Agnostic Humanist In The South



I’ve had a lot of insignificant personal conflict in my mind lately. Just stuff that keeps me awake at night as I sit in bed and wonder how I’ll handle these little dramas that have popped up. Nothing major, just personal dilemmas keeping me awake as I struggle for solutions. They don’t bother me during the day, I’m too busy to worry about the inconsequential. But at night, in bed, when it’s quiet and I’m trying to fall asleep – these challenges really bother me. How do I fix it? How do I make it work? How do it resolve this so it doesn’t make me so sad when the lights go out?

Last night I found myself missing Prayer. I am not religious, I don’t believe in any version of a god that any Christian church defines. But I used to. I used to be very religious. I used to say the rosary and go to church and Pray. I prayed constantly. The peace that someone would be there for me, help me through the gray days, that was so comforting. I remember I would ask god for strength at least once a day. That was my token prayer. “Please, God. Give me strength to make it through this drama in my life.” And while I know that on paper none of my teenage dramas were really that tragic, I remember the depression and the sadness and the anxiety associated with those dramas. THAT was real. I remember that comfort Prayer gave me. Sometimes I think that refuge, the Prayer with my God at that time, saved my life.

I stopped believing a long time ago. I know I’ll never have church back in my life for reasons I don’t have the time or the words to explain. I don’t miss church. I don’t miss religion. I don’t miss the guilt or the dogmas or anything associated with that point in my life.

But I miss prayer. I miss just being able to talk to someone about what was bothering me. Someone who I didn’t worry about judging me (Hee. That’s funny.) or thinking me a bad person. Someone who would just listen and give me comfort in knowing I was not alone. I tried to pray last night, just to see if I could without the belief in the person on the other end of the line. No dice. So, I just struggled again with unheard conversations in my mind.

I know religious people and I have church-going friends and family who have said they don’t pray and I always find this jolting. Really? Isn’t that the best part of church is being able to pray? Maybe I used prayer differently than the average religious person, but to me? Prayer was what held me to the church even as long as I stayed. I probably actually stopped believing 15 years ago, or more, but I tried different faiths and different churches for 5 years or so after that. Because I couldn’t give up praying. But somewhere along the way, the prayers went the way of every other part of my religious past. Faded into nonexistence.

But I tried again last night, just to see how it felt. It felt wrong and weird and really made me giggle a little out loud. Really, Kim? You’re praying? YOU? I don’t think so.

So, I just keep trucking along the usual way. Working things out in my head until I finally get some peace. It’s not as romantic as prayer, but it works. Sometimes.

I know a lot of us have bonded over past religious lives and find ourselves in similar agnostic positions as adults. What parts of it do you miss?

32 thoughts on “Prayer.”

  1. I’m not an Agnostic adult but I do fight with doubts somedays – especially when I see the news and the soldiers fighting in Afghan and Iraq. I have a friend who is about to join the army and I want to tell him how as proud as I would be that he’s serving our country I don’t want to lose him – I don’t want him to come back is a casket or come back with PTS.

    Anyhoo prayer doesn’t have to be out loud you can “say it in your heart” and okay so you don’t think there is a God out there but talk to the universe lol. Sounds really hippy and cheesy especially from the Christian Girl but I hope I make sense lol.

  2. I grew up Catholic and still identify myself as Catholic, but I’m not a regular church-goer and jokingly tell people that my policy is half-lapsed. Sometimes I really miss the peaceful feeling of walking into a church and knowing others (dozens, hundreds, however many people) are thinking about the same things, wanting the same things. And I REALLY miss the music. I love how at any Catholic church in the world you’re probably going to hear the same readings from the Bible, and go through the same worshipful rituals. There’s a lot I DON’T miss, but that wasn’t your question, heh. On a tangent, have you considered trying meditating? It’s spiritual but not necessarily religious. And maybe asking YOURSELF for strength might help? I dunno, just an assvice thought.

