For half a generation now, we’ve watched people use the internet to announce their disillusionment or deconversion, or most recently, “deconstruction.” We may be growing less surprised to hear of another person abandoning Christian faith. You probably know someone. Maybe it’s someone you looked up to. Maybe it’s your best friend. Maybe it’s you.
I almost did. Let me tell you my story of why I didn’t deconstruct, even if I fit the profile.
I grew up in a ministry family. I was a sheltered homeschool kid who wasn’t allowed to watch most Disney movies. I learned all the Awana verses. I wore the WWJD bracelet. I read all the purity books. I could sing all the popular CCM hits.
Then one day a gunshot shattered my world.
When My World Fell Apart
I was fourteen when a beloved family member committed suicide. He was a father figure for me, one of the strongest men I knew. Or so I thought. I had talked to him just two hours before he shut the door of his office and shot himself.
When the initial numbness wore off, my mind became a cauldron of questions. If this man I loved and admired couldn’t make it, could I? If his Christian life ended this way, what hope is there for me? With so much pain around me, and in the world, how can God be good? Does he really exist?
Shortly after, hidden sexual abuse began to surface in the lives of people around me — none of it reported, all swept under the rug. Around the same time, several trusted spiritual leaders fell as their sexual sin was exposed. One church I attended saw the head pastor, assistant pastor, and youth pastor all resign within a span of six months. Two were addicted to pornography, and one had an affair. I could see death in their eyes, hypocrisy on their faces.
I could say more, but these experiences offer reason enough to expect that I might assume the whole of Christianity to be a sham. But that’s not what happened. I still love Jesus, am still committed to my local church, and still draw hope from my faith. Why?
God Met Me in My Doubt
In the wake of my family member’s suicide, I felt a strong temptation to tear down all my previously held religious beliefs. I spent long hours in my room with all those questions swirling. Most nights I wept. My prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears. God felt distant, and at times completely absent. I wondered if he even cared.
During this dark season, I watched others in similar situations leave the faith. Some preached their deconversions far and wide, seeking to make other de-converts. In my crisis of faith, I saw two paths before me: walk away from Jesus, or persevere in hope.
As isolated as I felt in my struggle, however, I didn’t withdraw from church, but leaned into the very community I struggled to accept. I didn’t realize at the time how important this step was. In that community, I discovered how God often meets the needs of his people through his people.
God met me through conversations with my faithful youth pastor and his wife. For months, they listened and let me ask hard questions. How do I reconcile society’s new norms with the Bible’s teachings? How do I not doubt when I hear people say that the Bible is racist, pro-slavery, anti-woman, or anti-gay? What do I do when scientific theories appear incompatible with biblical revelation?
One night, after a midweek church service, God moved in my heart, and I went from predominantly doubting to predominantly believing in God’s existence and the Bible’s reliability. I found that Christianity could handle my tough questions, and that if I would bring all my doubts and fears to God, he would patiently teach me.
Still, I felt a deep ache inside — an ache I thought had no cure. I was still disillusioned.
God Met Me There
My disillusionment ran deep. Looking back now, I can see what was wrong: I had placed my deepest faith in people, not in God.
I misplaced my faith in family, pastors, and friends. I felt deeply disappointed when I discovered they were not as good as I believed them to be. When they fell into grave sin or acted hypocritically, I was crushed and tempted to ditch everything they taught me.
“Looking back now, I can see what was wrong: I had placed my deepest faith in people, not in God.”
I also put faith in my own goodness. I was caught up in the absence of particular sins, thinking that because I didn’t get drunk or sleep around that I didn’t really need grace. I wasn’t one of those people. I shunned the world and its stains. Like Rapunzel, I locked myself away from the world out there, only to find that I needed to confront the demons within.
I had to fall flat on my face to realize that my own squeaky-clean moral record couldn’t save me. Staying sheltered from the world couldn’t save me. My Christian family, my Christian education, and my Christian church couldn’t save me. My natural conclusion was to give up on everything I had trusted. And in a way, that’s what I did. But instead of walking away from everything, God helped me to press in even further — beyond myself, beyond my family, beyond my friends, to Jesus himself.
One Tender Word
One night, everything came to a head. Still limping with doubt and disillusionment, I had a vivid dream. I saw heaven’s courtroom, where my soul was being called to account. I tried to escape, but as I ran away, my pastor stopped me on the steps of the courthouse and gave me instruction. My eyes blinked open. I realized that I needed to hear what my pastor would preach that coming Sunday.
I carried all my striving and fear into church, not knowing what the Holy Spirit had prepared for me. As our pastor preached from Matthew 8:23–34, he described two demonized men. I saw their misery, death, and oppression. I saw men out of their minds and unclean in every way, held captive by their deception. And suddenly I knew this was a picture of my condition. I was acting like a crazy person: in anger, I had accused God of wrong; in unbelief, I had judged God guilty. I saw my utter depravity and uncleanness.
But as soon as I saw this truth about myself, I saw something else — someone else. I saw Christ standing before me through the preaching of the word. I saw “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), my “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). God pulled back the curtain, and Jesus came into focus. He crossed every boundary, cleansed every defilement, and shattered every bondage. He came for me.
In a moment, God overcame Satan’s blinding power, lifted me out of my pit, and put me in my right mind. He was not at all how I expected him to be. He was kind. Though my sin was thoroughly exposed, with one tender word, he brought me to himself.
If You Want to Throw It All Away
Yes, I’ve doubted, and yes, I’ve felt disillusioned. But I’m not “deconstructing,” though the circumstances in my life could easily have led in that direction.
Perhaps yours do too. Perhaps you’re wrestling with significant doubt and disillusionment. Perhaps the framework of your faith feels like it’s falling apart, and you’re tempted to throw it all away. If so, I understand. But as someone who’s been where you are, my counsel to you is to walk toward, not away, from Jesus and his church, even if you feel like you want to walk away.
“As someone who’s been where you are, my counsel to you is to walk toward, not away, from Jesus and his church.”
As I sought him in my wreckage, Jesus met me. In my crazed condition, he put me in my right mind; in my defiled condition, he made me clean. He won the battleground of my heart; by his gospel, he transformed me into what I was meant to be — a daughter of God, an emissary of his kingdom.
Deconstructing into a more “progressive” theological stance, or into full deconversion, may look inviting, but only Jesus offers the kind of freedom and hope you desire and seek. And Jesus extends his invitation to you with open arms: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). To reject the easy yoke of Christ is to become the slave of a harsher master. But to receive Christ’s yoke is to find true authenticity, true freedom.
If you really want rest from all your doubt and disillusionment, come to Jesus. Don’t abandon your faith. Press on to know the Lord. For “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Ashley Baker serves as an adjunct professor at The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry. You can read more of her writing at her blog. She and her family of five live in Houston, Texas.