As Ben and I sat in the Flying M coffee garage in Nampa, he told me about the shock of watching his deepest friendships evaporate when his work schedule changed and he couldn’t volunteer with the middle school youth program anymore. Having grown up in youth group, he hadn’t realized how manufactured his closest relationships had been; once he wasn’t in that building with everyone anymore there was no connection, no reaching out. He looked up and said, “you know, I may be in the wilderness, but God created the wilderness, too.”
Jen slipped quietly into the back row of a church service I was a part of. Afterward, I made my way over to connect with her, and she introduced herself as a “recovering fundamentalist,” sharing that she, as many post-evangelicals, felt a bit like she was adrift at sea after rethinking some of the convictions she had been handed in her younger years and told to hold tightly.
Julie shared with me how freeing it was to read Brene Brown’s discussion of shame, and moving out of it. She described growing up in a German Lutheran community in Wisconsin, and how the religious school, faith community, and family she had grown up in were so thoroughly saturated with shame that at points in her life it seemed she would never be free of it.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” —Jesus
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Somehow, we’ve taken Jesus’ message of love and liberation, and we’ve managed to bake layer after layer of shame into it. Our faith communities and religious systems, many of them have become manipulative and shame driven in a way that communicates the message “you better tow the line, keep up appearances, affirm the correct ideas, and not ask the wrong questions. Or else...” And yet so many of us are finding ourselves in a place where we can’t possibly just play along anymore because it’s tearing us apart.
Here’s the thing that really stinks though: When we leave the systems we grew up in, we take the shame they taught with us. Shame tells us we are alone in asking the questions we’re asking. Shame tells us we have to struggle through this journey of rethinking our worldview and rebuilding our community alone. For many of us, there are things about the faith communities we grew up in that we deeply cherish, but shame tells us that those things are inseparable from our pain, and so we have to give it all up.
My heart is heavy when I look at how painful this journey of deconstruction (maybe redesign would be a better term) is for so many people who grew up in situations similar to my own. I ache because so many people feel so terribly alone when they very much aren’t. So many people are wandering this journey of deconstruction and redesign when it comes to their faith — and so many have wandered it before! This wrestling is the very DNA of the Christian faith, from early Hebrew practices of Midrash to the early Christian desert fathers wandering into the literal desert to meditate and encounter the divine, what Wesley described as “this constant work of theological renewal” has been the very core of our story all the way through.
So if you find yourself questioning or rethinking, if you feel pushed into deconstructing or reorganizing your faith, and if you find yourself called to learn and grown in ways that might be startling or unsettling to some around you, know that you are not alone! There are friends to be found in the wilderness: individuals and whole communities walking these journeys with you today, and voices throughout the centuries who have wandered into the wilderness and written records of their journeys to keep you company and give you courage on your own.