  3. Elaine – Mass was always such a spiritual event for me. I love the Catholic mass. When I have to go for funerals or weddings now? I really enjoy it just as a beautiful ritual. I get it.

    I have tried meditating but I kinda suck at it. I need to work on that. It may be what I need.

  4. I am religious and consider myself faithful, though not Catholic (but I went to Catholic high school, so I think I know something). I recently heard something that strikes a cord with me about prayer:

    “Believers don’t pray fearing that God isn’t there; Non-believers don’t pray for fear that He is there.”

    Now, I’m a believer who does pray. I find it funny that a person who claims to have turned her back on her faith can express so well what is the best part of being among the faithful — direct access to talk to our creator and savior. I thank Him, I beg Him, I call out, and sometimes, I just remind myself that He is there and He is mine.

    You have a better understanding of the gift of prayer than so many I know in the church — just something to think about.

  5. I’m not agnostic so I don’t really have any advice on how to handle missing prayer. I pray every night, with my two little ones. My baby girl, 22 months old, calls it “dear God.” She doesn’t talk very well yet but she will put her little hands together and say “dear God” a few times until I hear her and we say our prayer. I hope you find a way to find peace with the things that are bothering you right now. Have you tried keeping a journal (not the blog, but a book you can write in)? There were a few years in my life when I had stopped praying but I journaled a lot. That seemed to help. Whatever you try, I wish you lots and lots of luck!

  6. Oh, Kim. I consider prayer sort of plugging into the power of the universe and I don’t think it matters who you imagine on the other end. (I have a friend who prays to the spirit of Oprah.)

    Maybe you can find something, or someone to imagine on the other end that wouldn’t feel too silly?

  7. I’ve never struggled with my faith, even when I’ve struggled with the institution of church. I think, though, that you’ve put perfectly what my husband is feeling when he tells me he ‘envies me my faith.’ I can imagine how tough it would be at times. I hope you find another means for comfort and peace. The meditation idea sounds great.

  8. I think you were on to something when you prayed – it gave you strength, you felt a connection to something/someone who loved you and didn’t want to judge you. I call that God.

    I’m a Christian who has had mainly good experiences with church, so obviously my perspective will be different than yours. It does seem to me, though, that a lot of non- or ex-believers see the way Christians behave and assume that’s a reflection on God. People might be judgmental and unloving, but that Thing you were praying to won’t be.

    Does that make sense?

    I like the previous commenter’s suggestion about meditation – a different way of plugging into whatever you call that Thing might really be meaningful to you. I don’t think it matters so much what words you use, but what you get out of it.

  9. I hate that for whatever reason you have associated a bad experience with “religion” and “the church” with an actual real relationship with God. I have a feeling your desire for prayer was a nudge from God letting you know he’s there waiting for you whenever you’re ready. The last thing I wanna do is preach or sound all holy roller-ish, which I’m not at all, but I can honestly say that if I didn’t have God to talk to and believe in I would be in a mental institution by now. Both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer a couple months ago and He has clearly let me know He has his arms around my family. I pray you can feel those same arms when you really need it.

  10. Emily –

    I actually dont have a lot of bad feelings for God or Church, to be honest. That’s what I was trying to say above – I have very good feelings/memories. I’m just not a believer anymore. That’s all. I actually miss a lot of things about the church and such, just requires a certain faith and belief system I no longer hold.

    I think I will try meditation again though. That seems like a good middle ground.

  11. I identify as agnostic as well, but I can certainly understand how prayer would be comforting for you, especially if that’s what you grew up with. Meditation sounds like a good way to go. I’m curious to know how it works out for you.

  12. I still pray. Not so much in the “dear God” sense, but more taking a moment to think and put my thoughts out there to the universe. And I’m not the spiritual sort that’s into the whole power of The Universe thing either, but there is something about taking that moment to pull my thoughts together and “speak” them that I find so calming.

