When Someone You Love is Deconstructing Faith
Our beliefs about love, life, God, and why we’re all here make up a lot of who we are.
But those beliefs change over time. They evolve as we experience more of life, death, and all the in between. This is often called Deconstructing Faith.
Questioning your beliefs, or Deconstruction, is a challenging road to walk on. It winds to the left and the right so you can never quite see where you’re going. The terrain changes often and you’re not always sure you have the energy for it. It’s a road littered with bandits trying to rob you of what you need for the journey.
Challenging your belief system is difficult for anyone who finds themself on that uncertain path. If you are on that road, I’ve written an article designed to give you some tools for your journey called 5 Things to Remember When Questioning Your Beliefs. You can check that out, read some of my deconstruction articles, or even consider deconstruction coaching with me.
As difficult as it is to walk through a season of changing beliefs, it often seems more disturbing when we see others go through it.
Watching someone wade through fog after fog of doubt an uncertainty can be truly painful for those who love and support that person.
You see all the pain and the struggle they are feeling and you want to do something about it, but the majority of the time any help you offer is met with anger, frustration, and a sense of separation from them. Try as you might, your help can often make things much worse.
So what do you do when someone you love is struggling with their beliefs?
How can you help them walk the path they need to take without them feeling forced, pressured, or judged?
I don’t have all the answers by any means, but I do have 5 suggestions to get you started:
1. Evaluate the depth of your relationship
This may seem like a strange place to start, but let me share why this is a vital step.
FAR too many people in our society (myself ABSOLUTELY included) like to share our opinions about just about everything.
And most of us do so completely unprompted by those we give it to.
When someone is deconstructing faith, no matter what attitude or feelings they exude, they truth is in this season they are very fragile.
They may be dismantling the very basis of who they are and all they have built their life upon up to this moment.
The last thing a fragile person going through this needs is another opinion thrust their direction like a stone through stained glass.
So before you enter into this struggle with someone, stop and ask yourself,
“How important is our relationship to this person?”
Once you have done that, you have two options. You may find yourself thinking,
“We’re friends. We care about each other, but I don’t think I’m crucial to their life.”
If this is the case, then you have the easy job.
Simply be a body in the room they can vent to. Don’t offer any thoughts, opinions, or suggestions. Just listen and acknowledge their feelings.
Some beneficial phrases to use once during this time are:
“That sounds really tough.”
“I don’t think I have anything constructive to offer you in this, but I hope you know I’m here for you.”
“That doesn’t sound easy. How can I be a good friend to you in this?”
Then commit to be there if/when they need you again.
However, if after your moment of reflection you truly know that you are a foundational aspect of this person’s life and support system; either a best friend, a close confidant, or a significant other, you have a longer, more difficult road ahead of you.
The best place for you to start is with lots and lots of questions.
No matter what part you typically play in their life, the role most required of you in this season is that of a companion.
In everything you do or say, your main priority is to seek to understand their struggle and to meet them where they are. DO NOT offer any counter arguments or perspectives they may not have considered until you are expressly asked to do so. And even then, be very careful how you share your opinions, always remembering
they need to know they are not alone.
They need a friend to trust, not an opponent to debate.
2. Be willing to sit in the tension with them
We are simple-minded people at heart. We see a problem, we look for a solution. When something is broken, we have it fixed.
We often treat people the same way.
When someone is not acting the same as they usually do, or when they say things that don’t quite sound like the person we know, we typically ask one of two questions:
- “Are you okay?”
- “Is something wrong?”
Though our intention is to help, we are essentially saying that anything different or new is bad, dangerous,
And when something is wrong, we want to make it right.
You can’t do that here.
This is not a leaky pipe or sputtering car engine.
This is a person.
A human being.
A living, breathing soul.
Your friend, family member, or loved one does not need to be fixed because, basically,
they are not broken.
They are growing.
And what they need more than a diagnosis or solution is a friend.
While deconstructing faith, they need the presence of someone they know will never leave their side no matter which direction this road takes them. The security and comfort of that kind of relationship gives them the courage they need to approach this season with authenticity, vulnerability, and an open heart to receive whatever it is God may be trying to show them.
So rather than looking for a leak, do the incredibly difficult work of simply sitting in the tension and in the unknown with them.
Which leads me to my next suggestion…
3. Embrace the phrase, “I don’t know.”
This one is arguably to most difficult for us when someone is deconstructing faith.
Not to get all cliche Christian on you, but there’s a great example of how not to do this in the Bible.
Ever heard of Job?
Yeah, he’s that guy that went through the most absurd, most ridiculous, most terrifying circuit of pain, loss, and depressing events seemingly because God and Satan made a bet (okay, that may be oversimplified, but you get the idea…it was ridiculous).
Job had some good friends that came and sat in the tension with him for many days.
