**For a video-version of this post, scroll to the bottom of this post or click here.**
God is my life. He’s given me life that people outside of Him can’t understand. He’s changed me, what I like, what I want, how I think, what I want to be, and what I want to do with my life. I want to serve Him, because He gave everything for me. There is nothing else I want to do with my life, and nothing else that is worthwhile, except serve Him.
I wrote this in my journal at the age of 17 and meant every passionate word about my Christian faith. Never could I have imagined back then that, ten years later, I would no longer call myself a Christian.
This drastic change in my beliefs can’t be attributed to never having been a real Christian to begin with; in fact, the opposite couldn’t be truer. I accepted Jesus as my savior at the age of 13, and my life changed drastically from the inside out. I was baptized at 16, went on a mission trip with my high school youth group, created elaborate artwork inspired by my faith, attended countless retreats and Christian small groups, chose to attend a Christian college, and served as a chaplain in my college residence hall—all as an outflow of my heartfelt relationship with Jesus.
My baptism, plus some of the artwork I created inspired by my Christian faith.
How is it possible, then, that someone who built her entire life around her faith could somehow walk away from it?
The answer is deconstruction: the process of reevaluating one’s core beliefs. To those strong in their faith, the idea of deconstructing one’s relationship with Jesus may seem absurd, if not altogether unfathomable. But as growing numbers of people are leaving organized religion, it’s imperative Christians become familiar with deconstruction—how it happens, what triggers it, and how to empathize with those who experience it. This is exactly what I hope to shed light on by breaking down my own deconstruction journey that took me from a passionate follower of Jesus to abandoning my evangelical Christian faith.
A Deconstruction Case Study
It should be noted that every deconstruction is individualized, and my experience is just one unique example. Additionally, while numerous factors contributed to my deconstruction, I’ve broken down my story into the nine major “stages” I’ve moved through so far in my journey that have brought me to where I am today.
Setting the Stage
I was born a thinker. I’ve never been one to accept easy answers, and am energized by engaging in soulful, genuine conversations with others. These aspects of my personality have been common threads running through every part of my story and act as a sort of compass, guiding me toward choices that honor my analytic and authenticity-craving self.
Stage 1: College
I attended a small Christian liberal arts college that I specifically picked for its palpable close-knit Christian community. Majoring in psychology with a minor in theology, I took classes like learning and thinking, health psychology, doctrines of the Christian faith, history of Christian thought, God and evil, philosophy, and ethics.
While my faith grew immensely in college, so did my critical thinking abilities thanks mostly to my philosophy and theology classes. My professors rarely accepted “easy” answers and were always challenging students (playing devil’s advocate was a favorite teaching method) to ask hard questions.
“You challenged me to ask myself questions about my faith and my beliefs that uncovered the holes in my theology,” I wrote in a thank-you letter to one of my theology professors upon graduating. “You exposed places of weakness in modern Christian thought that many Christians are ignorant of or try to downright ignore.”
Stage 2: Cambodia
In order to graduate, my college required all students to participate in a cross-cultural experience abroad. My junior year, I chose to spend three weeks in Cambodia immersed in the country’s culture and history. It’s hard to describe concisely how much my time in Cambodia taught me, but suffice to say this trip raised many questions for me about philosophy, theology, and Americanized Christianity.
Learning firsthand about Cambodia’s genocide during the 1970s was particularly haunting. I could not un-see the rows of hundreds of prisoners’ photographs while touring the grounds of a former torture camp, or comprehend where God was while gazing up at a memorial monument stacked high with thousands of human skulls. I left Cambodia with my eyes opened in a way they never had been before.
Stage 3: First Job
After my graduation from college, I was excited to be hired for my first “real” job working as a mental health aide at a psychiatric hospital. It was a seemingly perfect fit given my degree, and I sincerely believed Jesus had aligned the circumstances for me to get this position. Halfway through my first day of on-the-job training, however, every fiber of my being knew the position was NOT for me.
I quit my mental health aide job after that first day and felt as if God had dropped a bomb on my understanding of him. How could everything I put into getting this job that I thought he wanted me to have turn out blowing up in my face? In the weeks to come, I’d write in my journal, “I feel like I’m going through a dramatic season of disillusionment about what life and this world really are.” The crevices of questions in my faith and worldview at this point began to split into cracks of despairing doubt.
