I received a call from an old friend today that was noticeably under immense stress. This stress, I soon realized, is the by product of living a double life: one half a believing and practicing Christian and the other as a closeted atheist.
It’s something he and I have talked about numerous times over drinks in the past, but I’ve never heard such exhaustion in his voice in all our years of friendship.
He’s absolutely torn, just as I once was, between keeping his current facade of belief and Christianity going or being true to himself. He’s done a very good job of keeping up appearances, but the cracks are showing and he’s feeling the stress of living a double life.
Regrettably, he confided in me that he’s most terrified of losing his relationship with his parents.
As someone who mutually finds identity and solace in my close relationships with my family, my heart breaks for the guy. Admittedly, the hardest two people to admit I was an atheist to were my parents. The talk, the explanation, the reassurance that it’s not a phase. That no, I’m not mad and no, I don’t think I’ll see Phil again and no, I won’t be going to heaven or hell.
To take the lights out of someone’s eyes like that is not an experience I wish to ever have again, but it’s one I’m glad I had.
Having tried to fake belief for a while myself, I told my friend about when I decided I wasn’t going to live a double life anymore. A non-believing friend of mine told me about an acquaintance of his that was, at that time, 66 years old. Turns out this man had been an atheist for over 30 years and nobody in his family knew. He’d lied his way through every prayer and conversation all in the name of not rocking the boat. Of not letting people down.
I knew immediately after that story that I’d not only be honest with everyone I loved, but also with myself. I didn’t want to live in a prison in my head. Afraid and ashamed to be me.
Most people I told took it in stride and a good many tried to convince me to just love Jesus! That I can choose to follow him! It took a good while for them to understand that you can’t force yourself to believe something your mind doesn’t. It literally gets to a point where it’s not a choice that can be made. You can’t shut off your brain.
So, for my old and dear friend that was patient, kind and loving to me as I poured out my heart, and a few tears, about my deceased sibling, I say, be yourself, brother. Be true to you and be honest with those you love and hope they have the sense to love you for the amazing man you’ve become and not for what god you associate with.
There’s far more peace and happiness to be found when we don’t reject who we are for the sake of those that are supposed to love us unconditionally. Rejoice in being you and be the man that others aspire to be.