Or show us or an area he’s leading us into. 

At some point, we all need to get a new pair of shoes or improve things.

The Deconstruction Of Job

Bill 

Yeah. In Job’s story in the Bible, he deconstructed his faith. 

His faith was going along great. 

He’s a righteous man. And he led his family in the ways of God’s wisdom. 

He worked hard and trusted God in what he did. 

He really prospered and had wealth and health and a happy family. 

And he was in a position of leadership in his community. Things were really going well. 

Then, Satan had a field day by attacking him and stripping away God’s blessings from him. 

Job went careening into a downward spiral. 

He became depressed. 

He was grieving. 

And his wife told him to just curse God and die. 

If this is how God’s gonna treat him, with how he’s served him, then his faith doesn’t make sense anymore.

Why all these bad things? 

What happened to him— why the business losses?

Why the horrible health?
Why the painful boils that he had, and the conflict in his marriage? 

Why the deaths in his family? 

It was just so much devastation. 

In the midst of that, his faith wasn’t working for him anymore. 

So the Book of Job is just full of Job’s questions. 

He asks God. 

He wears out his friends with his questions. 

They lose the empathy that they began with, and start judging him and giving him formulas for better success in his life or spiritually. 

None of it’s working and he’s just reeling.

Faith Is in the Middle

Kristi

Well, that’s exactly what we don’t want to do when we’re in a relationship with somebody who’s deconstructing their faith. 

We don’t want to judge them, start giving them rigid rules, and talking to them about what they used to believe and used to accept and know.

Bill 

Because when someone that we love goes through this deconstruction process, it scares us. 

We feel uncomfortable with it. 

Keep this in mind if you’re a pastor and there are people in your church going through deconstruction. 

Or if you’re a parent and it’s one of your kids (probably in young adulthood in the college years, or their twenties). 

Or if you’re a small group leader. 

Or if you’re a friend, and you see somebody going through deconstruction. 

It could be at any age, any state life. 

But the young-adulthood transition is a time where it’s most common and maybe during the middle-life transition; late 30’s, 40’s.

These are times where there’s upheaval going on in our identity development and in our life. 

And faith is in the middle of that. 

It’s so important that we are patient and empathetic and prayerful for the people that we know who are deconstructing their faith.

A New Experience With God

Kristi

Yeah. Many of them are deconstructing their faith because it’s not working for them, or it’s not working for the people that they see. 

Like you had said, they’re seeing that there’s a real contrast between what they’re professing to believe and what their life is showing.

Or the fruit of their life isn’t there and they’re getting disillusioned with that. 

They’re beginning to question. 

Sometimes they can go off. 

The “all-or-nothings” are easier. 

And so oftentimes maybe they’ve been all-in on faith, and then they go all-out and they reject it all.

Bill 

When a Christian is going through this sort of an experience—they see pastors, other Christian leaders, or maybe their own parents or friends that they’ve looked up to in the Christian faith who fall away from faith. 

Or who have a moral blowout and act in ways that are immoral and inconsistent with Christian faith. 

When that happens to your parent or the person that mentored you; your pastor, or your longtime friend that you’ve looked up to, it can rock your world. 

When it happens to you more than once, it can not only rock your world; It can rock your faith. 

There’s a feeling of “I don’t know if I believe in this anymore.” 

Or if you’re that person that had that moral blowout and now you’re confronted with your own sin, there is a feeling of “Do I even believe this anymore?”

There are so many reasons why somebody goes into a faith crisis. 

When we see that happen to someone else, we’re prone to want to fix it because we feel anxious. 

We feel nervous. 

This is about faith. 

This is about eternity. 

This is about the salvation of the soul. 

We want our loved ones to be secure. 

But sometimes we may abandon our best knowledge, our best heart, and our strongest faith; Things that would actually help. 

And instead, we start panicking on our journey with someone who is deconstructing their faith. 

Job eventually got there to a reconstruction of his faith. 

But he didn’t get much help on the human level. 

God manifested to Job in the whirlwind and Job’s prayers were, in a sense, finally answered with the sense of God’s presence. 

