Part of me wants to say it was the day my dad died. As I walked across the bridge to my car, I couldn’t bargain with God. I wanted to, I really did. Two things stopped me. One, I knew he had to be dead — something about the timing of the call compared with the time he got off work. The other was that I couldn’t imagine God pulling him back from the inevitable.
At that time, I wasn’t firm in my disbelief. However, I wasn’t firm in my belief either.
Perhaps it was that no one I worked with even considered driving me to the hospital. Of course the news was that he had had a heart attack. That’s probably not enough of a reason to drive a 21-year old woman to the hospital (now, I think of them as girls and I totally would).
My faith wasn’t shored up the years when my dad was most sick either. When he had open heart surgery at the beginning of my 7th grade year, we were not helped. We lived off of whatever Mom made, what could be bought at the grocery outlets (pre-Aldis as I recall), and what was in the garden. I still hate hot dogs and zucchini. Perhaps it was my parents lack of church membership that kept us from any sort of social nets, but I started school with whatever I could afford with babysitting or lawn mowing money. My poor mother, crippled with a fat daughter, did the best she could, but this was a problem in 1979. My size wasn’t normal, and clothes were not cheap. She made $100 a week. That was our house payment. I don’t fault her, but I find it curious that I don’t remember anyone stepping into help her.
Losing faith didn’t even come from the vast amounts of discrimination I faced at Sunday School either. Riding the church bus filled me with anxiety. I had no friends there, and they were no more willing to take in a lonely fat girl than my neighbors. I never blamed God for their behavior. I knew that it was their choice to act like that, and that society certainly felt it was OK. Fat is an affront to God (Which, if you think about it, makes every butter-soaked church casserole and cake a most curious thing indeed.). I understood that. I had wrecked my temple. Bullying and abuse were my punishments.
That’s only part of the reason that I quit going to church. The real reason, of course, was that I had been using church to get out of housework. Ultimately I learned that cleaning was better for my soul than the sermons at church.
However, I have to say that it was at church where I lost my faith.
Weekly there would be an alter call. Come forward to receive Jesus and ever-lasting life. If you want to see those who have died before you, you must be saved. Are you saved? Well, no. I was 9 and not saved. I thought it was the right thing to do. After all, ever-lasting life is pretty compelling.
Couple that with the fact that my Grandma Conn had died the previous summer, and I was ready to commit to Jesus — to be saved. So I stepped forward, scared as I was. Someone came to me, and I recited everything word for word. I asked Jesus to come into my heart. Problem is, nothing happened. I felt like a fraud. There I was pretending that I felt something, but I didn’t. Nothing had changed, but there were all of these people so happy for me. It was the first time I was actually embraced at the church.
Yet, I was no different.
It’s possible I wasn’t ready, but I didn’t stop going to church. Thing is, no matter how often I went, or with whom, or even to which church, I never felt like I belonged. It was, for me, a true Emperor’s New Clothes moment. I didn’t feel bad that Jesus hadn’t entered my heart, I just felt weird that everyone else seemed to buy into something that didn’t exist.
Still, I didn’t embrace the idea of atheism. Not for a long time. You see, like Santa, I want God to be real. I want that feeling in my heart. I want to believe that someone has a grand plan for me, and that my trials are to help me learn.
No, it wasn’t until I really started paying attention to people, and their actions, and deciding that they were accountable for them, that I decided there cannot be a God. And for a while, I was very, very sad. As sad as that day when saving me didn’t.
But then I realized the power that comes from being your own person, forging your own destiny. There is so much power that comes from deciding that I CHOOSE the path I take — the goodness I give is because I want to give it. The bad that happens to me may be random or it may be poor choice, but I had a part in it. Realizing that I only have one life to give, to make society better, and to leave whatever legacy I can, drives me to be better.
In losing my faith, I gained myself.