One of the most profound things I used to believe was that prayer – communicating with one’s deity – was an effective thing that worked. I was surrounded by examples of people praying and getting answers. Sometimes I thought I got an answered prayer. Now that my perspective on the divine has changed, it’s also made me realize that prayer isn’t what I thought it was. It never helped, and that’s a difficult thing to accept.
It starts with the cold realization.
At some point after I realized I didn’t believe in deities, my neurons finally made the connection that I’d been dreading for decades. If the thing I’d been praying to wasn’t there, then it couldn’t have answered any prayers of mine. Since I believed that I’d had an answered prayer or ten, it meant my beliefs were in serious error.
I couldn’t wish this thought away. I searched for any example I could think of, an answered prayer that could only have been brought about by something mystical. But all of my answered prayers happened in ways that were suspiciously natural and mundane. Job opportunities opened because I’d applied. Higher education happened because I did all the paperwork. Things fell in my path because I’d been looking for them.
Then there comes shame.
This is a staple emotion when one is doubting one’s faith. Nowadays, I accept it as normal. At the time, all I could do was be shocked at my earlier behavior. How could I have jumped to all those conclusions regarding a divine master altering its creation in my favor?
It’s easy to forget all the work that went into getting me to believe in it. My education started at a very young age, before I could tell the difference between reality and imagination. Things that felt real were explained as being very real. Over time, as my beliefs got reinforced, I turned a blind eye to whether it made any sense.
After the shame, some anger.
I had relied on prayer to keep me safe. It was part of how I thought I was coping with my ill mental health. Instead of getting real help from a therapist, counselor, or trained professional, I prayed. I literally wished my problems away, and for the life of me I wondered why they kept coming back.
I get that not everyone might understand that anger. That anger comes from a broken promise. In my case, it wasn’t just one broken promise. People I trusted would swear up and down that prayer could help me. Some of them still would. Over and over they promised me that it would work. Even I promised myself that it worked.
After the anger comes acceptance.
I don’t know when I became more at peace with unanswered prayer. Yes, there are times when it grates on me. Like when someone tries to take credit for my good fortune, or when someone says that their prayers will work for me. I know they mean well, but I know they’re not able to make those assurances.
Being angry about it hasn’t been productive. Thinking through my conversion process, faith, and the journey of it all, I didn’t have a chance to believe anything for myself. I can’t change what happened in my past.
However, I can change my response to it in the future. That response doesn’t include getting upset at every offered prayer, or the need to debate people whether their beliefs are real. It involves realizing that I’ve got some history with these ideas, and that history hasn’t been pleasant.
It also involves healthy boundaries.
Just because some people are convinced that prayer is a thing does not mean they get to determine my perspective. This is a significant thought in much of my recovery from faith. Faith in many ways tore down my ability to be myself. Prayer is just one more thing that reminds me I have a duty to myself to be kind.
To the people who leave their faith behind, this is a difficult part in the process. Some people of faith will do anything they can to try to cajole people back into it. But I can say the process of leaving is worth it.
For starters, I don’t have to wait while my prayers go unanswered.