Throughout my childhood, which I loved and was very positive for the most part, I was given all the materials I needed to build my own house of faith. All of my questions were answered, certainty was sought after like gold and doubt was a weak and sinful concept.
Even though I found my parents’ house to be pretty solid, by the time I turned 17, I figured it was time to begin construction on a place of my own.
The foundation was the easiest part and framing took no time at all. The layout was a little different from my childhood home, but the fundamentals were the same.
Early on in the process, a woman drove up in a crane with a wrecking ball and parked it on the very edge of my front property. I approached her perturbed and with confidence. I had absolutely no need for a wrecking ball.
“Why are you here?” I blurted out.
She smiled, pulled a flask from her blue coveralls, took a sip and replied soft-spokenly, “I’m just here for you when you need me.”
I took another look at the gigantic black wrecking ball and noticed the word ‘DOUBT’ painted on it in big white letters. Very odd.
I rolled my eyes and said matter-of-factly, “Well I won’t.”
Knowing that there was very little I could actually do since she wasn’t technically on my property, I turned and walked back to my house to continue building.
The painting, decorating and organizing took about a decade. I made a few minor changes here and there, but by the time I was around 27, I had my faith completely figured out. I was certain God existed, who Jesus was, what they cared about (and didn’t) and I knew what my beliefs were about everything: the Bible was the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God, scientists were wrong about the big bang and evolution and everyone in the LBGTQ+ community were most likely all living in sin.
The woman, the crane and the wrecking ball never left, which was extremely annoying at first, but I learned to ignore them. Every few months I noticed myself giving the wrecking ball a little more attention than I wanted to, those big white letters staring at me. I’d snap out of it and carry on with whatever I was doing. Every time I acknowledged and ignored it, it moved back and up an inch. As long as it didn’t get any closer to my perfectly beautiful and finished house, I didn’t care.
The woman and I never spoke, but she had an odd familiarity about her. Every once in a while we would catch eyes and she would just smile. I would immediately look away.
There wasn’t much time to relax, get comfortable and enjoy my house before I got a new job which required me to work 50-80 hours per week.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells the Pharisees, who are trying to test him, that the greatest commandment is to love God with with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. From as far back as I can remember, it has always been easiest for me to love God with my mind. I’m a thinker, a reader, a learner, an intellect. In my late teens and early to mid-20s, I loved pondering God. I still do. But it’s really hard to make time to do that when you’re working long hours and have a family to take care of.
So for about four years, a large part of my cerebrum was unexercised. I wasn’t really aware of it since I was so busy and my house became purely functional. I slept there and took care of my family within the outer walls, but I never stopped to question how it was organized. Not once did I even so much as glance at the wrecking ball. I still believed all the same things, but I didn’t have time to think about them. Loving God with all of my mind was on hiatus.
Then I got a job at a church again, working 40 hours a week. For the first five months I felt like a slacker. I wasn’t used to working “normal hours”. All of a sudden I had all this time that I hadn’t had in years. I was unbelievably thankful to have more time with my family.
Slowly, but surely, the lights in the vacant rooms of my brain were switched on. I began to notice my house was full of cobwebs and dust. There were odds and ends I had collected over the years that I had just tossed in random places all over the house, many of which made no sense. Some of the objects I didn’t even recognize or know where I had collected them.
I began to think about God again. I began to ponder and learn and read. These actions led to questions. Those questions led me to look out my front window and acknowledge the wrecking ball and what was written on it for the first time in over four years.
This time it was much harder to ignore. Not only did I have new questions, but the older ones which I ignored, the ones that caused the wrecking ball to move back and up inch by inch, were resurfacing. It was uncomfortable and terrifying. (Keep in mind I’m a pastor at this point.)
The next four months I spent more time paying attention to the wrecking ball of doubt than my house of faith. I already knew that my house wasn’t working anymore and I knew it was too late to pretend that none of this was happening. I was walking down a lonely one-way street in the dark.
What was I questioning?
You. Name. It.
The universe and humanity and where we came from.
The idea of sin and what is/isn’t.
The exclusive, uneducated, non-empirical claims of western evangelical christianity.
The inerrancy, infallibility and inspiration of scripture.
The divinity of Jesus.
The very existence of God.
By Christmastime, I was hanging on by a thread. I was still walking down the lonely one-way street in the dark, but I was approaching a fork in the road. I knew there were only two options: atheism or a total rebuilding of my faith. To be honest, most of my belief was gone, but something faint remained.
Actress Jane Fonda describes this as a “reverence humming within.”
It’s impossible to articulate, explain or prove, but there was a hum.
It’s really hard to hang your hat on a “hum”, but that’s all I had and I wasn’t quite ready to let it go.
I knew what I had to do.
I walked outside and headed for the crane. The wrecking ball looked bigger and higher than ever. I stopped about ten feet from it, looked back at my house and then closed my eyes.
