Severing: Some Do, Some Don’t

Severing: Some Do, Some Don’t September 11, 2017

Severing_Some Do, Some Don't

So far I’ve walked through these major movements from Faith Shift here: the certainty, conformity, and affiliation of Fusing, the rumbles of Shifting, some of the reasons for Returning, and the losses of Unraveling as we move toward greater authenticity, autonomy, and uncertainty in our faith.

Reality is we could spend months processing through each of these, but that’s what the book is for! My hope was to get the framework up here so that it’s in one place for folks who find their way here.

Today I want to share briefly about a tricky stage that not everyone who unravels experiences–Severing.

In the wild ride of faith deconstruction, some people sever from their former faith, and some people don’t.

Severing isn’t right or wrong, good or bad.

It just is.

I’m grateful that my editors agreed on the importance of this stage and worked to include it in Faith Shift, no matter how hard it is to talk about in so many Christian circles.

I’ve caught a lot of flak for it over the years, but it’s worth it because whether we agree with Severing or not, it’s real for so many.

I feel passionately that it must be truly honored.

Also, trying to control people’s faith experiences will just not help; it always backfires. 

It’s also important to honor that not every person experiencing a faith shift cuts ties completely with their former faith. My personal experience is that I never completely severed. That doesn’t make my unraveling less or more difficult or painful or valid. It just means that in my own personal story, I tried to shake Jesus, I really did, but I just couldn’t. His upside down ways just kept drawing me in despite all of my issues with the systems built on his name.

At the same time, I know that others have had completely different experiences and I completely respect that.

One thing I mention over and over in the book is letting go of looking at others and measuring our faith shifts against others or worrying about how others might be looking in on ours. That’s often not an easy thing to do, but it’s a critical part of owning our own unique story.

There are four specific conclusions that I touch on in Faith Shift related to Severing.

These are places that some people arrive at after Unraveling–even if they are temporary–to find some peace. I realize that some of these are part of the doubts and questions that come into play during Unraveling, too, but when I’m talking about Severing in this context, it’s important to clarify that I mean more of a landing place (of all possible lengths) than a quick cycling-through-process that happens in Unraveling.

Severing is deep.

See if any of these resonate for you, either now or in the past as part of your evolving faith.

  • “Maybe There Is No God”  / Atheism and losing belief in God all together, sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily, is where some people land after Unraveling.
  • “I Think Some Kind of God Exists, but…” /  Many people become agnostics or spiritual but not religious (SBNR) after Unraveling, holding onto a belief in God but without the specifics.
  • “I’m Done with Christianity, not God” / A lot of men and women don’t sever from God but rather from the conception of God expressed in their former faith systems. All ties with church systems are completely done.
  • “To Save My Soul, I Need to Let Go of My Faith” / Spiritual abuse is real, and often severing completely is the best hope to find true healing. The toxicity is too great, and the tendency to end up “underneath” in another oppressive system is too risky (pp. 116-123).

From talking to a lot of people about Severing over time, one thing is clear–it can be really lonely.

It’s hard when others around us are rebuilding or never left and we’ve cut all our ties.

At the same time, it can also feel very freeing for some people, too.

I know people who have severed for all different reasons and intersect it with from all different places.

It’s also true that most unravelers and some who sever, too, do eventually feel a pull toward wanting something spiritually again in some shape or form. This is one of the reasons why I wrote the whole last section of the book on Rebuilding (that’s coming Wednesday and the second to last post in this 7 part series).

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Severing.  

If you’ve experienced it, what was or is it like for you? What do you wish people understood about it?

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  • Anna C

    I’m fortunate in that my husband seems to be following a similar trajectory to my own faith shift. We left our church after Easter, and the hardest part is honestly feeling like we put nearly a decade into a place and relationships that never progressed past surficial conversation on Sunday morning. We were highly involved – my husband was the chair of the board during a really rough transition. And now we’re just… done. Like we woke up and realized that we didn’t understand the point, and if the point was what we were told it was, this isn’t what we’d be doing or how it would be happening. I’m struggling with what to do with my kids (they’d still love Sunday School, somewhere). I’m struggling to decide if I want to try something else, or not. My husband doesn’t seem to care. We’ll see what comes next.

    • thanks so much for taking time to share. it does help when we’re in step with each other a bit and not quite so lonely but that reality after 10 years is indeed brutal. i completely relate to the waking up, our eyes opened, and going omg, what was all that? glad you are here!