Stage 4: Unraveled Relationship
As I’ve shared in other posts and on my YouTube channel, I spent two and a half years in a complicated relationship with someone I met in college. I believed it had been confirmed to me for certain by God that this individual was the person God wanted me to marry. This relationship, though, would turn out to deal the biggest blow to my unsteady faith.
To make a long story short, my boyfriend at I were stuck dating long distance indefinitely, and I struggled a lot with situational depression after college largely due to this. Ultimately, I felt I had to choose between God’s supposed choice of husband for me or my mental health. I chose the latter, and not long after my first job failed, I broke off this relationship. This only prompted further questions about my faith, as reflected in this journal entry I wrote during that time:
I feel like I’m a spiritual and intellectual wanderer right now. I thought I was asking my deepest intellectual and spiritual questions in college; I sure was wrong. I’ve never wrestled with such difficult questions before. In college, I wrestled with questions in class or while writing papers. Now, those questions are inextricably tied to my reality, to my experiences. I live and I question; I question and I live. Everywhere I look now, I see questions.
Stage 5: Depression
Following the breakup with my ex, my depression worsened. Life felt meaningless, and I began having moments of feeling like I didn’t want to live anymore. I turned to God for help, begging him to take away my depression, but to no effect.
My understanding of God—and consequently my entire identity and life’s purpose—had fallen apart, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I started seeing the world through an organic lens as opposed to a religious one, and began asking philosophical questions like Why are things the way they are? Where do our social and cultural rules come from? Why am I here? What is the best way to live? Who says what the best way is to live, and where does this standard get its authority from?
Through this dark period, my empathy for others grew—especially for people who, like me, found themselves in circumstances they never asked for. This included two groups I had frequently seen ostracized by evangelical Christians: those with mental illness and those in the LGBTQ+ community. I couldn’t understand how the Church could justify shaming people for who they were.
Stage 6: Christian Small Group
With my former understanding of God in shambles, I found a Christian small group of like-minded individuals who had also outgrown their views of God and were asking tough questions about faith. In the almost year I was part of this group, I was able to start addressing my cognitive dissonance, grow in self-awareness, and build a positive self-image completely distinct from my former Christian-centered identity. As time went on, however, I felt my ever-evolving questions became too heretical for even this more progressive Christian group.
Stage 7: New Relationship
In the spring following my breakup with my ex, I met my now-husband. Unlike me with my conservative evangelical roots, my husband came from a Catholic background and later shifted to Lutheranism. The role faith played in each of our lives was starkly different, and for the first time I realized evangelicalism is not the only valid way to be a Christian, although the evangelicalism I knew had always boasted otherwise.
My relationship with my husband while we were dating was also entirely different in that, unlike my previous relationship, ours was not controlled by strict evangelical rules regarding sexuality. Through meeting my husband, I began scrutinizing my former views on dating and sex, while simultaneously realizing how damaging those past views had been to me.
Stage 8: Life Coaching
No longer feeling like I belonged in any of my former Christian circles, I was able to find a life coach who helped me put a name to what I was going through: deconstruction. I finally felt like I had a space to process everything I didn’t feel safe sharing anymore with my Christian friends and family members. With the help and permission of my life coach, I started diving deep into my more troubling questions, and my eyes were opened to parts of my faith that were not just hurtful, but outright toxic.
Stage 9: Finding New Community
Besides working with my life coach, I’ve found multiple online communities of individuals like me who have or are currently deconstructing their Christian faiths. Perhaps one of the greatest sources of hope I’ve found since my relationship with God unraveled is knowing I’m not alone in this rough and unexpected journey.
Through deconstruction Facebook groups, YouTube videos, Instagram posts, and Twitter hashtags, my experiences and my personhood have been validated. I’ve discovered resources and language specifically for people like me who have found themselves rethinking the worldviews we’ve built our entire lives on. Through the stories of others, I’ve recognized parts of my past in which my faith in Jesus was used to manipulate me, and how evangelicalism is a valid source of trauma for many sincere believers.
Where We Go From Here
Deconstruction has been the loneliest and most painful experience of my life, and it happened gradually over the course of multiple years. My hope in sharing my story of deconstruction is that you won’t see those who’ve walked away from Jesus as backsliders or false believers, but rather as real people with real stories. Those of us who deconstruct often didn’t choose this path, but are just trying to make sense of a reality and a worldview that no longer align.
