Messy Faith,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings,  Redemption Stories

Compost piles, faith deconstruction, and Joshua Harris

Beautiful in His Time is a participant in multiple affiliate marketing programs. The author of this blog may receive commission for purchases or clicks made through links on this website.

Compost piles, faith deconstruction, and Joshua Harris. What a title, huh? I’ve been “writing” this post (in my head) for over a year now, and entertained many titles along the way:

What my compost pile taught me about my faith

Why I’m an anomaly as a faith blogger

and others…

This post really started with my yard. When we moved to this house in the spring of 2017, our yard had been unkept for several years. Layers upon layers of leaves, stick, and brush covered it all.

I hate yardwork. Like, there’s a million things I would rather do. But I care about how our yard looks, and I would love to have a yard that is inviting and safe for my children to play in before they, you know, graduate from high school. My husband and I (with a teensy help from our kiddos who inherited the yardwork-averse gene) have made progress on the yard. Trees have come down, shrubs have been removed, grass has been planted and is now growing.

In spite of all the sweat and sweat and work and sweat (did I mention sweat?) that I have poured into the yard, there are still sections that have remain untouched. There are still patches of grass in the corners that I have never raked, ever, and still have 5+ years of leaves atop of them.

Every time I work in the yard, I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with how far we still have to go to make the yard what I envision. But also, overwhelmed with ALL THE METAPHORS. Nothing seems to represent my faith journey as much as this ongoing battle I have with the red clay, the leaves, the dry ground, the shrubs I detest, and the grass I have grown.

You can read more about this here, because I’ve already devoted an entire post to ALL THE YARD METAPHORS:

What our neglected yard is teaching me about my faith and spiritual growth

Last fall, I decided that since we had so much yard waste, my non-yardwork-loving self needed a compost pile.

I know nothing about compost piles. So I turned to my eldest brother, who has spent the last few years working in the organic farming and gardening field. I began to bemoan to him all of my yard problems. I had questions for him like, “What do I put in my compost pile? Is there anything that shouldn’t go into it?”

The words from the mouth of my self-avowed “both Christian and pagan” brother will stay with me forever:

“The tree grows on the fallen forest. If it died, it can live again.”

The term “deconstruction” has become popular amidst faith bloggers. Just do a search for “faith deconstruction” and you will come up with pages upon pages of blog posts on the topic. Faith deconstruction stories are also often called de-conversion stories, although they are not exactly the same thing.

My heart nearly stopped when I read a post on the subject recently:

“De-conversion stories are designed not to reach non-Christians but to reach Christians. And their purpose is to convince them that their outdated, naïve beliefs are no longer worthy of their assent. A person simply shares his testimony of how he once thought like you did but have now seen the light.

Of course, there have always been de-conversion stories throughout church history—if one would only take the time to dig them up and listen to them. Christianity has never had a shortage of people who were once in the fold and then left.

In recent years, however, these de-conversion stories seem to have taken on a higher profile. Part of this is due, no doubt, to the technology that makes them more available, whether through podcasts, blogs, or other forms of media.

But it’s also due to the fact that many of those who de-convert have realized a newfound calling to share their testimony with as many people as possible. Rather than just quietly leaving their old beliefs and moving on to new ones—something that would have been more common in prior generations—a new guard seems to have made it their life’s ambition to evangelize the found.

Indeed, many of these de-conversion stories are told with the kind of conviction, passion, and evangelistic zeal that would make a modern televangelist blush. In their minds, they’re missionaries to the “lost” in every sense of the word. They just have to help these Christians realize they are mistaken and lead them to the truth.

Jen Hatmaker and the Power of De-Conversion Stories via The Gospel Coalition

My heart stopped because I wondered if that is what I had done by sharing my own faith story.

I also realized that, on the other hand, I’m somewhat of an anomaly as a faith blogger. I suppose you could say that my story was a deconstruction story. The difference is that I have remained in the faith.

There are so many bloggers that I used to follow, even shared their content, who have walked away from the faith completely – or adopted something else. The recently-deceased Rachel Held Evans, Glennon Doyle, Jen Hatmaker, Elizabeth Esther, and now this week Joshua Harris (who specifically uses the term “deconstruction”) – to name a few. A few years ago, I related deeply to these people as they struggled with big faith questions and were brave enough to talk about it. Then I watched with sadness as they turned their back on truth after truth.

I didn’t want to be that person.


But I could have been that person.