  • jekylldoc

    The biggest problem with severing is the loss of community. I stayed with the Evangelical church for as long as I lived in my parents’ house, and fortunately ran across a philosophy course in Religious Existentialism (syllabus: Kierkegaard, Bultmann, Tillich) before I moved out. One grad student in the course, recognizing my sense of being unmoored, assured me that there were churches with a progressive theology. So while I served out my time in the evangelical church of my upbringing, I also looked at it through new eyes and verified for myself that while I did not accept their theology, I did see something good going on there.

    So, when I moved away to grad school, I looked in on a University Church. I found community without literalism, and I have never looked back. I taught Sunday School, and kept teaching it for 30 years. I raised my kids in the church, and, while they don’t believe any orthodox theological propositions, they keep their ties with a church community. I understand that doesn’t work for everyone. Those inclined to sever will usually have real trouble finding a church that clicks with their particular worldview. But the important thing is to find a church community where their worldview doesn’t have to conform. I don’t think the Holy Spirit sits in a theological sandbox playing with abstract propositions. I think the Holy Spirit gets out there with real people and gets her hands dirty. So to speak.

    • thanks for sharing! i always love hearing different people’s stories…i would agree that the loss of community can be the most painful and lonely, at least for a season. lots of folks find it in new ways but grief seems to be part of the story no matter what.

  • John Nunez

    I have a couple of thoughts about this subject. First, having gone through this process, now that I am on the other side, severing is not the word I would use to describe it. When I hear the word severing, I think about the movie “127 hours”. The character in this movie cuts off his arm in order to get free from a giant boulder that has him
    pinned. No two people have the same experience regarding their faith shift. In my case, I never felt that I took decisive actions to cut myself free from my Christianity or faith. Looking
    back, my experience resembled a different movie. For me, my shift in faith was an almost 3year ride in the great glass elevator from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. My initial thought as I unraveled was that I was on an express ride downward and dark (fear and panic). Much like Charlie’s ride, my ride eventually went,
    “up and down, sideways, slant ways, and any other way you can think of.” I can attest to the fact that initially this process felt extremely lonely. I also went through a lot of anger, first towards the idea of Jesus and God, and then towards the institution of church and organized religion. Ultimately, I think those feelings were just the last of my evangelical past getting washed out of me. As Kathy mentioned in her book, people like me who completely unravel ultimately feel unhindered by the chains (her words), BS (my word) that kept them from feeling free. For the last few years I am finally living in a place of peace and freedom. To disagree with Bono in a certain sense, I have found what I was looking for.

    I am not part of spiritual discussions or even faith shifting conversations anymore. To be very honest, it is difficult to even put into words the thoughts I have right now. So when I read that in some Christian circles, there are people who have difficulty with the subject of unraveling or severing, it confuses me. It makes sense to me that many Christians would describe people such as me as “lost”. I completely understand this through an evangelical lens. There isn’t a very clean place in the Christianity that I come from, for people like me. I get the feeling that most people think that I’ll be back some day. I think others view me as a disgruntled ex-employee who got fired from Jesus Inc.

    Kathy lists out four outcomes of unraveling. I see these as a continuum where people have certain levels of comfort in regards to their proximity to God. In regards to the four outcomes, if my
    journey was a car ride, I am many miles past the “Maybe There Is No God” exit. I don’t expect people to understand where I am at because I don’t spend a lot of time trying to explain it. Part of living in this “severed” state is not feeling compelled to have to explain my current spiritual condition. The best way I could explain my “relationship” with “God” is that my Christian experience was defined by my exploration of the divine within me. For today and maybe tomorrow, I wake up each day wanting to explore my humanity. That means celebrating the goodness that comes out of my heart and forgiving myself when I fail. Understanding and striving to be human doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting the idea of god. For me it means that I have the freedom to embrace being a human being. I realize that my days are numbered and that my existence (as I understand it) had a beginning and will have an end. I find that as a non-spiritual person I have a lot in common with some spiritual people I know. In the end, we are just trying to do our best and treat people and this earth with respect and love.

    • john, thanks so much for taking time to share a bit of your story. i love hearing it and am always reminded of all the different twists and turns we all take and that really, your last line says it all. i did laugh out loud, too, on the “i think others view me as a disgruntled ex-employee who got fired from Jesus inc.” 🙂 on language, yeah, it’s so hard to find the right words for some of these, especially this one. i remember some of the ones that got tossed out were divorcing, leaving, separating, but those just weren’t strong enough. grateful for your friendship and honesty and the beauty i keep seeing in the letting go…

  • JimA

    Maybe this is a nit, but it seems to me that there’s another category that is something like, “I’m not through with Christianity, but I AM through with THAT Christianity.”