When I was in medical school, one of my classmates came to the mind-boggling realization that after four years of college and two years in medical school, he didn’t really like medicine after all. What he thought would be a life he would love turned out to be nothing but trouble. By that time, he was so far in debt that the idea of leaving school wasn’t even an option. Though he still had two more years to go, he dared not tell anyone of his struggle. In fact, most of us didn’t find out until almost graduation that this guy stopped wanting to be a doctor years before, but he was stuck.
My friend kept going through the motions. He showed up to class day after exhausting day. He studied like the rest of us did and took care of his patients week after week. He passed the exams and dissected his cadaver. Though he looked like the rest of us, he had a secret: He didn’t want to be a doctor anymore. A life in medicine wasn’t what he expected it to be.
Going through the motions
I’ve come to find out that most of us go through life exactly like my classmate did. We wake up one day and realize that all we once held dear no longer matters to us anymore. We thought our story would turn out one way, but instead we’re stuck in a life that doesn’t seem like the one we deserve. The problem is that we’re too afraid to admit it. We’re frightened of what it might mean to admit it. So we show up. We go through the motions. We live, but we’re not really alive. We inhale and exhale, but we’re not really breathing.
We think nobody notices, but the signs are everywhere. They’re in our smiles that don’t quite reach our eyes. They’re in the heaviness we carry with us wherever we go. They’re in the hunch in our shoulders and the drag of our legs. We’ve led ourselves to believe that there is a virtue in just showing up, that somehow God will eventually reward our tenacity. And maybe He will. Maybe there is something to be said about just not quitting.
But, year after year, the cost on our soul grows. Without noticing, we become anemic and inauthentic. Some might even accuse us of being hypocrites. We say we’re one thing, and we live one narrative, but inside, we’re rotting. Have you ever left a container of yogurt in your fridge for too long? I know, I know. No one knows exactly how long is too long for a container of yogurt, but most of us would agree that a couple of years may be too long. Anyway, that yogurt looks okay on the outside. It sits happily on the shelf until you open it. Then if you’re still alive from the smell that explodes, you’re certain to die if you taste it.
I am convinced that more people in the church are struggling with their faith than are letting on. These are people who, like me, still go to church and read their Bibles daily but are slowly shriveling inside. We look okay on the outside, but inside we’re dying. We’re afraid to admit that the Christian life we’re living isn’t what we expected it to be. When our Christianity hasn’t lived up to our expectations, it’s important to stop and figure out why.
Are we expecting the wrong things? Is our disappointment in the Christian life legitimate? Or could there be more beneath the surface? Could God be using our unmet expectations to propel us into a specific purpose? What if our expectations were merely a tool meant to draw us closer to God instead of further away from Him?
Instead, many who wrestle with their faith simply quit. They leave the church looking for something else, somewhere else. They try to convince themselves that they still love Jesus, but inside a shift has begun. Their faith is eroding. Young men and women who grow up hearing about God the promise maker and God the promise keeper find themselves with a bag of empty promises, their lives a shell of what they expected God to do for them. If God indeed has failed to deliver what He has promised, no wonder over fifty percent of millennials have left the church.(1) If God has indeed not lived up to our expectations, no wonder more people claim to be religiously unaffiliated than ever before.(2)
Maybe you’re struggling with your faith right now. Maybe nobody knows it except you so far—and, well, God. You’ve gotten really good at playing the game. You show up to church, you serve, you host a small group, you even sing in the choir. You bring your Bible to church every week. But you know it. You can’t escape it. It’s like my friend not wanting to be a doctor anymore; you feel stuck.
Your faith feels fractured, or to use a more culturally relevant terminology, you’re deconstructing. Either way, you’re hurting. It’s no surprise. A fracture, after all, is a break and is incredibly painful. It’s the kind of pain that will knock the wind out of you. That’s what the deconstruction of your faith will do to you. It knocks the wind out of your faith.
Asking the tough questions
One of the things I’ve discovered in the last few years is that the deconstructing of one’s faith is common among Christians and not just something that happened to me. Christians all over the world are asking difficult questions about their faith. Maybe that’s you. You have questions that defy platitudes. Questions that challenge what is taught as dogma in the church. Questions born out of pain that refuse to go away without an answer. They gnaw at your soul and, if remained unanswered, these questions will lead you down the path to doubt. Then like a wound that’s covered with a bandage without proper care, it starts to fester. Eventually, a dismantling of your beliefs begins to take place. And when everything we believe about God begins to crumble, the temptation is to walk away. The temptation is to stop believing.
Or the very opposite takes place.
Sometimes, when you finally let go of all the clutter you believe about God, you make room for Him in your life again. When you stop long enough for God to reveal Himself to you as He really is, and not as you’ve made Him up to be, a slow reconstruction begins.
Notes: 1. “Americans Divided on the Importance of Church,” Barna Group, March 24, 2014
2. “In U.S. Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace,” Pew Research Center, October 17, 2019
Excerpted from Fractured Faith: Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction (Moody Publisher, 2021), by Lina Abujamra.