Unraveling: It’s a lot to Lose

Unraveling: It’s a lot to Lose August 11, 2017


For the past 3 posts, I’ve touched on Fusing, Shifting, and Returning as some of the movements of a lot of our faith experiences. These three are really only groundwork for the places most of us reading here live, and the next three are the ones I’m most passionate about processing.

They are: Unraveling (deconstructing), Severing (for some), and Rebuilding (finding new life on the other side).

While Shifting is the season where things get rumbly, Unraveling is beyond just simple doubts (and beyond our control, really). I didn’t try to unravel and most people I know didn’t, either. This downward descent can make us feel a little crazy (and people around us feel worried).

Our values shift from certainty, conformity and affiliation that are present in Fusing to a deep desire for autonomy, authenticity, and uncertainty.

From Faith Shift: “Here’s how you can know if you’re Unraveling. You may not identify with all of these, but consider the ones you recognize (or others you might add):

  •  You have more than a few “I don’t knows.” Almost anything related to faith feels up for grabs, and your initial questions and doubts keep leading to many more questions and doubts.
  • You long to feel some kind of connection to God again, but no matter what you do or try, nothing comes.
  • Often you wish you could shove all the mess back into a box and put the lid on it, but you realize it’s too late for that.
  • You feel depressed and lonely. Ironically, however, you also feel freer and lighter.
  • When you try to connect with the Bible again, you sometimes see only its inconsistencies and harsh words.
  • Not only do you feel heretical, people have called you that (sometimes to your face, sometimes behind your back).
  • Sitting in church feels impossible. When you do go, you feel unnerved, edgy, uncomfortable, angry, or sad.
  • You may talk trash about your former faith or church community, but you actually miss a lot of things about it too.
  • Many who know about your changes have cut off relationship with you. It seems they wanted to be with you only when you were part of the same team, believed the same things, and were tasked with the same cause.
  • You stopped caring what people from your former faith system think about you but can’t help wondering what God thinks.
  • You feel a lot of anger about the past, wondering how everything could actually end up in ruins after all those years of being dedicated to your faith. You usually direct this anger toward yourself, others, and/or God.
  • You are open to exploring other faiths or spiritual practices that you would have once considered “ungodly.”
  • Sometimes you don’t have any adequate words to describe what you’re feeling.
  • You swing between spurts of peace, where you have a deep sense of knowing you’ll be okay no matter what, and jags of utter confusion and doubt, where you feel completely lost and sure that you’re not just slipping off the slope but headed toward destruction.
  • Religious and spiritual songs that used to bring comfort now feel like fingernails on a chalkboard.
  • Calling yourself “Christian” feels dishonest. You actually have no idea how to categorize yourself anymore.
  • [For those still in a ministry or leadership position] If you’re honest about what you’re experiencing, you will lose your job or role and credibility in a flash” (pp. 66-67).

Not everyone reading here has unraveled, but I can almost guarantee you know someone who has or is.

The entire middle third of Faith Shift is dedicated to Unraveling, including Soul Care exercises, the realities of the losses, and stories from others who know the feeling. If you or someone you know is in the midst of all this, it could be a really helpful tool to gather some hope and feel less crazy, less alone in the midst of all of it.

Really, Unraveling is a big messy grieving process.

It’s so much to lose!

When we lose beliefs, then we lose structures and relationships that were part of those structures.  

Once those things go and we find ourselves on the outside of everything that was once familiar, we can often lose our identity, too. 

It’s so much to lose.

In many ways, Unraveling is like a game of spiritual Jenga and we wonder, “If I take out this piece, is the whole Christian tower going to fall? Will losing this piece end the game entirely? How far can I go before my whole faith crumbles? ” (p. 68).

The other part about Unraveling I want to mention is how lonely and confusing it is. So many people don’t understand, don’t like the realities, want us to “come back.”

For most of us, there’s no turning back.

Unraveling is past an easy return, and that’s one of the hardest parts.

However, there can be new life, new hope on the other side of a painful unravel.

It just takes a long time (that’s really what I’ll be writing most about here in the months to come).

What have you lost in your Unraveling? 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • See Noevo

    Sounds like you’re on the road to atheism.
    You should consider being an author at Patheos Nonreligious.
    They’d love to have you.

  • jamesparson

    “What have you lost in your Unraveling?”

    To be fair, one should ask about all the things that are gained?


    Let me talk about the most important things I gained. I gained the ability to say “I don’t know”

    Now that I know I don’t know I can in any place I desire to find the answer. I don’t have to look at a holy book, or a minister, or anything else in particular. I can look anywhere I want.

    I can look at good ideas and I can look at bad ideas. I think about whether they are good or bad. I can ask others and be persuaded or not persuaded.

    I can look at Ecclesiastes 1:9 and not really care too much about what it says.

    I am free to figure out who I am, rather than wait for someone to tell me who I am. The world is more complicated and difficult to understand now, but I am happier being confused by its complexity.

    • sorry i am behind on responding but i’m always glad when someone brings up this question. sometimes in the midst of unraveling it’s hard to recognize those quite yet but it definitely comes in time. thanks for sharing your list of what you’ve gained. beautiful.

      • jamesparson

        I am wondering, is this series of articles going to end with this one?

        “Unraveling is past an easy return, and that’s one of the hardest parts.”

        I know I am on a Progressive Christian channel. Is there going to be a return process?