Destigmatizing Deconstruction

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again . . . ”
–John 2:19

Sara Carrara Di Fuccia Part 6 of 7

§

Table of contents

§

Introduction

When things in life suddenly get so bad or have been bad for so long, it can seem the only solution is to go numb and deny anything is wrong at all. If you’re a pastor, ministry leader, parent, or anyone responsible for others, you may feel even more pressure to keep it together. If this is you, you’re probably exhausted.

What if you had permission to let go? What if in finally letting go you are actually letting God put things back together again? This is my story . . .

It was Friday night. My husband, Mike, and I stepped out of the little tapas restaurant arm in arm laughing with our dear friends. Before turning to make our way down the cobblestone streets of Nottingham to our car I said, “Do you mind if we stop to take a photo in front of our old flat?” My friend stood patiently in the brisk night air as Mike and I snuggled close and posed for the photo.

Later that night, I laid in bed staring at the photo contemplating how different I was in that picture compared to the one we took in the exact same spot 12 years ago. We had just arrived in England, Mike as a PhD student and me as a missionary commissioned by our home church. The two people in that photo had no idea what was about to unfold.

The two photos bookend more than a decade-long “undoing.” Of everything, really: my image of God, my sense of self, my relationships, and the career in ministry that I had spent the entirety of my 20’s and 30’s pursuing. I suppose the theological term for this is “deconstruction.” Yet, that word feels too intellectual and linear to me now. Because really, when you’re in the middle of it, it feels more like an earthquake, with each quake causing more devastation, chaos, and loss of control. After the dust settles you are left asking: “Why, God? Was this my fault? Have you abandoned me?”

The girl in the first photo had no reference for understanding deconstruction or roadmap to get through it, and perhaps that is what made this decade of my life even more difficult. I hope that sharing my story destigmatizes deconstruction and encourages others to embrace it as a necessary path to reconstruction and new life.

Bitter: a Decade of Deconstruction

Just two months after our arrival in England, my relationship with my mother, and subsequently our entire family system, imploded. A month later, the pastor of the church we were attending in England sat me down in his office and told me they do not allow women to lead in ministry, and I was invited to stay and sit quietly or leave. We took our cue, left the church, and found a new church on the other side of town.

Over the next year, I built a ministry that led missions teams from the US to do service work throughout England. The senior pastors of our new church received us with open arms, and even invited us to bring our ministry under their umbrella. However, as it filtered through the channels of church leadership the offer fell through, with the only consolation being that it would be reconsidered after three (more) years of service and supervision by their ministry leaders.

Meanwhile, we had zero dollars coming in from our home church for missionary support. Although it was a mega-church, with more than 5,000 people and multiple sites, they did not include missionary support for their missionaries in their budget. The jobs we were able to acquire just weren’t enough to support us. We were emotionally, spiritually, financially, and relationally exhausted. The PhD, building a ministry, grief and loss of my family, cross-cultural assimilation, ministry hurdles within the church, and lack of support sent us packing our bags to return home to the States.

I took a job at a Christian university as the Associate Director of Campus Ministries. It was the biggest role in ministry I ever had, and things started to look up. Then, a year later, new leadership was appointed, and a strategic plan was put in place to double enrollment in just one year. You probably already know how this is going to turn out.

I nearly cracked under the pressure of our new leaders as I was pushed harder and longer for more power, popularity, and success. I was working up to 70 hours a week while leading over 700 students, a team of 60 student leaders, and 10 staff. While I upheld the brand on the platform, my humanity and marriage suffered. Moreover, I knew the new leadership didn’t espouse women in senior levels of ministry, and that my newly formed Anglo-Catholic sensibilities were not in alignment with their exclusivist ideologies. I held on for two more years until I finally accepted what I could not change and surrendered my 20-year career in ministry with no guarantee that I would ever find a job like that as a woman in ministry again. At that point, my family, my identity as a pastor, and my career had come crashing down. I had nothing left but the Truth.

Sweet: Reconstruction

Deconstruction is often accompanied by an internal sense that something should be different. For me, it manifested in a resoluteness to stand for the Truth in the face of corruption of power, the oppression of narcissistic leaders, and toxic family and religious systems. While under such intense pressure, I was tempted by “Job’s friends” to introject a narrative of shame in order to remain connected to and in good favor with these systems or to take on the role of scapegoat and leave. Through bouts of anger, doubt, and grief, I wrestled with the questions, “Did I get it wrong? Was this my fault? Is there some sort of sin or defect in me that has incited God’s wrath?”