And Job saw a new perspective of God in God’s “bigness.”

Job saw God’s intimate love and sovereign care in the lives of every person, every creature in the universe. 

Job said, “My eyes have heard of you, but now I’ve seen you” (42:25).

He had a new experience with God on the other side of that faith crisis. 

And that’s the opportunity of deconstruction, it’s a reconstruction. 

That’s what’s happening in the Journey of the Soul, in the first half of life. 

Eventually, our faith is gonna run out—the original container for our faith won’t last. 

The “C” “H” and “R” stages of “Confidence in Christ,” “Help in discipleship,” and “Responsibilities in ministry”—Most of our churches are really good at discipling people in those first three stages. 

And that is going to get us started and get us growing in Christ.

Faith for a Lifetime 

Bill 

But it’s not very well suited to last a whole lifetime. 

We need to build on that with some other stages that come on the other side of The Wall. 

The Wall becomes this big “soul pivot” now, where we’re naturally and appropriately asking questions about many different things related to our identity and our faith. 

And while it’s very destabilizing, there’s this opportunity. 

If we follow the spirit of Jesus into the “I” stage of the inner journey, we begin into the second half of the Christ stages. The “ S” and “T” stages of the inner journey: “Spirit-led ministry,” and “Transforming union.”

And so that inner journey stage begins with pain or suffering, destabilization questions, doubts, fears, wrestlings, and it’s not fun. 

But if we go with that and we’re:

  • Emotionally honest in our prayers 
  • Patient 
  • Walking stuff out, with Jesus 
  • In a community with at least one person that’s giving us empathy, praying for us, and journeying with us
  • Maybe talking with a Spiritual Director 
    • (This is a key time to talk with a Spiritual Director, like we have on our Soul Shepherding staff.) 

Then we can relationally work this through not only with God, but on the human level. 

We can come into the second side of the inner journey, which is this Intimacy with God: 

This depth of personhood and experience. 

This robust sense of experiencing God’s abundant life that takes us in and propels us to the best stages of “Spirit-led ministry” and “Transforming union.” 

So all that begins with what, potentially, is a faith crisis or deconstruction.

The Soul Pivot

Kristi

It’s so important if you have someone that you’re in relationship with who is deconstructing their faith—I just read Journey of the Soul, the chapter on The Wall, cause that’s exactly where they’re at and what they’re talking about. 

In one of the tables we have in our book Journey of the Soul, there is a table that outlines what it looks like in our faith journey in the first half versus the second half of life. 

And one of the things that’s happening at the “Soul Pivot” at The Wall during deconstruction is that our black and white dualistic categories aren’t working anymore. 

And so we’re opening up now to both ends and to gray areas.

In the early stages, we’re continuing it with wanting to be told what to believe, what’s right, and what’s wrong. 

Accepting that in the second half, we’re more wanting to seek that out through a relational process.

Like Job, who is learning to enter into this relational process with God. 

He wants to hear from God. He doesn’t just want his friends giving him the black and white answers. 

There are things going on early in the first half, where maybe they’re identifying— in deconstruction—they’re identifying some prejudice or some close-mindedness or some judgementalism that they’ve experienced in the church and from others in those early stages. 

And now they’re leaving the church because of that. 

And they’re rebelling against that. 

They’ve experienced a little bit of longing for an experience of more freedom and grace and valuing mercy for all.

Bill 

If I, as a pastor or a parent, put down the clamps on this child or adult child of mine, or this friend, or this church member who is deconstructing their faith, if I say 

“Well, this is what the Bible says. This is what you need to believe. Let me take you back through the Romans road and in the verses that remind you of salvation in Christ.” 

Or “Well, let’s talk about what the Bible teaches about that political issue and what you need to believe.” 

Or “Well, this is what we’ve always believed in our church or in our family.” 

And you try to get people to believe “the right things,” according to your doctrine, it just works totally against the “inner journey” process that the Holy Spirit is trying to lead this person through. 

This person who’s deconstructing their faith, it’s actually not a bad thing. 

It’s a good thing. 

