DEAR Christian Friend,
IF you are bothered by my unbelief, please do not just tell me you are praying for me. I welcome questions, conversation, and dialogue. But what I find really irritating is when you just give me that look -- a look that makes me feel like I have some sort of disease -- and then tell me you're praying for me.
I understand that in our society, saying "I'm praying for you" is a great source of comfort for many. It is an expression of sympathy that encourages most people -- especially the religious -- and so I do not blame you if you think it will also encourage me.
But it does not.
When you say "I'm praying for you" to my face, I feel like you see something very wrong with me. And you probably do because you think that I am on the road to hell. However, please understand that to me, prayer is a meaningless exercise and hell is just a fairy tale. I do not say these things to your face because I respect your right to believe as you do. I hope you also respect my right not to believe as you do.
Saying you'll pray for me is just as meaningless as a Catholic giving a rosary to a Protestant. It's as meaningless as telling a Hindu to swear by the Bible.
It also sounds condescending. It's as if you are saying you're in a better position than I am -- that your belief is better than my unbelief and that you are praying that I'll come around to my senses and believe as you do so we can all hold hands and sing happy hallelujahs once again.
Now I know you most probably don't mean it that way, but that is how it seems to me, especially if you've never bothered talking to me. If you did, you would find out that I'm happier and more content with my life. There is more honesty and congruence in my thoughts, feelings and actions. I don't have to pretend to be sure of god's mysterious ways and call it an act of faith. Perhaps I should be the one praying for you, if I had anyone to pray to.
But don't get me wrong. I am not telling you not to pray for me. You are, after all, free to do whatever you want. And you are most probably sincere in your desire to help. I just do not want nor need to hear about it because hearing it does nothing good for me. It doesn't encourage me and it doesn't give me hope and it doesn't even make me happy.
If you really want to understand me, you are always free to talk to me. I don't bite. In fact, I appreciate the handful of pastors and other Christians who are not afraid to be open and honest with me, who would even visit our little community of doubters and skeptics. "I cannot understand why, but I am happy to be here. I am even happy to be offended," said one pastor.
If there is a heaven, that must be what it is like -- full of people giving and taking offense, and being happy anyway.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on July 24, 2015.
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