A few weeks ago I had a conversation in which someone said something like, ‘people who deconstruct their evangelicalism, and move towards progressive Christianity or liberal Christianity, only ever do so because it is convenient for them to do so.’ I have thought about it every day since.
I found it surprising that from the outside of someone’s changing faith, from within evangelicalism, those who move away and leave that movement towards another expression of Christian discipleship could be seen as pursuing convenience when the truth is that my own experience of that was deeply painful, anxiety inducing and lonely. There was nothing convenient about it.
I can understand how a deconstruction can be seen as ‘back sliding’ or ‘losing your faith’ by those who remain. If you witness the faith of someone with whom you once shared beliefs find a Christianity that seems vastly different to yours, that is an easy conclusion to make, but that it is a move towards convenience is so unreflective of the experience of so many I know. More often than not it feels like your the lost sheep, but nobody is coming looking for you. You’re on your own and there are wolves around.
There is definitely nothing convenient about feeling like your faith is slipping away completely as you begin to acknowledge and embrace doubts that you’d suppressed for years. There’s nothing convenient about the fear that you’re losing Jesus when in reality your losing theologies and practices that were harmful to yourself or others. There’s nothing convenient about the disappointed looks from people you respect and have broken bread with for years when they find out you no longer believe this thing or that thing which you once shared. It hurts and it can be a really scary process. It can be isolating and confusing as your honesty makes you extremely vulnerable.
What would have been convenient would be an unquestioning mind, and the mental fortitude to suppress doubts with blind faith without it causing me sadness and anxiety. Staying in the same place on my journey of faith as I was when I was 25 would have been convenient, but it would have been dishonest and damaging.
I told some friends recently that I sometimes wish I’d never questioned anything. I have these memories of singing songs, studying the Bible and praying together with friends long before I asked any questions. In these memories the world is a much happier place and I’m much more comfortable in it. I have no doubts and I have no struggles with theology. Everything is right with the world and my faith is certain and strong.
Of course nostalgia is a liar who taints our recollections with a rose tint. I had as many doubts then as I do now except the doubts I had then were about my worth and whether God could truly love me. Was I really saved? Had I said the right prayer with enough vigour to be redeemed. They were about whether I had anything to offer the world that would make it a better place. Was I spiritually gifted? Was I called and equipped? My doubts were introverted and self defeating. They found their root in my belief that at my very best all I could offer God was worthless, and therefore so must I be worthless. That has been hard to shake off and still needs cleansing from time to time.
When the mist of time clears and I remember those pained days, I realise just how worth it the inconvenience of it all has been. I have a faith which brings me joy again. I no longer have the same worship experiences I had, I no longer have as many people around me that share what I believe on certain things, but I feel more at ease in my Christianity than ever. I believe in a God who I trust more than I ever have and I feel like I can look those pushed to the margins in the eye when we talk about God’s love, without feeling that I’m assisting in them being pushed there as I once did in the past.
A faith lost and found again is inconvenient. It is a long and painful process. You lose much but you gain much more. It’s possible to live at ease with both your experiences and your faith. It’s possible to let go of things that are troubling and embrace that which gives life. Keep going, you’ll find what you’re looking for or at least you’ll find the drive to keep searching for it.