At our monthly care group meeting, one of our discussion questions was this:

How important is the context of the local church for our Godward growth? Could you share an example from your own experience where relationships in the church established you and helped you to grow in holiness?

I tried to think of a specific person or relationship but came up blank. Yet the role of the local church – my local church – has been the key thing that has kept me from becoming yet another deconstruction story.

I finally ended up sharing a story I’ve shared before:

On our first Sunday at our church, our pastor turned to me and said, “What about you? How is your faith?”

I sat there on the couch on his office and told him that I had doubts about God’s existence. That I didn’t read my Bible. That I didn’t pray. And that I was just “holding on” to my broken faith.

There was no recoil or disgust. Only grace.

I shared with our care group that this moment of grace became thing that softened the soil of my heart to receive the truth of God’s Word once again.

The relationship of a pastor-shepherd welcoming a wounded, dirty, skittish, scared sheep who wanted nothing more than to run off from the flock and hide forever and then – in time – caring for her wounds was the thing that kept that sheep in the fold.


There I go again, mixing metaphors. Back to the compost pile.

I think most of my readers are smart enough to know the basics of what composting is. You put a bunch of plant-based stuff in a pile and let it rot, then spread the rotted stuff at the base of other plants to help it grow.

Because the tree grows on the fallen forest. If it died, it can live again.

Composting is aided by lots of things like moisture (rain), sunlight, and chemicals like lime and nitrogen. It also works best if you “turn” your compost pile regularly to allow oxygen to get to all the different parts of it all. I have, sadly, done very little of this to my compost pile. I put a bag of compost starter onto the pile once every few months and hope for the best. It has sat there, rather forlorn.

But my lack of composting skills doesn’t change the power of the metaphor.

Call it deconstruction. Call it doubt. Call it weeding. Call it whatever you want. But for a time there, my hands were dirty with the hard work of pulling it all up by the roots. All the legalism. All the rules and regulations. All the spiritual abuse. All the truths couched in bad motivation.

But rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater (aren’t you tired of that metaphor anyway?), I threw all the faith-junk in the compost pile. My compost pile was protected with the chicken wire boundaries of a loving husband, parents, and church family. Every time someone reached out to me, listened to me, or prayed for me – it was like a cup or two of compost starter was added to the pile. Every once in a while I would read a book or an article or hear a sermon and hit the compost pile with a pitchfork – turning all the junk over and over and over and over. Those who loved me, and told me “come as you are, but don’t stay there,” were like the sun and rain melting the waste down into messy goodness that would help me grow again.

So my faith deconstruction story became a faith reconstruction story. Or as a favorite song of mine says, “I’ll build an altar with the rubble that You’ve found me in, and every stone will sing of what You can redeem.”

Because the tree grows on the fallen forest. If it died, it can live again.


I haven’t really written about faith in over a year now. In that time, I have found that the weight of anger and doubt has almost completely fallen off of my shoulders. I’m no longer triggered by church services. I have a renewed desire for truth and God’s Word.

While I have not succeeded in reestablishing that “daily devotional walk with God” that I once had, I find myself praying a lot more.

When I started looking at homeschooling curriculum for Ezra, I felt myself grieving how many times we have missed out on opportunities to teach him about God and use the Bible in his education. We are weaving Christ into almost every area of our curriculum and it is feeding my soul in ways I never could have imagined even a year ago.

Because the tree grows on the fallen forest. If it died, it can live again.


Maybe you have looked up to people like Rachel Held Evans and Joshua Harris. I know that I did.

Maybe their deconstruction stories have shaken your faith.

Maybe you wonder if faith deconstruction is for you.

Maybe you are ready to walk away from it all.

It’s tempting to take a hacksaw to your faith, dump the remains in the yard waste cart, and wipe your hands of it all as the city utility workers haul it all away.

But I urge you: build a compost pile. 

You don’t have to have all the answers and have it all figured out. I know I sure don’t. But make a safe and protected place in your heart for the mess-covered-truths to remain. Put yourself in a church that teaches the Bible. Work through your triggers instead of running away. Let God’s grace-filled people love you. Go back, even if you have been hurt and misunderstood. Listen to the truths even when they don’t make sense. Ask the hard questions, but be willing to hear the hard answers. Sing the songs, even when you don’t feel like it. Keep reading the Bible, even if it’s just a day or two once a month. Keep praying, even if it is just to breathe, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”

Stay. Please stay. 

Because the tree grows on the fallen forest. If it died, it can live again.


Leave a Reply