The most loving thing you can do for someone deconstructing? Listen their story and affirm their experience, regardless of what your own faith journey has looked like.
If you’re interested in learning more about deconstruction, I’d encourage you to check out my list of recommended resources. You can also head over to my YouTube channel or peruse my playlist of top-picked videos on the subject of religion.
14 thoughts on “How My Christian Faith Fell Apart | A Case Study of Deconstruction”
Hi Sara and thanks for sharing.
The ‘Religious Sense’ that you experienced as a believer and now know differently is not limited to religion. It can be transplanted into other states of mental culture. This has been done and western culture is a philosophized narrative that has many parts that are not true. If and when you start to see through various parts of this, they also require a deconstruction process, unfortunately the more modern form of narrative influence is more potent than the older less sophisticated religious forms. The thing is though, the ‘Religious Sense’ remains the same no matter what genre or state of mental culture it is programmed into people and hijacks their inner core of sensible reason … so, you already have many of the skills and abilities to sort through ideas and drilling down to truth. And It also takes years and decades to go through deconstruction from what could be described as an age old Platonic influence. My use of ‘Religious Sense’ is from Fichte, lecture 17 Characteristics of the Present Age.
Thank you for sharing so clearly and so thoughtfully. Your story is heartbreaking, and really helps me understand the struggle from your point of view.
I walked away from my Christian Faith during college. It just didn’t ring true to me, and other things were more enjoyable. I returned to the Christian Faith 20 years later after learning some hard lessons.
Even though we came to different decisions, I appreciate your process. Keep asking the tough questions. You say that you are now in a more agnostic mindset. I’ll will pray that you do not have to learn lessons the hard way, but that you do discover the truth.
I stumbled across your video while doing research on another topic related to evangelical Christianity. I was never as involved in the church as you were, nor was I ever an evangelical. But I was raised Christian, and that changed when I was in my teens and early 20s. I would describe my process as a deconversion – a slow and dawning realization that I didn’t believe the things that I used to believe. I had less to lose and less of a ideological shift to make as a result than you did, but it was still unnerving and, at times, frightening.
In the end, though, I came out well, and it sounds like you are in the process of coming out okay as well. The end result for me, and it may or may not be for you, was that I no longer tied my identity to any ideology or sect (religious, political, or otherwise) which has allowed me to be a much calmer person and to change my mind without worrying about what the bigger implications of that would be.
The most interesting thing, at this point, is how I still find vestigial elements of my former religion popping up. I am, for example, very reluctant to use profanity that makes use of religious terms. Similarly, while I do not believe in the supernatural at all, and think that seances and ouija boards are more showmanship than anything else, I am still uneasy at the thought of engaging in them. It’s not rational, but it’s stuff that sticks with you even after you leave behind the beliefs that gave those ideas power.
I wish you the best, and it sounds like you are on your way to being a much happier person.
I empathize with much of your story — I identified as agnostic 19 – 24 and then tried to find meaning in syncretism until my early 30s. From your story, it seems as though you followed a particularly North American evangelical take on Christianity. I would encourage you to be at least open to the writings of the Church Fathers and traditional Catholic and Orthodox saints. Those waters are pretty deep and, if you allow them to percolate, may make sense to you. Now that I look back, this Lutheran Satire video hits me right in the face. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGmtR2D6pCU. Good luck on your journey.
Hello, you were in my YouTube recommended videos which I viewed and decided to respond here since you referenced your blog of the same subject covered.
I’m sorry that you had to endure such a stressful and isolated time transitioning out of your religious beliefs in your growth in dealing with the realities of world experience.
One of the biggest problems many leaders/groups of organized religion is the assumption that young and new believers alike just accept what they are being told at face value and embrace it fully as a sign of strong “faith”. Challenging questions are typically not encouraged and too many times are glossed over rather than seriously addressed intellectually or philosophically.
Your situation sounds like you were raised under a certain set of religious beliefs that were handed down to you which everyone accepted. Then of course as you grew up and started thinking more deeply about what your beliefs were and how they fit with your actual experiences in life, your friends and family weren’t much help because they either subconsciously shut their out negative thoughts and just accepted the religious platitudes as a replacement for actually delving into any issue that required deeper analysis/discussion. You may have even experienced that people who ask too many questions being deemed “trouble makers” and eventually shunned into compliance or leaving.
