A Map of Life’s Journey

In a few months time I will be 58 years of age. As I grow older, I find myself reflecting more on my life. Where I’ve come from, where I’ve been, where and who I am now, and where I am going. I also observe other people in their own journey as they seek to make sense of this amazing gift called ‘life’.

After reading a few intriguing personal news items these last few weeks (see more below), I sketched out the following stages as a sample map of life’s journey, as I observe it.

I read a few intriguing personal news items these last few weeks (see more below). After doing so, I sketched out the following stages as a sample map of life’s journey. Here is what I observe.

1. Construction

We all grow up in a context – a family, a country, a village or tribe, a set of values, and for many, a religious belief system. This is the ‘construction’ we emerge within. There are shapes, lines, borders, and boundaries that we learn to live and move within. Other people created this construct for us. Often they are the influential people in our life or our environment. It’s what we inherit we when start out on our journey.

2. Conversion

At some point, as we grow up, we start to find ourselves. We determine what we believe and what is true for us. For many people, there is a sense of conversion, where we embrace our world because it works for us. This conversion may be dramatic and at a specific point of time. Or it may be less spectacular and more gradual in its emergence. This is where we identify with who we are, based on the construct we have grown up within.

3. Questions and Doubts

[NOTE: There are people who stop after the first two stages mentioned above and they are content with those experiences … for the rest of their lives. They never doubt or question. Life and faith works for them. They can also tend to view people at the following stages as ‘backslidden’, ‘apostate’, or never ‘saved’. After all, where you stand determines what you see.]

For many other people, questions and doubts emerge. They start to critique the construct they have grown up within and even their conversion experience(s). This often occurs as a result of meeting other people who live outside of their construct and from hearing stories of other worlds and other world-views (belief systems).

For those who have grown up within a Christian environment or construct, the questions frequently centre around perplexities such as the existence of hell, why there is suffering in the world, the exclusivity of the Christian faith, the reliability of the Bible, the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, and the marginalisation of LGBTQIA+ people.

4. De-Construction

As a result of the questioning and doubts, many people start to de-construct the world that other people handed them. They begin pulling out some of the Jenga blocks other people gave them. Even those passed on from parents, teachers, and authority figures. After a while, the construction starts to sway and some of the blocks topple … and for some, the whole construct comes tumbling down to the ground … with an almighty crash!

5. De-Conversion

Some people move into de-conversion after a time of de-construction. They don’t believe what they used to believe. What was once true for them isn’t true anymore. They would be hypocritical to continue to declare allegiance to the construction that no longer feels like home to them. They have changed. They have moved. Reason has triumphed over past faith.

Recent examples of people who have arrived at this stage of de-conversion include Joshua Harris, a best-selling Christian author, and Marty Sampson, a well-known worship leader from Hillsong. They are not alone … or new. Consider the intriguing de-conversion stories of people such as Charlie Templeton (peer to Billy Graham), Dan Barker and John Loftus … if you dare.

Other people skip this step altogether and move from de-construction straight into re-construction.

6. Re-Construction

Now, a time of re-construction begins. It’s time to build a new world with what truly has meaning, value, and truth to us. We begin to think for ourselves. We choose to be authentic about what we believe, apart from what others have told us we should believe. This new construction may include some aspects, beliefs and values from our past. These are now seen from a new perspective. It also includes new things that weren’t part of our past at all. This can be quite scary … and liberating.

Summary

I am still learning and researching this. I am listening to other people’s stories and reflecting on my own life journey. This is not a linear process. Life is far more circular, unpredictable, and random. Nor is it everyone’s story. Not everyone goes through each stage on this map. Nor do they identify and understand each stage. But someone does.

A few final reflection questions:

  1. What stages of this map of life’s journey do you identify with? Where have you been?
  2. Where are you now?
  3. Have you ever had questions and doubts about your inherited construct? How have you processed these? Were you given permission to lean into them or were you shamed for experiencing them?
  4. Where do you see the other important people in your life right now?
  5. How do you handle or cope with people at different places than you?
  6. How can we better truly listen to and understand other people’s stories more deeply … without judging or trying to ‘fix’ them?
  7. What emotions does this discussion about a map of life’s journey evoke for you? It is resonance, dissonance, fear, anxiety, annoyance, anger or excitement and hope?

I’d love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. If you can’t see the Comments section, click on the title of this BLOG post then scroll down to the bottom off the page.

18 Replies to “A Map of Life’s Journey”

  1. Hi Mark, I found this very insightful and reassuring. For me it has been a period of personal deconstruction – reevaluating who I am and what I seek. What is of true value? I have no doubt about my faith and spiritual relationship, but significant doubt about how people use their construction of Jesus to assign value to others. If I go on Holy Spirit prompting alone, I only ever find kindness and deeper compassion for others that does not align with the absolutes of some religious thinking.
    It’s also been a period of intense struggle as I resist the urge to slip back into “performance” mode. Sometimes I feel like I’m on the brink of true freedom, but am too surprised about finding it as an option to take that final plunge.
    What an interesting and deep place life is 😊

    1. Thanks for sharing so openly, Linda. There sure is a lot of mystery and paradox to this life. I admire your courage to reflect, think and re-evaluate things. I find it interesting that Jesus attracted ‘irreligious’ people but really annoyed the ‘religious’. Much of the church today seems to attract ‘religious’ people but the ‘irreligious’ want nothing to do with it. Hmmn – something seems very wrong about that.