“Screw it”, I whispered quietly.
I opened my eyes, looked at the woman and nodded my head.
She smiled at me gently and then let the wrecking ball go.
I couldn’t watch at first, but then I had to. I had never heard anything like it. The sounds of windows smashing and walls crumbling and caving in. Not just any house – my house.
In the few minutes it took to demolish, I felt numb. I wondered what I would do when it was over. Would the hum be strong enough to make me want to rebuild? What do I rebuild with? I have no more materials. I’m empty.
The wrecking ball eventually came to a halt and in the place where my house of faith once stood was nothing but a pile of rubble. I walked slowly over to it and began stepping through, over and under the debris. I immediately felt homeless, lost and I had a profound sense of grief.
After standing there for a few minutes, completely in shock, I heard the door of the crane open. I turned around and the woman was walking towards me. I didn’t feel like interacting with anyone in this moment, but I didn’t have the energy to tell her to go away. She approached me, said nothing and put her arms around me.
I began to cry.
“It’s ok”, she whispered softly. “It’s ok.”
I began to cry harder.
“It’s ok. I’m here. I’ve always been here”, she said.
By this point, I was sobbing.
I was beginning to realize who she was.
We stood there for a while until the tears ran dry, still embracing. I slowly opened my eyes and looked up at the wrecking ball. There, on the opposite side of the ball where ‘DOUBT’ was written, was another word – ‘FAITH’.
Confused, I stepped back and my eyebrows lowered. This didn’t make any sense. How could a wrecking ball with the word ‘FAITH’ on it destroy my house of faith?
“Your house was never a house of faith, Andrew”, the woman said empathetically.
I looked at her, still confused.
She continued, “Your house was a house of certainty.”
I looked down, still a little confused.
“You see, I don’t expect certainty from you at all, or from anyone else for that matter. I can’t do anything with it. But faith? Now that’s something I can work with.” She smiled.
“But what’s the word ‘DOUBT’ doing anywhere near the word ‘FAITH’?” I asked her.
She smiled again. “Because you can’t have faith without doubt. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites. They’re partners. A gift from me.”
“Doubt is a gift?” I asked.
“A beautiful gift”, she said. “If you’re certain about everything, you have no need for me and I have to sit in that damn crane until you give me the go ahead.”
I smiled back.
It was starting to make sense. All this time I had thought my certainty was faith. I ignored doubt, thinking it was the opposite of faith, when really certainty was. Is.
“So now what?” I asked her.
“The fun part”, she said. “We rebuild.” She pulled a hammer out of nowhere and tried to hand it to me.
“But what’s going to make this house different from the last one?”
“This time”, she said, “we’ll never be done.”
That was almost 10 months ago, but it feels like way longer.
To say I’ve never felt more alive or free would be a massive understatement. The burden of feeling certain about everything is something I no longer carry.
I don’t go looking for doubt, but I don’t have to. It’s there. And it’s a gift. The more of it I have, the more I open myself up for genuine faith. But it’s not always easy.
Can I say for certain that God exists? No.
Can I say for certain that Jesus is his son, came to earth as a man, born of a virgin, fully human, fully divine, lived a sinless life, was crucified and resurrected 3 days later?
How on EARTH could I be CERTAIN of that?? How can any of us be if we are honest with ourselves?
But today I have faith.
My house will always be under construction. It will never be finished. There will be future redecorating and remodeling. Things will be reorganized and I will get rid of and add more. Walls will be knocked down again and new ones will be built, or maybe not. Who knows.
Some of the materials from my old house were used in building the new one, but not much of it. Most of it was junk and was hauled off to the dump. This was painful.
I now hold on to my beliefs loosely because grieving the old ones almost felt like the death of a loved one.
According to Mike McHargue in his new book, Finding God In The Waves: How I Lost My Faith And Found It Again Through Science (which I HIGHLY recommend), “42% of Americans undergo a faith shift in their lives. It can be scary and disorienting.”
I think the other 58% have a woman in a crane with a wrecking ball sitting in their front yard.
Along with my amazing wife, a few good friends and a church that encourages authenticity, here are some other resources that have been a LIFELINE to me over the last nine months. All of these works have really helped me develop a new framework for my faith and for that I am forever grateful:
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It
by Dr. Peter Enns. This is the very first book I read after my deconstruction and it WRECKED me. I had a lot of problems with the Bible, but Enns used sound anthropology, archeology, geography, history and theology to tackle many of these problems head on and its changed my entire view of scripture. Thirty pages in and I was bawling.
Falling Upward: A Spirituality For The Two Halves Of Life by Fr. Richard Rohr
The Naked Now: Learning To See As The Mystics See by Fr. Richard Rohr
God And The Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
Everything Belongs: The Gift Of Contemplative Prayer by Fr. Richard Rohr