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’.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
- What stages of this map of life’s journey do you identify with? Where have you been?
- Where are you now?
- 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?
- Where do you see the other important people in your life right now?
- How do you handle or cope with people at different places than you?
- How can we better truly listen to and understand other people’s stories more deeply … without judging or trying to ‘fix’ them?
- 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.