    I also love Catholic mass. My parents not so much, I think they just have more bitter feelings toward it than I do and find the recitation kind of mindless and creepy at this point. I think it’s a beautiful service and enjoy witnessing a tradition and ceremony that has remained largely the same over many, many years.

  13. I wrote about this recently as well. Prayer and the idea of rituals in the Catholic mass. I loved the smell, the way the words sounded (echoing off the walls), the up and down of people in rows and the solomn quiet. I love Catholic churches. Most are beautiful, dark and light and filled with lovely objects. I do not miss the ideas or thoughts that are held by the church itself however… I pray from time to time and I believe in the power of spirit and love. I find that much more powerful than anything though I wished I chose to pray when things are good as well when they are not so good.

  14. I grew up Catholic too, and went to Catholic school for K-5. I also stopped being a believer a long, long time ago and now consider myself agnostic. The thing I miss, although I don’t think about it much, is the ceremony and ritual of mass. That can be so comforting and familiar. I went to an Episcopal wedding this past weekend and found myself enjoying those aspects of the ceremony a lot (since their service is so similar to Catholic mass).

    As far as prayer goes, I never did it much growing up. But I do find a comfort that’s maybe similar to what you are describing in things like yoga and running, which are (or can be, anyway) very meditative for me. I like what others are saying about meditation, too. I’ve never tried that in-and-of itself, but more as part of another activity. Worth a try, I think.

  15. Kim-

    Do you ever listen to “This American Life” on NPR? If so, go on iTunes and download the podcast for an episode called “Returning to the Scene of the Crime” and listen to the third act. It is all about what you just wrote and it is so poignant that it just about made me cry about four miles into a run. Also my feet hurt, but that’s another discussion. Anyway, its well worth the listen.


  16. I would fall in the agnostic category. On occasion on nights when I can’t shut my brain down/I’m feeling anxious about a family member, I do have a memorization that is basically the same prayer of my youth that I run through my mind. It has turned into a sort of mantra/calming recitation.

    On a separate note, you would not believe how many words I looked up the exact definition of while trying to form this comment.

  17. I wish you wisdom and peace on this journey looking for answers, and thank you for your honesty! I am one that didn’t go to church a lot simply because of my situation with my boys, but I pretty much pray all the time, through the day – I have to, to get through much of what is going on with me. I wonder if there’s a way to associate it (when you are an agnostic) with something that they seem to do like in AA when they talk about a higher power? I don’t know… maybe that can be anything you can just reach out and talk to in your head – even as talking to yourself, your dad, your universe, any god that might be listening? I don’t know… I also have a huge connection with music bringing me to meditation and usually that is through Christian Contemporary music but I have also been drawn to a meditative state through some of U2’s music (i.e., Bad from their 1984 album) and some of the songs the Clannad does, and REM Everybody Hurts from the 80’s or 90’s — some of those chord forms really get me!!

  18. I miss Having The Answers. I think church and Sunday School and religious parents teach you all the answers the church has come up with in 2000 years to all the objections about religion and faith. Once you’ve learned them, you can be successful (or rather, FEEL successful) in any debate. When I lost those, I felt that loss keenly. I also lost the answers to my kids’ questions, like what happens after people die, and why do bad things happen, and why should we be good.

    I also miss the social aspect. A lot of bloggers blog about how hard it is to make friends as an adult, but church helps with that.

  19. Clarification: by “Having the Answers,” I include such answers as “We can’t know the mind of God” and “We’ll have to wait and ask God when we get to heaven” and “Some things we CAN’T understand, but we have to believe that GOD understands” and so on. Even those are “Having the Answers,” and in fact I consider those some of the most having-the-answers answers of all.