Faced with numerous contradictions with what you were led to believe with your own experiences and observations, it makes sense that you felt the need to leave it behind.
You have a good analytical mind that seeks to find deeper answers to your questions which is what we should all be doing. I also have a science degree and I think for us, our beliefs have to survive more rigorous analysis that many others don’t need.
One Bible version that really helped with my understanding and beliefs is the Bible “Recovery Version” that includes commentary. Living Stream Ministry offers a free New Testament with commentary. I think you should check it out with all the grains of salt you like just to see if it makes any difference in your understanding or sentiment. I don’t agree with all parts of the commentary, but some of it really helped me to connect the dots. It also helps to explain why so many church denominations are failing their constituents.
Also, I’d love to hear some of the questions you had but didn’t feel comfortable to share with those in your group. I have science and philosophical thoughts on my beliefs all the time and I’m wondering if some of your questions are the same as mine.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspectives as they can not only help people going though similar situations, but for religious groups with an open mind, it can also serve to help them understand what they are lacking and where they need to improve.
I actually left you a long message on Instagram after seeing the video and before learning of the blog — where I could have instead left that long message. 😄
Hello. I’ve just watched your video on deconstruction. I think that the recurring theme in it is basically the Problem of Evil, i.e. “If God exists, how could he allow all this evil?” While I understand the emotional pain when confronted with the fact that there is plenty evil in the world (as a Catholic, I am particularly grieved by paedophilia in the Church), it isn’t a problem for me in the final analysis. After all, the Christian religion seems to be an attempt to answer the Problem of Evil. Christ Himself utterly immersed Himself in our misery so that we could not say that God is distant from us.
On a personal note, I’ve seen really bad stuff in my life. A lot of evil. I also have High-Functioning Autism and OCD and I suffer psychologically every day. But all of this did not distance me from God but rather took me closer to Him. I am consoled in my sufferings because I know that He took on the burden of my misery.
God bless you, praying for you. <3
Thanks for your comment. Grappling with the problem of evil certainly has played a big role in my deconstruction; I even took a class in college entirely devoted to the problem of evil. I’m happy to hear that your journey has resulted in you growing closer to God. At the same time, not everyone has that experience when they encounter suffering. That is the message I hoped to convey most in my video on deconstruction: everyone’s journey is unique, and by listening to and respecting one another’s stories, we make the world a much better place. Best wishes to you. 🙂
I think God allows us to see how horrible a world where people disobey him looks like, and then we really have the ability to choose him or not.
Hi, I wanted to thank you Sarah as your YouTube video of the above post has had such a positive effect on me and now I don’t feel so alone. Like you I don’t identify as a Christian anymore and haven’t done for 4 years now. It was quite a painful process of loss and grief. I really identified with the loss of self and identity that you talked about in your video and actually i felt exactly the same. Thank you again take care,
Will from Ireland
Thanks so much for your comment, Will. I’m sorry you’ve gone through a similar process, as I know just how difficult of an experience it is. I’m so glad my video could help you feel a little less alone.
Just found your YouTubes. Very interesting. I’m 73. I identified strongly as an evangelical Christian all the way through high school and college, and went to seminary for a year. I separated from fundamentalism intellectually early in college but it took the remaining time in college and a year in seminary to complete the transition to where I could say I wasn’t a fundamentalist anymore. I am currently a liberal Quaker. It is a religious path that is not based on dogma. I continue to identify as Christian (sometimes) because I don’t give fundamentalists ownership of the term. I am appalled by the current identification of fundamentalism with hard right politics. Jesus was a socialist, after all. (I’ve written about that.) I see the evolution of my spirituality as a life-long path, not a discrete “transition.” Check out (one of) my web site(s), https://lcurve.org, especially the link at the top labeled “writings.” You would find some of those essays and chapel talks interesting. If you want to discuss any of it please do it via email.
Thanks so much. Feeling like I’m losing my faith has been very painful and I’ve felt very alone.
I know how painful that feeling is, Ken. There are some communities on Facebook I have listed on my recommended resources page that you might find helpful if you’re interested. You are not alone.