Months before I quit church I had volunteered to be a part of the summer “Vacation Bible Study” which lasted maybe a week, maybe two. Reader, you know why I did not want to go back, but you have the benefit of the intervening years. When I was 14 I could not explain my sense of shame and distress to my mom. It’s possible that even if I could have, she still would have made me go. At the time, she told me it was because I had to make good on my commitment, but for a numbers of reasons I haven’t divulged here, I knew this to be a crock of shit. I believe that she thought that if I could just be around her church I’d believe again. Instead, I stopped believing entirely. But my mom never did.
For the next decade and a half she and her friends would tell me they were praying for me. And here’s the point I want to make loud and clear: Christians, do not tell non-Christians that you are praying for them. As someone who identifies with Christianity now, I feel like I can respectfully and lovingly say that when you tell someone who has lost her faith that you are praying for her, it comes across as condescending and uncaring. If you see someone hurting, if you are worried about someone, engage with them. Show them that you are interested in them and their well-being. Inconvenience yourself. Do not tell them that you’re going to go home and say a sentence or two in between praising God and asking for world peace. Definitely pray for them if you’d like, but resist the idea that this is the best and therefore only thing you can do. And while you’re at it, resist the temptation to tell everyone about every perceived good thing you’ve done. To modify the old maximum, you’ll know a good deed because it will be satisfied by itself.
Sometimes I wonder if this new foray into the unexplored tundra of my own self-acceptance will ever stop feeling treacherous. As someone who was raised to look inward for the source of all problems, as someone who is versed in anti-racist and feminist history and theory, there are times when I feel nearly incapacitated by what feels like a violent polarization inside of me. But as I search for a way through how I feel and what I think, I’ve found unexpected joy and validated sorrow, each with their own homes, each a measure of myself and each other. Finally, this gift feels like more than enough.