The Kindness of an Atheist

friend (c)Gracie K Harold 2014

friend (c)Gracie K Harold 2014

**Please note that this post is about FRIENDSHIP and the kindness of an atheist and is NOT about dating an atheist…that’s a post for another day.**

I was still getting moved into our new apartment when I received the phone call that started our friendship.  I had been in a shelter for Domestic Violence survivors for the last few months, and my children were four, two and a half, and eight months old.  The conversation flowed easily on a variety of topics.  Although the call originated as a business call, it wasn’t long before we considered ourselves friends.  He was an adamant atheist and a devout environmentalist, I was just as adamantly a Theist. One of our first conversations consisted of the following debates:

Me: How can you be an environmentalist but not a creationist? What’s the point if you’re an atheist?

Him: How can you consider yourself a creationist if you care nothing about the environment? What’s the point?

He was right. I told him so, and apologized.  I started recycling more, and trying to consume less.  I became aware of my wasted energy and cut back on my carbon footprint.  Our lively discussions continued, and his friendship filled an emptiness inside of me.  I was so lonely.

I was attending every women’s Bible Study that was offered at my church.  I attended morning church, evening church and Sunday School.  I had good friends who intentionally had the kids and I over, or who cut our hair, or even watched the kids so I could escape for coffee…but I lacked a best friend.

Still reeling from the chronic abuse that I had endured for five years at the hands of what I call a “biblical psychopath” ( a man who had a degree in Theology but was mentally disturbed and abusive); I longed to connect with someone who I could debate and discuss life with.  My best friend from college lived in Indiana, and we made every effort to talk, but my heart ached for local companionship.  I longed to be listened to, appreciated as a wise woman, and have someone laugh at my jokes.  He did.

Before the inevitable judgments begin racing in your brain and start being slung into my comments section like stones in a stoning; know that I took faltering steps in courage to reach out for friendship at church with the young adults.  I soon discovered the “ooh and ahh” reality that exists when a single mom appears on the neat and tidy “Christian scene”.  Guys tended to either respond with (a sometimes literal) running to the hills as they seemed to scream, “Ahh….she’s a single mom!  I wonder if it’s contagious!” or they would seem to be purring, “Ooh…a single mom who obviously had sex…I wonder how long she’s gone…”  It’s vulgar but true.  Most of the young adult girls would literally (and possessively) grab the arm(s) of the closest guy(s) and plaster a “perma-grin” on their face, without ever making a real effort to know me.

From the church, I learned the conflicted dance of religious grace.  I received both patronizing glances and genuine compassion.  I received outpourings of financial assistance and gifts and food; along with slammed doors, condemnation, and hurtful, ignorant comments.  I often felt like the anomaly kept in the China hutch for certain guests to see on special occasions. “Oh, that’s our single mom…she has had it rough…whisper whisper whisper (gasp).  She is quite a dear, though…and we all do what we can to help her.  It’s so sad, isn’t it? (sigh)”

From my atheist friend, I learned that I had a voice, intelligence, and a good sense of humor.  I learned that real men see the beauty inside a woman…not that her appearance isn’t important; but a funny, witty, kind, intelligent woman has a lot to offer the world for it’s betterment.  He taught me how to navigate around and through red tape, while empowering me to learn how and when to cut through it.

He taught me that attractiveness is multifaceted.  Through our friendship, I relearned my confidence.  I found a safe place to vent and cry and grieve.  I was challenged to sidestep the very things that had tripped up and entangled my loved ones. I learned that even after one or both of us was a jerk to the other, our friendship continued.  I learned that my ex-husband was indeed an “Insert-expletive-of-your-choice-here”.

The kindness of an atheist is what prepared me for my dating relationships that eventually followed, and also for my marriage.

You read that correctly.

The kindness of an atheist prepared me for my marriage to my Jesus-loving, Bible-College-attending, Shepherd-hearted Man that is my best friend, lover, and husband.  My James challenges me, understands me, hugs me, loves me, fails me, apologizes to me, romances me, and encourages me to be more like Christ.  I love my James.  I thank God for him every night and every morning.  I do.

I like to think that in His Kindness, God saw my loneliness, and he heard the cry of my heart for a deep, visceral connection.  My atheist friend stepped up when no one else dared to.  My husband eventually entered my life, and took it from there.  I thank God for both of them.  Whether you like it or not, I tend to think that both offered a beautiful sacrifice of worship.  The first one had a heart stirred to compassion by an inexplicable desire to make a difference.  The second had the same compassionate heart, stirred to draw me in with loving kindness, as he committed to continue on loving me for life.

My belief is that God smiles on both of them.  Both of them showed me the heart of God, whether or not they were aware of it.  The kindness of an atheist drew me into the intimacy of a forever marriage with the man who chooses every morning to simply love me as God has loved him.

Please do not misunderstand; my heart is only fully devoted to my husband James.  I am my beloved’s and he is mine.  In looking back over the last decade of my life, though; I have realized that my Atheist friend was like one who tills the soil on a farm.  His
kindness prepared me for God’s goodness, and stopped me from running away from the thing I so desperately needed but was too terrified to be vulnerably available for.

I like to think that when James stepped in, he took the plow, and began to sow seeds of kindness and love in such an overwhelmingly tender way, that I couldn’t help but allow him past all of my defense mechanisms.  God be praised for seeing my heartache.  Where a Christian man wasn’t willing to courageously walk beside me, an atheist was moved to compassion for that season of preparation.  When the time was right, James entered my life and opened my eyes to what true Biblical love means, accompanied by an everlasting commitment to me as his wife.

If your heart is shattered as mine was, and you are terrified of allowing people past your defense mechanisms, may a Godly person have the courage to walk beside you.  If they fail or refuse, may you have the kindness of an atheist as a preparation for God’s overwhelming goodness and love.  Heal well. Rest well.  Commit yourself to your faithful Creator…and continue to do good.  (I Pet. 4:19)

If you are in any way aware of a hurting soul, in God’s name, gently and courageously reach out to them time and again in love!

Love and kindness,

Gracie

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