Then, I realized that through it all, even the anger and doubt, God called Job “blameless” (Job 1:8, 9:21). I began to see my circumstances in a new light. Through the lens of Christ, blamelessness does not mean we are perfect, it means that in the midst of deconstruction we do not have to allow grief or the narrative of “Job’s friends” to scapegoat or condemn us.

Refusing the role of scapegoat begs the questions, “Do I believe the Truth is actually at work here? Can I surrender control and allow the Truth to do whatever he needs to do? (Heb. 12:27) Can I let go and allow toxic systems to fall and idols to be shattered so the temple can be rebuilt?”

Jesus shows us in the 2nd chapter of John that we can trust him enough to give our “yes” in response to these questions. First, Jesus unveils his power at a wedding in Cana. But, not just his power, the purpose for which it served. Behind the miraculous turning of water into wine, I see deeper meaning. Notice, Jesus put that wine into six jars. The same number of days God created, or constructed, the world. And, he put it in jars that were specifically used for ceremonial cleansing. The Jews were people who experienced oppression, exile, all kinds of persecution, and were endlessly filling the ceremonial jars to wipe their slate clean. Jesus seemed to be saying the purpose of his ministry was to offer these people compassion and a promise of reconstruction through him. The Jews hadn’t heard from God for 400 years. Can you imagine what a relief this metaphor would have been?

Later in the 2nd Chapter of John, Jesus goes to Jerusalem on Passover. Each year, Jewish families made the pilgrimage to the temple to make a sacrifice. The process went something like, BYOB (bring your own beast) and have it inspected and purified by the priests, or buy your pre-approved animal from the marketplace at the temple at an extraordinarily high exchange rate. Think gas station price gouging before a hurricane.

Well, when Jesus shows up and sees what’s going on, he’s enraged. He starts flipping the tables of the money changers over, spilling coins, and sending animals running everywhere. He screams, “Get out of here! Stop making my father’s house a marketplace!” Then, he picks up a whip and runs them out himself. When he’s asked by what authority he thinks he can do all this, he turns and makes one piercing statement, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” I can imagine him sweating and out of breath, with his chest heaving. Seriously, mic drop.

If it is the way of Jesus to deconstruct entire religious and family systems in order to rebuild them, then why should we be so surprised to find him doing this in and around us? I discovered this same pattern of deconstruction and rebuilding at work in the life and writings of Teresa of Ávila, Julian of Norwich, Joan of Arc, and Thérèse of Lisieux. Their intense trials and persecution did not seem to shame them or exclude them from receiving God’s grace. Rather, through their stories, I found some of the courage they discovered. Slowly, I too, became able to shift my perspective to see that my deconstruction was becoming the means to deepen my faith and experiencing the love of God. They, and others, introduced me to a more Christlike image of God, one unlike Job’s accusers. My eyes were opened to see his righteous anger for the injustice I had suffered, and my heart opened to receive his empathy.

Now, the girl in that second photo is not so easily moved. Her life has been reconstructed on the solid foundation of God’s love and goodness. She is no longer ashamed of her story of deconstruction. Through the painful and necessary process, her God-image, sense of self, understanding of healthy relationships, and philosophy of ministry were entirely rebuilt. That girl is smiling in the photo because she too can say, “I had heard of you, but now my eyes can see you.” (Job 42:5)

Suggested Reading

  • Brian Zahnd. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News.
  • Brad Jersak. A More Christlike God: a More Beautiful Gospel.
  • Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love.
  • Henry Cloud. Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up In Order to Move Forward.
  • Bessel Van Der Kolk. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

Suggested Practices

  • Silent Monastic Retreat. A silent retreat to a monastery that invites retreatants to participate in the daily liturgical schedule with the monks can provide solace, stability, and space for God to speak in new ways when someone is going through deconstruction.
  • Pilgrimage. Removing oneself from everyday surroundings, struggles, and responsibilities to experience new and unknown places can be a sort of prayer, “I want to follow you, Jesus, wherever you lead and I want to see things from a new perspective.”
  • Licensed Counseling. Deconstruction is often isolating and can be traumatic. It is helpful to process the psychological impact with someone who is not directly involved in your everyday life or circumstances. Internal Family Systems, EMDR, and Somatic therapies can be particularly helpful.
Sara Carrara Di Fuccia is an ordained minister turned Storyteller and Leadership Recovery Coach. She holds an MA in Practical Theology, MA in Human Services Counseling, and a BS in Education. She is a credentialed Leadership Coach and is a 500HR registered yoga instructor. Sara and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest. Together, they are launching Platform to Table, a trauma-informed ministry for Christian leaders. Contact: platformtotable@gmail.com | www.platformtotable.com
Listen to all parts in this Bittersweet series