Guest Blog: Spiritual Direction as Companionship Through the Valley of Deconstruction
Please meet my colleague, Chris Eaker. Chris is a Spiritual Director with a Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Richmont Graduate University. His style of spiritual direction is contemplative and reflective and includes listening prayer and imaginative prayer.
“Deconstruction is a term we hear often among Christians today. Whether it’s happening more often now, or we now have a name for something that has been happening forever, it is unclear. In any case, people of faith are undergoing a major shift. Depending on which side of the deconstruction valley you stand, this shift is either a threat to the survival of Christianity as we know it, or it is a necessary journey to grow closer to your true self.
What is deconstruction? Spiritual deconstruction is a process through which Christians go in which they question firmly held beliefs and doctrines. Some claim to go through it voluntarily, while others say they had no control over it. The questioning process often involves doubt, confusion, instability, and, most of all, fear. Many people describe the process as a completely confusing time in which they feel like they’re standing on a constantly shifting floor. The fear they face is real and powerful. Ironically, this fear often stems from doctrines they used to believe which they are now questioning. One such doctrine is that of eternal, conscious torment for unbelievers in hell. People begin questioning the validity of this doctrine while at the same time experiencing the fear of hell precisely because of that questioning.
The term deconstruction has been criticized for feeling too destructive. Indeed, some people describe the process as tearing down everything they used to believe and leaving nothing standing. Others describe it as being a more delicate process. Other metaphors have been offered to describe this process and are described here.
One such metaphor is art restoration. Skilled art restorers do not tear into a work of art with a sledgehammer or machete. This would obviously destroy the artwork and leave nothing worth saving. Instead, they gently brush away dust, use gentle cleansers or solvents to remove years of built up grime, and only rarely may use a small scalpel. In these cases, their goal is not to destroy what is there, but rather to restore what is already there to its former beauty. This metaphor is helpful for those who still feel a strong tie to the faith of their childhood and simply want to clear away beliefs they feel are superfluous while maintaining the core faith of their youth.
Another popular metaphor is home renovation. In this metaphor, we imagine a contractor renovating an old home that has been modified over the years to the point it no longer looks like it did when first built. This metaphor is similar to that of art restoration in that the contractor removes old layers, but it is much more destructive. Often there are indeed sledgehammers and saws involved which remove surfaces back to the “bones,” e.g., the studs, joists, and rafters. Then, the contractor begins the process of rebuilding with new materials and finishes. This metaphor is helpful for those who feel their faith foundation is still strong but who want to rebuild a new structure on top of it. Often this means removing everything, but the teachings attributed to Jesus in the gospels.
How Can Spiritual Direction Help?
As you may imagine, this process of spiritual deconstruction or faith renovation can be very lonely. You are often the only person you know going through it. Who can you turn to? Who would listen with an open mind and not condemn you to hell (which you think you no longer believe in, but what if you’re wrong?) You need someone who can be a stable guide and listening ear to walk with you through this process.
The process of deconstruction is almost always messy. You may feel like you will never find a place of certainty about your beliefs ever again. You feel like you are on shifting ground and can never find firm footing. You need someone to help you understand that what you’re going through is normal, expected, and not to be feared. Most of all, you need someone to assure you that God is not surprised at your doubts and questions and certainly not disappointed in you.
In a spiritual direction relationship, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate guide, not the spiritual director. But the spiritual director walks with you through whatever mountains and valleys you journey. Our focus is only and foremost your relationship with God, whoever or whatever God is for you, not to direct you down a path of our choosing. So, if you are doubting doctrine you have been taught and have believed all your life, you are not alone. Be comforted in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is doing major work in your life. Let a trained spiritual director walk with you through this dark night. Let us help you focus on what God is saying and doing in your life. It is our honor and joy, and we as spiritual directors often grow in the process of watching God’s unfolding work in your life. You will be amazed at the beauty that emerges on the other side of this valley of deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction.”
Blessings to you on the journey,
Learn more about Chris and his practice at Stepping Stones Life Ministries