I am a changed woman. I don't do things small or halfway -- I either do them... or more often, I don't. Before my conversion, I was an atheist pro-choice feminist libertarian. OK, how many of you got chills down your spine on that one?
This is one reason why I avoid (when I can) running into old friends whom I haven't seen in years. It's embarrassing to remember all those stupid haircuts (and colors), the ridiculous clothes, hideous rock/punk music and the obnoxious political stances. And I'm mostly talking about myself.
This is also why it's sometimes difficult for me to have patience with atheist types. I was one myself and when engaged in "conversation" with one I am often seized with the irrational urge to shake the person violently and shout, "Get some sense, man. Snap out of it."
Last week, someone introduced me to a man with whom they thought I might have something in common. He was a very nice man, a very educated man... a biochemist like my husband (RIP) was. He had been told some of the details of our tragedy and so he expressed admiration at how I handled it all.
I told him, as I always admit, that it wasn't that admirable since I didn't have a choice. I had children and I just had to go on. And then I said that God helped me through it all in ways I never could have thought possible... that He bombarded me with His Grace when I most needed It. The man was a little taken aback... perhaps because he didn't expect an "educated" person, someone who was introduced to him as an equal, to speak of God this way. He paused, looked down, and then said, rather candidly, that he envied me in a way because he had always wished he could have the faith I obviously had.
As an aside, I don't have great faith. In fact, my faith wobbles quite a bit IMHO but that's not for lack of Grace from God but because of my own sinful obstacles.
But, anyway, I have been where he is and I understood him completely. He went on to say that it did not feel authentic to have to believe first in order to believe more. I told him that I used to think that also, and that it was a mystery to me how anyone came to believe in Christ. This is the dilemma of the atheist/agnostic... how to get them to soften even a little to Christ's Love.
I told him that what changed everything for me was that I realized that faith in Christ is like love of other people. You can't ever love anyone unless you first encounter them, talk to them, get to know them. When we do for others and make sacrifices for their well-being, we come to love them even more deeply. Love doesn't just happen, like in the movies, from a distance. It is a result of actions and choices. Although faith is a gift from God, our reception of it doesn't just happen. We have to make a step to know Him and in order to make that step we have to trust even imperfectly that He is there.
I told this man that I prayed and went to Mass before I believed in the Triune God. I didn't tell him (for lack of time) but I had already arrived at the conclusion that the complexity in nature pointed towards a designer-creator. I really hoped it wasn't the Christian God... too demanding. Arriving at that conclusion took time and a miracle.
What's the moral of the story, you ask. I don't know except that although I'll never know if I played any part in that man's pilgrimage, I'd still tell him the same thing. God loves even atheists.