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  • Writer's pictureHelen Cottee

The transition to the second half

I read Richard Rohr's book 'Falling Upwards' about four years ago when my faith deconstruction was in full force. Before this, I felt like I was losing my mind and my faith. I had gone from being a fully signed up card-carrying evangelical Christian whose life was centred around my faith and the church, to feeling like the foundations were turning from stone to sand.

This book started to give form to a stage of faith I had never heard anyone talk about before - the shift from 'first half of life' to 'second half'. The process of falling upwards.

When you come from a faith tradition that peddles in certainty, then doubt and questions are terrifying. When you're in leadership in one of those organisations - doubt and questions can change everything.

But if you know me, you know that I have to follow the breadcrumbs. And so I allowed myself to lean into the unknowns, to turn one shoulder away from the faith I had held to see what was there at the bottom of the valley. I allowed myself to fall.

This part of my story is not new to many of you - the process where I didn't lose my faith, instead I lost the faith I'd been handed. This faith was neatly boxed and tied with a bow. It had clean edges and clear boundaries. It was built on A+B=C, on who was in and who was out, on what you had to do to be in, and on what that meant for now and for eternity.

That faith is now gone. No more boxes and clean lines and clear boundaries.

I fell, for sure. But gradually I realised the falling was indeed upwards.

What I have chronicled less is the reality of faith on the other side; what life is like on the other side.

And the first thing to say about this is that the other side is not so easily defined. When you let go of clean and clear boundaries and edges, it's more difficult to know whether you're there yet or still in transition. I spoke about this with my spiritual director last night - because life and faith are not so dualistic, not so black and white; you are both 'here' and not yet here. It is no longer this or that, it's both. And also neither.

Welcome to second half of life faith!

If I had to write a 'how to survive the deconstruction' guide I'd say this...

- don't try to box things too easily or quickly, that's something you left behind. This place isn't binary, it's rarely either-or, it's not usually black and white

- second half of life transition is hard. But we can do hard things. And they're worth it.

- no, it doesn't make sense and yes, you're going to change your mind

- some things will come over the edge with you, but try not to be too attached as to what those things will be. You may be surprised!

- people won't like it. Here are some things I've been told: you're on a slippery slope, you're in dangerous territory, no good can come of this, you'll lose everything, also my personal favourite - heretic!

- people who were helpful in the first half of life faith, may well be less helpful over here (especially authority figures like pastors and leaders). Truth is, you can't lead where you've not yet been so if your old church pastor hasn't gone over the edge, they will panic for you - and then they won't be able to guide you.

- there are people who can guide you - there are books and coaches (hi!!) and spiritual directors and podcasts and community groups. Take what you need and leave what you don't.

- it will take time and you can't control the time (reiterated yet again by my SD last night! - see why these people are helpful??!!)

- you may have dark nights - but luckily dark nights of the soul are a sign you're doing beautifully. Don't trust any spiritual authority figure who hasn't had them, spoken openly about them, or refuses to allow them to be a part of the journey (even as a leader).

So my friend, if this is you - full of doubt and questions but with a deep sense somewhere between your heart and your gut that there's another, better way - trust yourself, lean in, keep going, get support. Because on the other side is a faith worth fighting for.

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