It’s a dangerous thing. 

And it could become a bad thing. 

But to have doubts, unsureness, questions, and to be wrestling is very natural. 

It’s an opportunity actually, to strengthen our faith and to come to a place where we’re deconstructing something in order to reconstruct it.

Second Half Journeys

Kristi

Yes. And that’s why a lot of the people are leaving the church in this season, because they don’t have a safe place where they can talk about their questions and their doubts.

Or where they can kind of wrestle with these things. 

They go to church and they’re told what to believe, what to do. 

They’re told emphasis is on outward behavior or productivity. 

They’ve got all these new spiritual questions, longings, confusions, and doubts surfacing. 

They’re afraid that if they voice them at church, they’ll be told that they’re not a Christian anymore. 

They’re afraid the church will be alarmed and can’t handle their question.

This is one of the things that sometimes happens, because the people at the church that they’re talking to don’t understand, and haven’t yet experienced this second half of the journey.

Bill 

Part of the difficulty here is that when you’re going through a phase of deconstruction or you’re hitting The Wall in a time of suffering or burnout of some kind, it is difficult for church services to really heal that or correct that. 

Because it needs to happen in conversation. 

That’s where we need a small group that we really trust. 

Where there’s a small group leader who’s well trained in empathy and in principles, and the wisdom of spiritual guidance. 

Who is trained in how to do that in a way that’s relational and gracious, without putting people in boxes or trying to get them to believe and do what’s right. 

But instead, to journey with them and walk with them through that. 

It’s so important that we enter into a relational process.

Sometimes we just need more than a church service can provide.

If you’re a pastor listening or church leader, in our church services we can get conversations started with our sermons. 

We can share stories from our life. 

We can have people come up and share testimonies that can illustrate the realness and rawness of discipleship. 

And the kinds of questions that people are wrestling with.

And the suffering that they go through and how God meets them in that. 

That’s an opportunity to transcend these pat answers, and transcend the “just believe the right thing” and “just do the right thing.” 

To show the wrestle, to show the struggle, and to show the different colors and variations on faith, because it doesn’t all fit in the same box. 

We need a mature, loving faith that puts a priority on the person in the relationship over the belief system.

We Belong Before We Believe

Bill 

We need to belong before we believe. 

And we need to be able to keep belonging, even if we’re not believing. 

Right? 

We need a relational process where I know that I’m loved and I can ask questions or even think, believe, and act in some ways that are different. 

I need to know that I’m still gonna be loved here and accepted. 

And I can be part of this community. 

But when the church or a Christian group or family is black and white, rigid and rule-oriented, then tries to get everybody to toe the line because “that feels familiar to me, that feels more secure to me”.

That does not work for people that are at The Wall and are asking questions in their wrestling. 

They’re needing to get to the bottom of that and deconstruct some things, so they can be in a whole new and deeper spirituality.

Kristi

It’s so important to understand that. 

And to realize that it might feel threatening to you to listen to them because it might stir up questions and struggles in you. 

And then you might need to go and reach out for support. 

For somebody to be able to hold that space for you. Maybe a Spiritual Director who can help you in your wrestlings with this. 

Sometimes, somebody else’s deconstruction can actually trigger some deconstruction in you.

Bill 

This is one of the most basic, important things that we teach in our Spiritual Direction training program:
That when you’re listening to someone who is in distress of any type, but including in their faith, it’s so important to be able to hold a space.

And to hold that person’s emotions and questions without reacting, without being quick to give advice.

Henri Nouwen taught so brilliantly and yet simply, “Your care is the cure.” 

Don’t try to cure people. 

Don’t try to fix their problems. 

Your care is ultimately what they need. 

Your compassionate heart, your presence, walking with them, and journeying through them.

Kristi

That’s so true. That was so true for me when I was deconstructing. It was…

Bill 

Whoah, now, wait a minute. 

Somebody would say, “Wait a minute, Kristi. You didn’t deconstruct your faith. You’ve been strong in Jesus all the time.”

Kristi

No, I went through a deconstruction in my late 30’s.

