Chasing the Belonging
The Lonely Side of Deconstructing Your Faith
“Chasing the belonging.”
She said those words during our podcast recording. We had just spent the last hour together in a conversation that was so comfortable, as if we’d known each other a lifetime. Perhaps our souls did, because there was an ease in which we navigated heavy topics about the tension that now exists in this country, the challenges of peeling away indoctrinated layers of belief, and the desire to find ‘your people’ when you’ve lost your spiritual community.
Her words planted in me in a way I’ve come to recognize. It feels like a spiritual nudge wrapped in the words I hear in my head, “Pause and mark this moment, for your next writing was just offered to you.” I quickly scribbled them down knowing that they were pointing me to sacred wisdom that would reveal itself in the wee hours of morning. That is when the words that are dancing in my head are the loudest, inviting me to arise while the nighttime is at its darkest, and the soul connection is at its strongest.
And so just a few hours after she spoke those words, I sit here, propped up in my bed as my husband sleeps soundly beside me. Guinness, our senior cat, finds his way across my lap, nuzzling comfortably between my belly and keyboard. He has come to welcome these early morning writing sessions so much that I’ll often receive a gentle head nudge if he feels I’m sleeping past peak writing time.
As is the case with the hundreds of writings before this one, there is a mystery to the process that I have come to anticipate with a mixture of anxiety and wonder. Simply put, I have absolutely no idea how the story will end.
I just begin writing, as I’ve done here, sharing what arrives and trusting that how the story ends will unfold as I continue to type into existence the words that are arriving. Such a sacred metaphor for life—trust the ending will come, but we are free to create the story in our moments of living.
That may be a story for another day, but here in these wee hours, I return to this blog’s title of ‘Chasing the Belonging.’ There is a vulnerability to it that I hadn’t expected to experience during that podcast interview. I’m heading into my 13th year of deconstructing—the word that has become synonymous with untangling from the intricate layers of indoctrinated beliefs.
The word deconstruction doesn’t do justice to this process of peeling back those layers. Peeling them back is where we find sweet release from rigid dogma and toxic theology.
But this deconstruction process can come at a high price, a price so high that some find it too high to pay. I’m talking about the loss of community. This came home for me recently in a zoom gathering where a young woman spoke of her deconstructing while still rooted within her spiritual community. She lived in a small town, the kind where everyone knows everyone else, and church is essential for acceptance and community.
It was clear that she needed this community, for they provided the connection and support she needed to be seen and loved. This struggle is very real for those who deconstruct from the beliefs of their religious heritage yet stay bonded for connection. She’ll have a struggle to balance this, and I hope my words of encouragement helped her see that time is on her side. She has time, although that time may feel suffocating for her in moments where she has peeled back another intricate layer of her deconstruction.
This young woman represents the millions who look at where deconstruction is taking them—away from their spiritual community—and they determine the risk of being without it is too great. For her and others like her chasing the belonging is something they simply cannot do, at least not in this moment.
I won’t fault them for this. I never felt more alone than the first Sunday that I awoke and didn’t have the flurry of activity to ensure we were out the door and on time for church. Pulling in on Sunday morning to a place where you have grown to love those worshiping with you often feels like coming home. The familiar faces, the hugs, picking up where you left off the Sunday before in conversation, and reconnecting with those who truly care about you can all feel like you’re being wrapped in a warm, spiritual blanket.
It can be challenging, if not downright impossible, to replicate that outside of church. After all, humans thrive in community. We’re often part of several communities that support us in loving ways.
It’s like our DNA points us to belong, and when we don’t, we chase it. If we can’t find it, we grieve its absence and long for it.
This is why deconstructing is some of the hardest work that you will ever do. It is why I say that it is so much more than rejecting the parts of your religious heritage that harmed you. So much more than re-reading the Bible without the need to weaponize it. So much more than decolonizing your beliefs and healing your religious trauma.
Yes, those things are important, but it is so much more.
Because no one can really prepare you for the shock when those in your closest inner circles are gone. The most painful part comes from the fact that they are physically here but unavailable to you by choice. It doesn’t matter if it’s yours or theirs, they’re gone and that stings.
The hardest part of deconstructing can be this loss of community, because it reminds you just how alone you are. Acknowledging the sorrow you are experiencing can help with stabilizing your time in the spiritual wilderness. Even after all this time, I can recall moments on my deconstructing journey where my loneliness tempted me to return to church and fake it in the pews just to be back in the comforting fold of my community.
I didn’t do that. I knew that whatever had shifted inside of me would forever change how I would be received and returning was not an option. Knowing this was enough to keep me in the spiritual wilderness for just a while longer.
Just a while longer.
What arrived while I waited a while longer in the spiritual wilderness was an understanding that my reliance on community blinded me to how little control I had over my life. Organized religion had taken that from me. More accurately, I had willingly handed it over in exchange for validation and connection from my relationships inside church.
That doesn’t mean that those relationships were all bad. They weren’t. There were many that were loving and supportive. Even today almost 13 years after leaving church, I miss those special bonds with those I was closest to at church.
But those bonds were conditional. The minute I left church, they were irreparably severed, leaving me to realize that their bonds were contingent upon my willingness to be compliant to a toxic patriarchal system that was harming many people with zero accountability or remorse.
Love is not love when that love demands blind obedience and silent submission.
But that’s my story. It does little to help that young woman, 40 years my junior who is just beginning to navigate adulthood and needing the guidance of those closest to her. She’s figured out far more than I had at her age. That gives me hope for the future generations as we begin to heal from the generational trauma caused by patriarchal systems that do nothing more than protect those in power.
But her desire to chase the belonging is valid, and I’ll never judge someone who allows it to guide their decisions.
Here in my 60’s, I’m content to say that I have found community. It looks absolutely nothing like the one from my heritage, but it works in ways that I’ve come to recognize as just as meaningful and sacred as those I experienced in worship on Sunday mornings.
But that’s me.
Where does chasing the belonging find you? Chances are, the desire for community, this chasing the belonging, has impacted you in some way.
Wherever chasing the belonging is taking you, may it be for your highest good.
May it arrive without conditions.
May it be what you need for your spiritual journey, not what the community demands of you to ensure its survival.
May it be holy.
For in the end that is all that matters.