  20. i am a believer and i do pray, but i do it in different ways. sometimes it’s like you described, just talking through my frustrations, etc. sometimes i pray for other people: safety, peace, understanding.

    and sometimes, i just recite a phrase or sentence over and over again. if you have ever read franny and zooey, franny is obsessed with a prayer that she read about. it’s basically a sentence that you are supposed to think over and over again until it becomes like breathing. i don’t remember the exact phrase, but i use that a lot when i’m either panicked or really anxious and worried about something. when i studied abroad, i was often worried i would miss a train or bus, so i would think over and over “God please let me make this train,” fully concentrating on it. or when i was really worried about my job, i would sometimes use the actual prayer from the book, doing it over and over until i could fall asleep (which was difficult at the time). it always worked to calm me and give me something else to focus on, while allowing my brain to rest from all the anxious thoughts. when i would wake up, or make the train, or whatever, i always felt a strong sense of clarity from giving my brain that rest.

    anyways, what i am describing is, obviously, a type of meditation. maybe you could find a phrase or sentence and try it. like, “give me peace,” but not thinking of it as “God, give me peace,” but as wishing peace upon yourself.

    also, i couldn’t meditate until i started doing yoga. when i got really into it, focusing on your breath and your center, it became much more natural.

  21. I echo a lot of the same feelings you wrote about in this post – I miss being able to pray and think that it was being heard… If I try it now, running off my completely memorized version of the Mass or the Rosary, or whatever, it’s empty and makes me feel foolish. I miss the songs of my childhood that sometimes bounce around in my brain during hard times – not the songs so much, as the communal singing: knowing I was singing horribly, and not caring because everybody else was too and what mattered is that we were feeling it. I don’t feel it anymore. I miss the whispered conversations my siblings and I used to have in the pew right before we went into the confessional – does it count if your brother confesses to it? Do you still have to mention it if somebody else already apologized? We’d divvy up a week’s worth of sins and wait anxiously for the priest to holler at whoever went in before us. I miss feeling comforted and special, and loved, I suppose. I don’t even really want to believe anymore, but sometimes it hurts that I can’t.

    So I understand what you’re saying… and I firmly endorse the “working things out” route… keep a pad of paper by your bed, for sure.

  22. (Please forgive me if you find any of the following in any way offensive. It’s not at all my intention, and feel free to call me out on it, Miss Zoot.)

    You said, “I am not religious, I don’t believe in any version of a god that any Christian church defines.”

    Maybe I’m missing the point (and I’m not well acquainted with your faith position as shared in your blog), but I don’t see that as a prerequisite to prayer.

    “I miss just being able to talk to someone about what was bothering me. Someone who I didn’t worry about judging me (Hee. That’s funny.) or thinking me a bad person. Someone who would just listen and give me comfort in knowing I was not alone. I tried to pray last night, just to see if I could without the belief in the person on the other end of the line.”

    So are you saying that you do kind of believe ‘in the person on the other end of the line’? Is perhaps the problem that maybe that you are still defining that ‘person on the other end’ by everyone else’s (and organized religion’s) definition? Would it help if you could shake that? And would it be fair to say that your version of god is one that you have come to define in your own experience? In which case, why not pray to that? Faith, belief, etc., tend to be a highly personal experience for the person engaging in it ,and if in YOUR life, the intangible, largely undefined friend you talked to and shared with is one you still have (or wish to rekindle) a relationship with, who’s to stop you? It wouldn’t make you religious or Christian or any thing else.

    Just a girl talking PRIVATELY to a friend with no one and nothing else interfering.

    What say you?

  23. Wendalette –

    Yes. For the most part I no longer believe anyone is on the other end of the line. At least not in the “listening to prayers” sense. My version of “god” has become much more abstract. I believe there is some sort of spiritual glue holding this existance together, but not any sort of being as would listen to a prayer.

    Does that makes sense?

    Sometimes I struggle with how to define my disbelief because, I really understand enough about Faith to know that if I died and somehow found out the Christians were right about God, that I wouldn’t be surprised. I would just know that I never had the Faith to be a believer. So, it’s not like I scoff at Christians for believing at all…I don’t think myself better or worse than they are. I just know I don’t believe, but I remember believing so I respect those who were able to hold on.

