Guest Blog Writer: Janice Ross
“Deconstruction of your faith”. What does it mean and what, in particular, does it look like? When I think of the word “construction”, I think of a building going up or a car being made or perhaps something as simple as a puzzle being put together. Deconstruction then would be a building being taken down, or a car being taken apart, or a puzzle being broken apart to be put back in the box.
But faith is different: it is intimate. It speaks to the mind and the heart of a person. The implications of its presence or absence in a person’s life makes all the difference in the world. It is no small thing and therefore is not a subject I deal with lightly.
I was 5 years old when my family started going to the local Plymouth Brethren church and it was in that church that my husband and I were married 16 years later. We left about 14 years later to go to a Christian Missionary Alliance church. After a few years we moved to a small town and for 1 year we attended the local Presbyterian church. Looking back, we would both say that each of these moves involved a sense, however slight, that there was something more. We weren’t even sure what that was, just that we were spiritually hungry. Then we discovered something called the Vineyard and we couldn’t resist the call to the evangelical charismatic community. It happened to be the little church next to the Toronto Pearson airport that would evolve into the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship which became a place of major revival.
Where did my faith begin? I don’t know. I can’t pin it down to a date. I think that over time, going to church became synonymous with having faith and I was definitely not the type to ask questions or examine things like this too closely. But by the time revival had broken out, my husband and I found ourselves on staff at TACF and after a rocky start (in coming to terms with “revival”) I embraced it wholeheartedly and our lives changed dramatically. We began to travel to speak all over the world and having begun my Christian life in a church where women were not allowed on the platform, I felt like a bird released from a cage.
In around 1998, my husband and I left our positions on staff to travel full time and we I loved it. I think that going to Israel in 2005 was the high point for me. It was such a privilege! But in the aftermath of that trip I began to sense something happening deep inside. It was almost imperceptible at first: a sense of tiredness, running low on gas so to speak, a feeling that maybe the grace was running out. Believe me, it requires a lot of grace to live the itinerant lifestyle. But it was more than that: it got to the point where every time I opened my mouth to speak I felt increasingly like a fraud.
The more I looked back over my life, what I had thought of as being faith, seemed nothing more than me donning the appropriate set of clothes, whether they be Brethren, Alliance,Presbyterian, Charismatic or what have you. In other words, I began to question whether I had ever had a real faith of my own or if I had just adopted some kind of substitute and mistaken it for the real thing. Then finally came the day when I hit that proverbial wall and I actually said the words, “I can’t do this anymore”. It was at that moment that I finally realized that I was tired. Tired to the point where I was ready to walk away from it all. And not just for a week or a month but for good.
For me, from that moment on, everything stopped, and looking back I can only think of that time as if I had gone into a spiritual coma. There was no more going to church, no more “quiet times” or “devotions”, no more speaking or travelling to meetings or conferences. My bible sat on a table collecting dust and frankly I didn’t care. The only thing I remember feeling was an incredible sense of relief that I didn’t have to do all these things anymore nor did I have the energy or desire to even pretend to. The strangest part of all this was that just as a comatose patient does nothing but lie on a bed (yet the mind can be active) I did nothing to contribute to a relationship with God, yet I knew I wasn’t dead. Somewhere deep in my spirit I figured if God is who he says he is then he could and would keep me alive.
It wasn’t until 2017, eleven years later, that I began to wake up so to speak. My husband had continued to travel and speak and be fruitful all around the world. Having spent the last 11 years collecting dust along with my bible I began to yearn for something more, for something real. Being home alone I really began to get in touch with my loneliness and lack of affirmation and connection. When my husband came back from a trip I remember sobbing out my feelings on his shoulder, having little knowing that this was Father God waking me from the coma.
At this point and for further context and clarification, I need to go back to the moment when I “couldn’t do it anymore”. My husband and I were soon to be going on yet another trip to Holland where we would be involved in a series of meetings. But because of my circumstances, I stayed home and he went on his own. As you may imagine, it was not easy for him to leave me behind given those circumstances, and the prospect of going ahead without me left him feeling disadvantaged and disinclined to say the least. But that is his story and I won’t enlarge on it here except for one pivotal point which made all the difference.
My husband sensed that God told him: “Don’t worry. This is me. I’ve got her”. Those 3 short sentences, taken at face value and acted on in faith, enabled my husband to take his hands off and let God be God. And by doing so, he was free to let me be me. I happen to be married to a remarkable man who never once has tried to fix me or hurry the process but has accepted me day by day just as I am.
