A Letter to My Mother, Who Just Learned About My Lack of Faith

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Dear Mom,

Yesterday, you asked me point-blank if I still believed in Jesus. Yesterday, you found out I’m no longer a Christian. Yesterday, the daughter you love, the daughter who would spend forever by your side, died. Yesterday, you had to face the fact that your daughter no longer lives in the faith she grew up in.

I wish things were different.

You called me a lost sheep. In fact, you confirmed a lot of fears that I have had about telling you the truth. In your eyes, the most important thing for me to believe is to believe in Jesus Christ, but I don’t. When you said, “In my opinion the dumbest believer has a lot more going on their favor right now,” I felt my heart break. We both know the harm and horrible things a few Christians in our life have done, but you think they have more going for them than I have going for me. Because I’m going to hell and they aren’t.

I never planned on telling you. I was going to carry the burden of falsehood to my grave. I knew no matter how I tried to explain myself that you were going to be hurt. I knew you would cry and wonder where you went wrong. I have cried and cried over the pain of the secret I held. You’re hurting right now, but it feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I don’t have to hide myself from you any longer. If, or when, you find my blog, it will only carry a few secrets rather than the enormous one I have been carrying.

I like to think you didn’t go wrong, that I’m still the little girl you’ve always loved. I’m still the smart, funny, articulate woman you raised. I like to think that I can still make you proud. I’ve always been too liberal and too outspoken, but you’ve always said you loved me despite those facts. I’m the writer, the poet, the girl who speaks too loudly and too passionately, but, by God, won’t stop speaking. I’m the girl who wants to be honest, who doesn’t want to hide. I’m like you in so many ways, ways you probably don’t like. Lying to you hurt me because you always taught me to value honesty. Now that I’m honest, I’m hurting you more. I don’t know if you’d prefer the hard truth or the easy lie.

In truth, you’d prefer if the lie wasn’t a lie. You’d prefer if I still followed Jesus and I worked tirelessly to please God. You want me to be the six year old “church lady” who begged to go to church, the girl who loved Wednesday night service and went to four Vacation Bible Schools a summer. I loved being the girl. I loved singing and playing and worshipping. I believed in God whole-heartedly and without remorse. I’m glad I had those experiences, and I would never erase them for the world.

But I don’t believe like that girl did. That little religious girl fought and fought to keep her faith. She went to church, she read her Bible. She memorized the Sermon on the Mount. That girl hungered for God with such passion, and still lost her faith. I tried and tried and tried, Mama. I wouldn’t pick this. I didn’t pick this. I’d rather have faith than not.

I miss so many things about the church, about God. I miss the community; I miss the family I had found there. I miss feeling like my prayers were heard. I miss feeling connected to something bigger and better than me, but I can’t make myself believe any easier than you can make yourself not believe. If faith is a choice, I chose it again and again, but it didn’t choose me back.

I don’t want to be a disappointment. I don’t want you to cry over me. I wish you could see me, the whole of me, and say, “This is my daughter, I raised her this way, for good or ill, and I love her regardless.” I know you love me, but it feels like I am nothing now. It feels like you’d rather me be the evil people we know with Christ, than the daughter you’ve always said you’re proud of without Christ. It feels like my goodness, to you, depended on my belief.

You think I’m going to hell now. I can’t change your beliefs, and they do say I’m going to hell. I wish you didn’t think that way, just like you wish I believed. If I live a good life and God sends me to hell, I can’t stop him; I can’t do anything about it. I’d like to think that if God exists, he’ll be reasonable. I like to think that he’d love a kind agnostic over a cruel Christian. I don’t know though.

I’m comfortable with my “I don’t knows.” I’m okay with saying I have no clue. In my wanderings of faith, I don’t mind being ignorant and trying to learn. I don’t know a lot of things. I don’t know if God is real and if he’s real which god he is. I don’t know if heaven is real or if hell is real. I don’t know if I’m doing this right. I don’t know what the absolute truth of the universe is, if there even is one. Ultimately, none of us really know. We just believe in the path we’ve chosen.

I believe you can learn to love me through this. I believe we can love each other through our differences. I believe that, no matter what, you’re my mother and you want to be proud of me.

I believe we can make it through this. Do you?

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8 thoughts on “A Letter to My Mother, Who Just Learned About My Lack of Faith

  1. Beautifully expressed. I wish I could be religious for my parents, but I wasn’t wired to be able to believe and it’s a very frustrating conflict. I’m not at all unhappy in my godlessness except for the disappointment I know it brings them, but they’re such an important part of my life I wish it WAS as simple as being a choice.

