Once upon a time, I was a good Christian girl. Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that a lot of what I'd been told about God and Christianity and how I was supposed to "live out my faith" was complete bullshit. It pisses me off to realize that a lot of what I’d been told was actually made up as a way to control others or make money.
I know I've written about my struggle with this process previously; yet what I haven't written about till now is the eclectic mix of people who threw me life preservers and kept me company while I was floundering, struggling to keep my head above water – trying to figure out not only how to swim, but if I really wanted to be in the water in the first place. I was fortunate enough to find several beautiful souls in some seemingly unlikely places. Someday, I may write about the others if I feel they might not mind it, but today I'm going to write about my friend Kara.
Late one night as I was randomly looking at blogs, I stumbled on one that was decently interesting and read a few posts. When I looked at the blog roll and spotted "Answering the Apocalypse” listed there, I clicked over to it. What I found was some of the most honest, witty, sarcastic, entertaining, and heart-wrenching writing I have ever read. I have to share her "About Me" description here so you can see why her blog caught my eye:
I am a currently underemployed writer/graduate school dropout who has no idea how to pave a path for herself in life. In addition, I am an "out" atheist, I don't want children, and I am nowhere near as financially independent as I would like to be. And, no, I don't think that my lack of direction, my dislike of children, or the absence of money in my life will be improved by accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, although I guess it would take care of the atheism.I literally laughed out loud. This chick is seriously funny and seriously self-effacing in the most endearing way. She is sharper than most other people I've met, yet she realizes that her flaws make her just as human as anyone else. I spent my free time over the next few days reading all of her old posts. I tried several times to leave a comment, but something about my browser settings wouldn't let me. I finally gave up trying and sent her an email. We struck up an email friendship, which quickly became chatting and commiserating almost daily.
I genuinely appreciate Kara and her friendship is invaluable to me. For over three years now, she has been one of those people in my life to whom I could honestly say ANYTHING and know she was not going to judge me or hold it against me or be offended. She was there for me -- with just the right mix of support, questions, rants, dialogue, and silence -- while I struggled with the incongruity between what I'd been told I should believe and what I saw with my own eyes, felt in my own experience, and read for myself in the Bible. She would encourage me to see things from other perspectives without ever once pressuring me to change my beliefs to match hers.
While I don't like to tell people what to do or how they should act, after thinking about this for quite a while, I am going to share a few of the things I've learned from my atheist friend that I honestly believe Christians should take to heart.
1. Accept that it is okay for people to be different from you. Christians seem to talk a lot about loving everyone and "meeting people where they are." Sadly, we are often so preoccupied with our small groups, purity programs, and hating the sin but loving the sinner, that we fail to realize that none of those things show we can handle it if another person’s life experience does not allow them to see things the way we do. Kara and I have very different backgrounds, but she never made a big deal of our differences or acted like I needed to be more like her to be worthy of her friendship. That attitude is much more like the attitude of Christ than what I typically see from a lot of Christians.
2. Stop being scared of questions. Jesus almost always answered questions with questions or with stories that led to more questions. I know from experience how the certainty that we have the right answers makes us seem haughty and arrogant, because I have been treated that way many times. Life is messy and full of questions. We don’t have all the answers and pretending that we do is living a lie. I don’t know how many times I've started a conversation with Kara with “I don’t understand…” but those conversation almost always lead me to a place of meaning. I may still have the same questions, but discussing them with someone who never made me feel like I should have it all figured out opened my eyes to the vastness of God’s love and the realization that he doesn't expect me to know it all either.
3. Stop acting like you have it all together. You don’t. None of us do. Be a real person. People can spot an agenda from a mile away. No one wants to be your project. In I Samuel 16, we are told, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Look at the heart of others and wear your own heart on your sleeve a little. One of the most refreshing things about talking to Kara is that I knew she would tell me what she was really thinking and respectfully admit if she disagreed with me. We need to accept who we are, regardless of who others think we should be, but we also need to allow those we come in contact with to be who they are.
4. Never tell someone they shouldn't feel how they feel. Open your eyes and look at the reality of the world around you. There is real pain. There is real suffering. Abandon your slogans, church-sign zingers, and clichés. Those things not only trivialize real heartache, but they also make you seem like an ass. You do not know exactly what it is like to live someone else's life. From your perspective, the other person may not actually have it so bad, but how is that helpful to someone who is having a really difficult time? Proverbs 14 tells us "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy." I cannot tell you how much it helped knowing that if I told Kara how much trouble I was having with something, she would agree that it sucked instead of telling me what a terrible person I was for thinking I had it bad when there were women being persecuted in Iran.
5. Show up. Be there. Don’t shy away from the things that challenge you and your world view. My friend Kara has been hurt by Christians in the past. "Christians" used their "biblical world view" to verbally attack her, to judge her, and belittle her. Yet she never asked me to stop talking to her about my own beliefs and where I was in my journey. I’m sure there were times it would have been easier for her to tell me she couldn't handle my baggage, that she’d had more than her fair share of Christian rhetoric, and to please talk about something else. But she didn't She kept telling me that I’m smart, that I will figure it out, that I will be okay. It’s easier to back away when we don’t want to get our hands dirty with someone else’s issues, but that isn't what we are supposed to do. Roll up your sleeves. Offer a your hands to help, your ears to listen, and your shoulder to cry on.
These are just a few of the things, but I am sure I could go on and on. My main point here is that when I was standing on the edge of losing not only my faith in God, but also my faith in myself, there was someone there for me who doesn't even believe God is real. She loved me for who I was, for where I was, and helped me pick up the pieces. She stood by patiently while I put them back together in a way that allowed me the beginning of an understanding I'd never imagined possible. Regardless of your beliefs (or non-belief), I think there is something there we can all learn from. With her unconditional acceptance and constant encouragement, an Atheist helped me salvage my faith. Imagine how different things would be if more Christians treated other people with the same warmth, respect, consideration, and love.