Reconstruction: Phase One
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10
I found the story captivating and the characters compelling. I empathized with the mother’s desperation to find a cure for her daughter. I marveled at the sister’s bravery in defending herself. In the last chapter, I was hoping for a satisfying ending when the author, Jodi Picoult, did the unexpected. As my eyes and brain connected with the words on the page, a guttural sound emerged from me as I threw the paperback across the room. I had the urge to step on the book, stamping out the betrayal I felt. Jodi Picoult had lost me with her ending!
A year ago, I heard Jodi Picoult talk about her ending to “My Sister’s Keeper” on a podcast. She shared that even her son had had a strong reaction saying, “You! You did this, how could you!” But Picoult explained her ending in a way that finally made sense. The family had to have something tragic happen to change their world. This moved them towards reconstructing what a family should be.
Four years ago, I woke with a persistent thought, “It’s time.” I recognized God’s voice, not with a harsh condemning tone, but with a tone full of compassion and encouragement. It was time for me to start addressing some hard things in my life, starting with my weight. I was tipping close to four hundred pounds, finding it more challenging to move around. A year previously, I felt the utter humiliation of my surgeon’s concern about whether I would fit in the MRI machine. Additionally, my blood pressure was out of control, filling me with constant fear of dying young. I knew that I wanted to live, and to do so, I had to address my health. Little did I know that my “It’s time” moment had so much more to do with my spiritual life, not just my physical health.
Pounds started dropping regularly as I made better choices both in food and exercise. But within a few months, my world started crashing, revealing that my professed Christianity was built on a shaky foundation. In the past, I ate bagels and bars to soothe hard emotions. I hid the shame of my morbid obesity by being an over-achiever in church work. I prided myself on the principled, family-oriented life I had constructed. But when this was all stripped away, I felt naked and ashamed. And I no longer understood who God really was in my life or how to move forward. For the first time in my adult life, I felt lost, alone, and unsure. And for the second time in my life, I came to God in utter need, completely broken.
The first time I was broken was in my mid-teens. I had just reported the abuse to a counselor, an arrest was made, and I was navigating life while dealing with post-traumatic stress. Soon afterward, I had a life-changing experience with God, where I was ushered into this faith journey as a Christian. A holy peace transformed my life, giving me hope where I had felt none. It was my starting point, and in my latest crisis, I couldn’t explain away that initial experience. A recent article* I read included a quote from J.J Packer. He says in Fundamentalism and the Word of God, “Faith first, sight afterwards, is God’s order, not vice versa, and the proof of the sincerity of our faith is our willingness to have it so.” The faith in my experience, in the integrity of God was the center, and I knew I had to build upon that place.
For the next few years, I started to unpack my beliefs. I discovered my shaky foundation had been supported by structures that emphasized the law of God, ignoring His mercy and grace. I believed in a distant God, who did love me but was more interested in my performance not my relationship. I was afraid to tell God and others that I felt lonely, sad, and angry. I didn’t live the abundant life, and joy manifested as a fake smile to convince God and others that I was content. I equated my political leanings with faith, intertwining conservative thinking with the truths of the Bible.
So many of my beliefs contradicted what I was learning about God. But describing this experience was tricky. Many evangelicals are leaving their faith through a process they call deconstruction. I sometimes wondered if that’s what I was doing, but this trendy hashtag didn’t seem to fit my experience because the one thing I was sure of was a faith in God. A friend of mine connected the dots when she shared about her “journey of reconstructing her faith.” She was rebuilding her foundation by examining God, dealing with trauma and truth together.
Reconstruction resonated with me. And I realize this was God’s plan all along. In 1 Peter 5:10, Peter says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace…will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Like Jodi Picoult’s ending, this crashing of my world, this persistent urging to deal with hard issues, and this questioning of my faith was to reconstruct my faith. That was the purpose of God’s gentle voice, gently nudging me to wholeness.
I plan to share with you some more thoughts I have on this reconstruction process in next week’s post. It’s been a journey of discovery, curiosity, and examination. And it is leading me deeper into wholeness and healing.
*The link to the article is included. It is a book review written by Brittany Shields, based on the book Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church. I have not read the book but will soon. The article is a good read and helped solidify my position on reconstruction.