I was miserable and I hated it. 

I began to think “Is anything I’ve ever believed and lived for and done in my life real?” 

“Is any of it true?” 

I felt that to even be asking those questions… It just rocked me. 

I never expected it. 

I didn’t know this Wall was coming. 

I didn’t know I would run into some deconstructionism. 

For me, it was because I recognized this gap between what I believed and professed to be true and what my behavior showed to be true. 

And that was a crisis for me. 

And there weren’t very many people that I was honest with about that, but I had enough. 

I had you. 

You weren’t rocked by my deconstruction at all. 

It didn’t rock your faith at all, but you were very gracious and empathetic and patient.

You would listen to me and all of my questions and emotions and wrestling. 

I had Dallas Willard do the same thing for me.

Experience-Based Assurance

Kristi

I had a guy at our church that I reached out to because he’d given testimony on a Sunday service. 

I thought, “Oh, he’s seen some things. He’s had some experiences I haven’t. I wanna learn about that.” 

So I just reached out to him, and you and I met with him. 

And the same thing. 

He validated my questions and my concerns.

He didn’t judge me. 

He didn’t try to fix me. 

We also had a leader in another ministry that I reached out to. 

And the same thing. 

He understood this. 

He understood this journey and he understood this. 

It was alarming. 

My mom too was another one that I was honest with and the same thing. 

And I’m sure that all of you prayed for me and just that safe space to be able to verbalize what I was wrestling with.

It’s important that we don’t underestimate the value of our prayers and our care, and how the Holy Spirit can use that. 

And what that shows somebody about the genuineness of God’s spirit and love being true, present, and ministering to them at the moment. 

Because in the second half of the journey, in the reconstruction phase, one of the things we begin to value is experiences we’ve had of God. 

And often those are coming through people who are mediating his grace to us.

Bill 

Yeah. We call this Experience-Based Assurance. Dallas Willard uses that term in The Divine Conspiracy. 

So many of us have been taught to think of our faith as being cerebral and being around believing the right doctrines from the Bible. 

And that’s part of it. 

That’s important. 

That’s essential to we believe, but it’s not so efficient because it has to get into our lives. 

It has to get into our character. 

It has to get into our experience. 

We need to see Jesus when we look in the mirror. 

When you look in the mirror and you look at your life, you need to be seeing that Jesus is present and I’m (you’re) being shaped to be more like Jesus. 

We need the faith of the Psalmist: That I can be emotionally honest and not lose my faith.

As we are living into the presence of God in our life,—we see how God is working with us and what God is teaching us, and we’re able to find joy and peace, even in the middle of a trial or an injustice—that builds in us this experience-based assurance. 

That’s something that we’re lacking when we’re deconstructing. 

Typically, our world isn’t making sense cognitively and spiritually, because we need some new categories. 

But we’re also not experiencing this life with Jesus and this intimacy with God.

Or we’re maybe not experiencing the character of Christ in my own personality. 

And so it’s rocking us. 

Kristi

It’s so helpful when we can see somebody else has that and we can be in a relationship and have a conversation with them. 

And that was one of the things that helped me when I was in my deconstruction, that I saw your experience-based assurance.
You were having experiences with God that I wasn’t having. 

I was longing to have them. 

I wanted them. 

I remember you saying, “Well, just your longing to have them is a good thing. Stay with that.”

And as I stayed with that, that was a good thing because eventually, God met those longings for me. 

And that is one of the reasons why we want to stay in relationship with people that are deconstruction. 

It’s because we don’t want them taking their thoughts and feelings to the internet, or to other people and other religions, and searching elsewhere. 

We want to be able to mediate God’s truth and grace.

I think that the disciples were undergoing some deconstruction and that Jesus, because they had very different ideas than Jesus, was bringing about the kingdom of God.

And he was bringing about the law and the religious system. 

And so their journey with Jesus in his three years, as disciples, involved some deconstructing and reconstructing.

Bill 

Jesus himself went through deconstruction because he was raised in the Jewish religion. 

He grew up in that and appreciated that. 