But Job’s friends weren’t all that great, because just about everything they said was bull****
For several days as Job sat there in agony repeatedly asking the age old question, “WHY!?!?!?!”
and his wonderful friends were more than happy to provide an answer every time.
I won’t give you the long list of stupid answers they gave, but suffice it to day it was all crap, and none of it helped Job one bit. Even God Himself chastised them for their responses.
When a loved one is going through agony, or confusion, or any territory that is unknown and a little scary to them, the LAST thing they need is a simple answer form the people they trust.
To be very honest, this is something only they can figure out for themselves.
Only they can honestly and genuinely arrive at an answer to their many questions that they will accept. Anything you say to offer a solution will be met with distrust, frustration, and even anger.
However, it is your job to show them they are not alone in their fear and confusion, and one of the absolute most effective ways of doing this is saying,
“I don’t know, but I’m here for whatever happens next.”
4. Show tangible acts of love to them.
When someone is really deconstructing faith and struggling with the foundations of their beliefs, everything becomes about finding answers to often unanswerable questions, and that can be scary.
They are probably afraid of how this will change them,
how this will change the trajectory of their life,
how this will mess up their plan and their security in life.
But most importantly (though they may not have the words to express it), they fear how this will affect the relationships that matter most to them.
When I started really digging deep beneath the foundations of my beliefs, I wasn’t worried what my pastor or church friends would say, but I was absolutely terrified what my wife would think.
Would this mess up our marriage?
Would she hate me or lose trust in me?
Would she understand at all or just leave me feeling alone in my struggle?
Luckily for me (VERY luckily) my wife was incredibly patient, kind, and loving. She did all she could to show me that nothing would change her love for me, and to make sure I got the point of what she was saying,
she showed it through her actions.
She took me to my favorite coffee shop to play games (something that I think actually embarrasses her).
She asked lots of open-ended questions and gave me space to express myself freely.
She created pockets of rest and fun to get away from all the thinking.
And she scheduled plenty time with friends and family that loved me well.
Basically, she did whatever she could to tangibly show me that my issues were not the main issue.
The main issue was knowing that I was loved for who I was
and nothing I thought, felt, or believed could change that.
If you truly love someone deconstructing faith or struggling with their beliefs, don’t love them only in the debates and discussions. Work hard to show them outside of the many conversations that you are committed to relationship.
If you don’t do this well, they will begin to feel unsafe being vulnerable with you and may eventually break relationship with you out of self-protection.
5. Remind them who they are and how important they are to you
There was a time in my life when I was really struggling. For years I had seen incongruities and injustices in a system and an organization that was a huge part of my life. I was deconstructing faith and didn’t have any language for it.
During one season of change for me, it all started to boil and bubble up to the surface.
Like any good, red-blooded American, this bubbling came to the surface most in my social media.
More specifically in my Twitter feed.
Rather than exploding on people in public, I let them have the full force of my frustration in 140 characters or less.
Because I’m mature that way…
My wife started to notice this, and it bothered her.
It wasn’t what I said that bothered her.
She wasn’t too concerned with the bridges I might burn or the people I might offend.
She was concerned with the person I was becoming.
So she sat me down and asked me very simply,
“Can you tell me about your tweets?”
To make a long story as short as I can, that conversation eventually led me to the phrase,
“I hate them.”
But here’s the scary part, I meant it.
My frustration and struggle had been allowed to grow for so long without proper care and attention, that eventually it became a full-blown disease in my heart
and it was changing me.
My wife reminded me that day that I am not a hate-filled person. She reminded me that I have a deep, DEEP love and care for humankind (the good AND the “bad” ones). She reminded me that grace and kindness are at the center of my being and that that is the man she loves.
She reminded me who I truly am, regardless of the issues, people, or struggles that come up along the way.
That conversation changed the trajectory of my life for good. It forever altered the way I approach people I disagree with and the very real, even righteous anger I sometimes feel rising up within me.
I may allow that anger to be what it is and to take residence within me for a time,
but it does not, will not define me.
While deconstructing faith, remind your loved one who they are, regardless of what they think, feel, or believe.
Do NOT remind them how important their beliefs or choices are. This will only put pressure on them to get it right and to do so quickly. And the more pressure they feel, the more likely they are to shut down and shut you out.
Choose words that are deeper than their current season.
Are they kind and considerate?
What gift do they offer the world just from being themselves?
What mark do they leave on the people closest to them?
Who are they beneath the belief systems?
Remind them of that, and remind them that they matter to you no matter what.
Ultimately you have to ask yourself this question,
“What would Jesus do?”
“Wow…great advice, Kurtis. I threw that bracelet away decades ago.”
But really. Jesus always chose to see, love, and identify with the person before He ever addressed beliefs or actions.
If someone you care about is going through a rocky season of wavering beliefs, don’t address the issues…
Love the human.