Most of my talks with God took place inside my head but sometimes, when we were in complete privacy, I would speak out loud. He was unfailingly patient and was also pretty realistic. He made me no wild promises; instead, He assured me that no matter how life unfolded, I would be able to summon up the inner resources to make it through and maybe do a little good for others along the way. He spurred me to walk half an hour for help when I slipped on black ice and shattered my wrist. He sat with me at my baby’s crib side as I waited for her almost fatal fever to break, and then He kept me company through years of cash-strapped single parenting.
Our chats gave me courage before my eye surgeries and helped me become reconciled to the sudden, tragic deaths of my parents. A few years ago, my daughter, now an adult, was diagnosed with a nasty chronic illness. She and I live thousands of kilometres from each other and while I comforted her long-distance, I drew my own solace from my talks with Him.
In quieter times, He and I had long discussions about existence, evil, love, exclusion. Our relationship was not based on any organized religion. I am not big on group activities or large gatherings, so praying alongside other people has never worked for me. The religion I grew up in gave me a solid ethical, cultural and social grounding, but it had nothing to do with my personal sense of the Deity. Our conversations were just between Him and me and we got to know each other without any outside trappings.
Some people believe that God has ultimate responsibility for the creation of the universe, control over life and death, unlimited power and the ability to be in all places at all times. I didn’t feel that way about Him. I have never connected with the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent deity, and I don’t think I would have been able to establish a personal relationship with such an entity. As a child, I found the All-Everything image to be frightening, even overwhelming; as an adult, I find it impossible to believe.
For me, He was a gentle presence who helped me find the gutsier parts of my self. He was not always able to help me out of a jam but he was always prepared to listen. I never expected Him to control events or outcomes. I didn’t count on him to redirect the course of history or heal the sick or put an end to injustice. He was just my cherished friend.
My husband is a proselytizing atheist. For over twenty years, he has been sharing with me the many reasons for his unshakeable belief that there is not now nor has there ever been a deity. My husband puts forward his position with eloquence and passion, like a first-rate preacher. I have listened to him with interest, but also with detachment, secure in the comforting awareness that I would never be without the company of my friend God.
But a few months ago, the unthinkable happened. I started up a chat with Him and had been speaking for a while when I got the uneasy sense that I was alone, talking to myself. I thought I must be misinterpreting the silence, not listening hard enough, not tuned in properly. The next day I tried to get in touch with Him again. No response. Many times over the following weeks I went through the same experience. Gradually it came to me that His absence was no fluke; He and I were definitely not connecting.
I don’t know what brought on His disappearance. We had not been fighting. Had I offended Him without realizing it? I had made some pretty outrageous statements to Him over the years and had never gotten the silent treatment. We had always worked things out. Not any more.
I still try to talk to Him sometimes, but never to any avail. I always find myself in a monologue. He is gone, maybe for now and maybe forever. I miss my friend God.
When a crisis of faith befalls a person like me, there is nothing external to signify that a change has occurred. We do not stop attending a place of worship, end our participation in religious rituals or resign from our positions as Sunday School teachers. I did not express my belief, when I had it, through social behaviours, so the moment I lost my belief was a private event without visible markers. In the past, I communicated with Him in the absence of public manifestations, and now I have lost His companionship without ceremony.
For the time being and the foreseeable future, I will just carry on with my life, doing my best but acutely feeling His absence. Even one more conversation to clear the air would be a relief. If He resurfaces, I will be grateful and happy. The welcome mat is out.