He went to synagogue and he read and studied the Old Testament.

 He learned all the Hebrew prayers and all the prophecies and all of that. 

There were a lot of things about the religion of his day that he didn’t agree with, and the way that the Pharisees were unpacking and applying all this to people’s lives. 

He came to disagree with that.

He surely had some wrestlings in his young adult life in Nazareth as he was growing up. 

As the father was preparing him for his mission. 

And so in, in everything, Jesus is the first disciple.

He’s a disciple of the father. He’s a student, he’s a learner.

Hebrew tells us that Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered. 

He suffered, he went through difficult things. 

And so he deconstructed his faith and he reconstructed it. 

And that’s Christian faith: the Jewish religion reconstructed with Jesus as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 and fulfilling all the messianic prophecies. 

And on that foundation of healthy Judaism, he brought the Christian faith. 

And that’s what we have now, passed on to us down through the centuries. 

So, Jesus will walk with us through deconstruction. 

Jesus will walk with your young adult or older child who is not walking with Jesus right now. 

Jesus will keep walking with that person.

And with those friends in your church who have left, are not in any other church, and they’re not loving and following Jesus.

The spirit of Jesus is there with them, loving them.

And so we pray for them. 

And if it is at all possible, we stay in relationship without preaching at people. 

Without trying to control them, certainly not judging them. 

And we love them. 

We do life with them. 

We ask them questions. 

“How can I pray for you?” 

We listen to their faith struggles and we don’t give pat answers. 

We empathize with where they are. 

And through that relational journeying, that helps people to find God. 

That helps people to rediscover their faith—if we will practice 1st Corinthians: 13 love, that “Hopes all things and believes all things, even for someone who stopped hoping and believing.”

An Invitation to the Inner Journey 

Kristi

So we’ve written a lot about this in Journey of the Soul

There’s just so much more we can’t say today because we’re out of time, but look in Journey of the Soul

We’ve got a lot of articulation. 

It’s all research-based and based on our own experience. 

And also, prayerfully, you might hand it to somebody that’s in deconstruction. 

It might help them understand where they are in their journey too, and where the Lord is inviting them.

Bill 

Because it gives people a map. 

We all need a map with a red star on it that says “You are here.” 

That’s most critical at The Wall. 

When we’re asking these faith questions, or God is feeling distant, or we’re fed up with something about Christianity or the church, and we’re in that destabilized period. 

It’s very dangerous. 

And so we need to see where we are. 

And if we can see that, “Ah, I’m being invited into the inner journey.” 

Asking these questions, especially if I get in touch with my emotions related to the questions, my needs related to the questions, this isn’t just a head trip. 

This isn’t just theology and doctrine and beliefs and worldview and religious philosophy. 

Although those things are part of the picture, this is my life. 

I have emotions about this.

This is my relationship. 

I have some needs here. 

So to get in touch at that level, that’s where we really need to talk with a Spiritual Director

We need to get out this map and say, “Okay, here’s where I am. The Lord’s inviting me into this inner journey.” 

We need to experience the emotions related to these questions.

And to walk this through in prayer. 

And maybe in some different ways with God.

Maybe it’s less about Bible study and more about poetry and nature. 

As disciples, we need to be okay with that. 

As important as the Bible is, and as foundational as Bible study is, it is not the be-all and end-all of spiritual disciplines.

And that’s what we’re unpacking in Journey of the Soul

One of the things is that at different stages, different seasons of the soul, there are different disciplines that are likely to be more helpful.

A lot of times Bible study is not a mainstay as a life-giving discipline. 

We need some other practices in there that are more relational. 

Certainly, like praying the Psalms of lament, they are spot on and that’s in our Bible. 

But a lot of times people need to go someplace else to do that.

Maybe an Alpha course, that is based on the Bible, but is so good at leaning into these conversations of authenticity and honesty. 

And what are the questions and what are the wrestlings?

Not giving people pat answers.

Not judging them.

But entering into the doubt.

Entering into the crisis or the skepticism with patience and empathy.

Staying in the relationship. 

Praying for that person and helping them find God through that process.

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