Apart from my closest friends who were privy to what was happening, there must have been many others who drew their own conclusions: that I had denied my faith, walked away from God, given up on church and everything I’d ever believed. And to be fair, I could hardly blame them since I had no clarity on what was happening myself. I just lived day to day, relieved that I did not have to keep up any pretence. I couldn’t have even if I had wanted to.
It was in April of 2009, three years into the journey, that we were visiting with some dear friends in the south of France. Before we left to come home, the wife of this couple drew me aside and offered some thoughts that she sensed might shed some light on my path forward. Keeping in mind that this came long before I had ever heard of the concept of “deconstruction of faith”, this is the gist of what she shared:
“I sense that in order for Father to bring something new, he is first having to kill off the old… because her relationship with him has been through the prism of someone else’s perspective. A new set of clothes. Fresh meat that she hunts, kills, and prepares herself. He will teach wilderness skills; show her what to eat and what not to eat. A sense in which our Lord is deconstructing- back to simplicity”.
These words struck such a cord with me that even though I still did not have much clarity, I held on to them. There were several times in the years to follow that I would come across this note again and perhaps in a moment of purging I almost threw it away. And yet each time without fail, something or Someone urged me not to.
If anyone had asked me during those sleeping years what was going on inside, I would have answered, “nothing much”. But fast forwarding to Sept 2017 and beyond, I have a vastly different story to tell. A whole new relationship with God began. A real one. One that is my story and no one else’s.
I don’t know why it took what amounted to 11 years of complete bed rest, at least on a spiritual level. Father obviously knew better than I did, the seriousness of my condition and what it would take to deconstruct the old to make room for the new. Once I had begun to awaken, one of the first things I noticed was a new knowledge of his unconditional love for me. During those years when I thought nothing was happening, he was doing “root” work. Father does some of his best work in the dark and underground where no one but he can see. The taproot of my being was growing deeper and deeper into the knowledge of his unconditional and eternal love for me. Along with that grew the knowledge that I have a place in his heart that is mine: no one can take it from me and it defines my identity. I am my Father’s daughter. No more and no less.
In those early days of my awakening, I remember asking Father, does this mean I’m supposed to start going to church again? And I believe I clearly heard him say, that’s not the issue. For me, the most important thing was to stay in that place of intimacy; what I’ve come to look at as a place of spiritual rehab.
Why was this so vital at this stage? Having just awakened from those 11 years, it was as if the whole spiritual playing field around me was altered. What does that mean? It felt as if Father was showing me a whole new way of being a Christian: one that had nothing to do with how much I prayed, or read my bible, or went to church or any of the many rules we place upon ourselves. The only requirement was to let myself be loved.
It also became apparent to me that none of the old structures fit anymore. Or perhaps I didn’t fit into them. This can be an uncomfortable and even lonely time; a time of asking, “what now”? And it takes me back to those words that my friend in France shared with me. For I’m seeing now that Father has indeed taken me out into the spiritual wilderness to equip me with those necessary survival skills. He is showing me too that I’m not the only one who has felt the bewilderment and loneliness of wondering where and how I fit into this new environment. There are countless others for whom the old structures don’t work anymore and they desperately need to know that they’re not forgotten. Father sees them, knows them, and loves them right here and right now. My heart aches for them and I want to share my story with them if it means even a glimmer of hope.
Father’s love is so much bigger than I’ve ever imagined. It is unconditional and freely offered. How do I know? Because I spent 11 years doing nothing to contribute to a relationship with him and I’m coming out the other side feeling cleaner and freer than I ever thought possible. Titus 3:5 is true: He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
I’m not living a perfect life now. I still sin, I still doubt, I still have moments of loneliness and questioning. But I’m rooted and grounded in a love that is immovable and I’m not so threatened anymore by theses shifting moments. He has equipped me with the skills that I’ll need to go out into the wilderness and sit with the ones who have fallen through the cracks until they know again that they’re not alone and that there’s hope.
To those who can identify with any of this, my prayer is, please don’t give up. I ask Father to reveal himself to you in a new way. His methods are as vast as his love and there is no road he won’t walk to find you.
Thank you Father for your love that goes beyond my wildest dreams!
Janice Ross, Ontario, Canada