  2. This article is very well written and shows your lived experience of this process. I identify with all of these stages. It’s definitely a huge roller coaster of a journey!! Definitely liberating and for the first time in my life, I feel free!! Ironic given the freedom that Christianity promises!!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Nadine. True, Christianity in some of its current forms isn’t much ‘good news’ for many people! I’m currently reading “Christianity after Religion” by Dianna Butler Bass which outlines the massive changes taking place within Christianity around the world. Pleased to hear you are in a good place in your own life. Go well 🙂

  3. Thank you Mark for this insightful and encouraging post. The more I share this process I am going through with other people the more people I find who are going through the same process themselves. I guess what is saddening is that some people are scared to share with others they are going through this process, as such, it creates fear that maybe they aren’t going along the right path, until they stumble across someone who is more open to share they are going through the same process and now they feel safe. It’s such a shame that especially those of faith find it hard to open up and be honest as to where they are at, and that they have questions or thoughts or pains or concerns or forbid even doubt. I have recently realised (after a lot of wrestling) that God loves my doubt, as I am being honest with Him and we can actively converse together around my doubts and He is not afraid of them at all. I mistook other peoples concerns and challenges of my doubts to think that’s exactly how God would respond, I am so glad He didn’t. I feel I am walking into a new freedom with Him and becoming more open to loving people who are not like me, which in turn has allowed them to walk into a great relationship with God that in the past they wouldn’t even dare consider.

    Your post gives me great comfort and hope that leaders like yourself who I look up to, are willing to open up this discussion and allow it to be just that, a discussion. There is no opinion at the end or this is right and this is wrong, it’s a discussion and many are having it so you are not alone.

    THANK YOU!

    1. Thank you, Lisa. Appreciate the encouragement! I love the story of Thomas in the Gospels where Jesus went out of his way to meet with him and never condemned him for his questions or doubts. Not sure who came up with “Doubting Thomas” as a name 🙂

  4. Thanks mark.
    That was great, personally I am at the questions and doubt, deconstruction stage. Would be great to obtain recommendation of resources to deal with these questions and doubts

    1. Good on you A.J. What area are your questions and doubts in? Happy to recommend some resources that might be helpful to you. For instance “Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” by Timothy Keller is very insightful.

  5. I have been through this journey back in my early 30’s and it went on for appox 18 months. I was on staff at church and felt I couldn’t say anything to anyone and to be honest, if I did, I don’t think many would have understood. I came out the other side with different views on Pentecostalism.

  6. Thanks Mark for sharing this. It is much appreciated. I can identify with many of these stages of life. It brings me much comfort that I am not the only going through doubts and questions. Sometimes it frightens me if I will fall away. But I guess I always fall back to the foundation of my first meetings/experiences with/of the Lord.

    Life is a long and winding road and I need to always remember that I am weak but he is strong and that I am vulnerable and so need to call upon him and depend on him for everything and every moment no matter how old I am and think that I know so much and have experienced so much of ‘life’ already.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Peter. Yes, as you go on you realise how little you still know. But that is okay. There is a ‘mystery’ to God and this life. Embracing paradox is a key to maturity, I think. We just don’t know it all. And that’s okay too. Go well!

      1. An anonymous friend sent me this text yesterday:

        “Good post on linked in. Great to see a pastor telling the story many of us have had to travel alone. I’m sure that will be comforting to many. One thing I learnt from the process was how deep arrogant pride runs in the Christian tradition- and how blind to it most are. Also that we don’t have to have an answer for everything and can be at peace to some extent with unanswered questions.”

        1. My response:

          “That is such a true observation. Arrogance is rife within so many sectors of the church and the truth is we just don’t have an answer for everything.”

          1. Yes, I love and agree with the comment, “Great to see a pastor telling the story many of us have had to travel alone. I’m sure that will be comforting to many.”
            Thanks Mark once again for your openness and honesty.👍👏

  7. I love the article, Mark, and also a note that you do not have to go through all stages but sometimes you skip some (for example de-conversion). I feel like I have been in some way in a constant re-construction over last decade or so. For example, recently I looked into a Foundation book that I wrote 20 years ago and realized that I practically do not believe about half of the things there 🙂 I see now theology more as a journey and doubts as friends on that journey that help us to actually wonder and discover. So, I am re-writing some of my fundamental beliefs – but rather than changing sides, it feels more like finding better definitions and more colors. I feel richer and do not mind the ambiguity in the process. Books like The Sin of Certainty by Pete Enns were helpful on that journey. I hope it make sense.

    1. Great comments, Lukas. Thanks for sharing. In some ways, it’s like we often have multiple conversion moments on our journey after which we see things differently … again.

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