  24. The only thing I miss are the instafriends. I know it wasn’t really -real- but I always had somewhere to go on Sunday night!

  25. I totally, COMPLETELY understand what you mean. I was raised Methodist and am now Atheist, but I *miss* the feeling of praying like someone was listening to me (even though I now strongly believe there is no one listening).

  26. For a Christian, I know I don’t spend enough time in dedicated, singular prayer, but I often have sort of a running conversation, it seems. I’m actually listening, at the moment, to a song called “A Living Prayer” by Alison Krauss, and it sort of sums up my feelings well. I hope you find what works for you. I know it would be so hard for me if I lost that connection.

  27. Like you, I’m not a believer in the sense that most people use that term. I do believe that there is a life force that ties everything together, but I’ve never been able to humanize it (personally I think it’s ludicrous that God is thought of as only male) and I do believe in an afterlife though not in the Christian sense. No heaven, no hell – just another existence.

    I don’t miss anything about organized religion. Nothing. I was raised in a Baptist family and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

    As for the prayer question, I don’t pray to any one person or being. Instead I keep a gratitude journal. Every night before bed, I list 10 things that I’m grateful for that day. It’s fun to look back and see how my answers change – and how so many of them are always the same. Some days I write things like “I’m grateful that I had the strength and self-control to deal with the idiots today.” Some days are much more poignant than that. Depends on the mood. Taking the time to focus on my gratitude journal allows me to end the day feeling gratitude and love for what I have in my life. It erases the “not good enough” feelings and disrupts the perpetual “Things to Do” list in my head.

  28. I totally get it. I consider myself a spiritual person, but I don’t believe in “God”. I enjoyed some parts of the Catholic church, but there were too many parts I didn’t agree with for it to work for me. I really enjoy going to other people’s churches when we visit family or friends, but I don’t feel any need to find my own church and I don’t miss going every week.

    I do still “pray”, mostly to the universe at large. And I write in a pen and paper journal when things are really bothering me – just getting my thoughts on paper often lets me organize and let go of them. And sometimes I’ll flip back and see what I was having anxiety attacks about a year or two years ago. Things that seemed so huge and impossible at that time seem so small with some distance… and that helps remind me that whatever it is that’s plaguing me right now will eventually shrink to a managable size, too.

  29. I became a Christian very late in life, I was baptized 3 years ago. Now, I pray. But before? I had that missing spot too. I think that there is real value in just offering good thoughts, good vibes, karma, whatever you want to call it. By thinking about something and telling them you are thinking about them, I feel like it does something. If it’s a bigger issue, writing down how you feel and what you feel can actually do something. Maybe it’s new-agey of me, but I feel that adding positive energy to the world can never be a bad thing.

  30. this post kind of hits home for me. My family were never church-goers but I attended with friends and extended family on occassion to see what it was like. I was pretty much lost. I still am, lol.

    I pray. I guess I believe in God, or a higher power, even Jesus, but I’m not so sure about the other stuff. I’ve tried a lot of different religions and I just have always felt like I don’t fit anywhere, really. I’m glad I went because I saw all the different ways to pray and have adapted it to my life. I pray for strength and patience. I pray for my sons and my family, my friends. Sometimes it’s not so much a prayer as venting… and maybe it’s just to myself.

    Sometimes life is extra hard on my LJ and sometimes I pray through it and sometimes I just get so angry that I can’t even vent.

    I do try to adapt certain aspect of the church like helping others and being a good person. I think that’s pretty much where that ends, though.

  31. I am totally fascinated by this conversation. While reading I am drawn to the sticky note I have on my desk with the following verse.
    “God can do anything, you know- far more than you can ever imagine or guess or request in your wildess dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, His spirit deeply & gently within us.”
    ~Ephesians 3:21~
    Maybe your desire to pray is His spirit deep & gentle within you?

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