    I’m curious if you have children. With my mother, I know she’s of the attitude that you can’t lose salvation once you’ve accepted it, so because I DID identify myself as a Christian as a child I’m still safe in her mind (though this honestly doesn’t make sense to me because I’m very very firmly of the mind that Jesus did not die for my sins nor was he the son of God). My wife is also nonreligious and our baby girl (currently 11 months) is not going to be raised to believe any specific religion so much as with what I hope will be a well-rounded religious education of all world views. Right now, she’s too young to be held accountable within my mother’s particular sect of Christianity, but I’m scared as hell of the day she matures enough that that’s no longer a viable excuse.

    I’m not sure if these are relatable feelings at all. I enjoyed your post. Thank you for writing it.

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    1. Caleb – Begin talking with your daughter early about diversity and point out different belief systems. Show her that even when you and your wife don’t agree on something, you still can get along just fine. Teach her to be a critical thinker; to not be a blind follower of authority. This will make parenting her more of a challenge, because she will also challenge your authority sometimes :-). But it will make her a stronger teenager and adult in the end. Educate her about different religions around the world, and talk about similarities and differences between them. When the time comes that your mom wants to take her to Sunday School or Vacation Bible School or whatever, let her go, but follow up afterwards at home and talk about the “lessons” she learned. My daughter started going to church occasionally with my mom or with a trusted friend when she was about 5, and she was quickly able to come to her own conclusions about what was taught. The two churches are very different (my mom’s is very fundamental and conservative, and my friend’s is very inclusive and liberal), and she definitely prefers going to my friend’s church, which is more in line with her loving and expressive personality. We expose her to other religions as much as we can, and make a conscious effort to use phrases like “some people believe …. , but other people believe …” Finally, and most importantly, teach her to be a good and moral person because it’s the right thing to do, not because of promises of a life beyond death for good behavior or eternal punishment for bad behavior. Not “What would Jesus do?”, but “Does your internal moral compass agree with your choice?” I am impressed that you and your wife have made this a conscious decision; we kind of just stumbled into this as my husband’s belief system changed and I became more secure in my agnostic views. Good luck!

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  2. A beautiful letter. You are not alone. There are a lot of us in the world that have left behind our parents’ views of religion. We now live in a world that is beginning to understand that being religious does not equal being moral. In the past, social acceptance was tied to your standing in the local church. Heck, the church WAS the social hub of the community!
    Unlike your journey, I started questioning my Christian upbringing when I was about 10 years old. I tried a few other churches as a teen to see if something else made more sense to me, but realized by age 16 that the whole thing was just too illogical for me to wrap my brain around. I had no second thoughts after that; just played the part until I moved out after high school.
    I’ve spent my entire adult life happily non-religious. Neither of my parents have ever asked me point blank about my change in beliefs. As far as I know, they never asked my two brothers who also left the church. Maybe they were too busy reconciling how the one brother who stayed in the church (and became a deacon) was cheating on his wife while they had three young children at home.
    Fast forward many years and I am now raising my daughter in a non-religious household. She is a smart girl, and I have always been up front with her that there are many different belief systems. My joy and wonder at her incredible spirit will never be tied to whether or not she believes what I believe. She is her own person, NOT an extension of me. I hope that with time, your mom will come to realize that you have to travel your own path in life and come to celebrate all the parts of you.

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  3. Holly-I’m the 50 year old version of you. I’ve always been “too” everything, as well…too loud, outspoken, liberal (ouch), and opinionated. Luckily, my mom hasn’t asked if I still believe-I believe she is afraid of the answer. Keep being you…no matter what! The ones that love you will return.

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  4. Holly, it does hurt when parents put their religious beliefs ahead of their relationships with their own children. I’ve had to deal with that too. I too feel like I’ve let my parents down, they’re not as proud of me as they could be, etc, all because I’ve “left the faith”.
    But I like your comment: I’m comfortable with my “I don’t knows.”
    It reminds me of my own way of putting it: I’ve just learned to love the questions.
    Thanks for sharing, and you are not alone!

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  5. I love this! I was a Pentecostal who, slowly but surely, was transformed by grace (ironically with the help of the bible and grace preachers) into blissful agnosticism. My parents are believers who are living un-churched and “backslidden”. It was quite shock to my mother when I admitted to her I no longer believe in hell. We don’t discuss religion anymore. It’s funny because when they left the church it was I who staunchly defended it and the Pastor who had hurt them. Years later, I left a different congregation amicably and unscathed. But the friends I thought I had there dropped away one by one and I know that they will never speak to me again. I’m neither surprised nor bitter. I just find their limited perception incredibly sad.
    Anyway, it’s nice to know that there is someone else who had a similar experience of losing their religion. I may have lost faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful god but I found faith in a always-learning, always-strengthening ME.

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