When you were a Christian, didn't you sometimes feel that you had to hold back about expressing your beliefs, for fear of putting a huge block in your relationship with your atheist friends? We all make mistakes and (I think) just stumble along in life. I can be quite critical of others until I realize how many time I put my own foot into my own mouth. So I am not trying to defend anything here, and I figure for every person with fairly clear thinking and fairly good motives, there may be a completely muddled and selfish person, Christian or atheist alike. But I'm trying to say that I think maybe a screen door is an attempt to avoid building a brick wall. I say this because my youngest son hit a faith crisis right about the same time you declared your atheism. I don't think he'd say he's an atheist. I think he believes there is a God; he just doesn't particularly like God right now. Between the two of you, my world has been rocked with a massive sense of loss. Yet I have hope in my Lord, and I pray for Him to reveal His light and beauty and grace. When I held my tiny baby boy and felt all that mother-love for him, when I nursed him and burped him, washed him and dressed him, cared for him and delighted in how cute he was and the funny things he said and did, I never imagined that we would be here at this point today. I still love him with all my heart, but there are many things I cannot say to him. To me, this is my screen door: I am open to him, I long to have a full relationship with him. I pray for him multiple times every day. He is always welcome in my home. I love to be able to cook for him, or do his laundry, although he rarely allows me to. When he wants to talk, I am ready, I respond. But I have to wait. I have to wait for him to open the door. My screen door is unlocked and I stand behind it watching the horizon for his silhouette, hoping like crazy that he will come home and turn the handle.
First, let me say what a beautiful picture she just painted. It brings tears to my eyes. I remember lying on my side in the still and silent hours of the night, cradling my nursing infant son in the crook of my arm and crying noiseless tears over the enormity of my responsibility to him. As I struggled with my own faith during those days and months, I prayed with all the strength of my being that he would grow to love God and that he would be saved. Nothing frightened me more than the idea of my perfect baby boy (or either of my perfect girls) rejecting Jesus as their Savior and spending eternity in hell. I remember the passion, the pain and the desperation I felt as I begged the Lord to spare my children, to spare this innocent child at my breast, to give them all life everlasting, in spite of my own shortcomings.
I remember like it was yesterday.
And I can only imagine it gets harder with age, as these young people develop into their own selves, and create their own identities and pursue their own paths. For a believing mother to watch her child struggle with faith or turn from it completely must be heart-wrenching agony to say the least.
But to respond further to what my friend said, let me say that I don't think she has put up a screen door at all. Judging by her words, it sounds more like she and her son are both sitting on the porch swing, sipping a glass of iced tea together and trying to understand. They've met in the middle.
I feel like this with my own mom. I know it kills her that I'm not a believer anymore. I know her heart aches, and I know the number of tears she has shed is uncountable. But she's not hiding inside behind a screen door, keeping me out, waving to me from a distance. She has stepped outside, feeling a little out of her comfort zone, to meet me on the porch. And I too have had to step out of my comfort zone to join her there. It's not comfortable for me to face the pain my unbelief causes her, but I do not want to walk away or avoid her. I would rather walk up those steps and join her on the porch, both of us feeling a little unsure of what to say but allowing love to fill the silences.
I think that's where I used to put myself as a believer with unbelieving friends. They weren't in my church buildings or on my mission trips, and I wasn't exactly where they were. But we met in middle. I wanted them in my church, perhaps, and they probably would've loved for me to living free and easy where they were "in the world" (as I'd have considered it). But if Christians. or any other version of believers, hide behind their closed doors or screen doors, they will never touch the lives they long to touch, and they will miss out on relationships with amazing people. And if non-believers stay off the property of believers, wanting nothing to do with them, they will miss the love and friendship of some wonderful, beautiful people. There is discomfort on both sides, and there is sometimes misunderstanding or miscommunication. But if we can join each other on the porch, we can learn to speak one another's languages and start to understand. There can be love freely given and freely received.
For me, it's uncomfortable sometimes to feel like someone's mission project. Sometimes, taking those steps up onto the porch is daunting. I am confident in what I believe (and don't believe); I don't want to preached at or "reached out to". However, until I join you on the porch, I'll never know if you've just got a religious agenda to "save" me or if you truly, genuinely care about me.
For you, it's uncomfortable to feel judged or ridiculed for your beliefs. Taking those steps means you might be vulnerable to someone's scorn or rejection. You might be vulnerable to your own pain and worry for them and their souls. You don't want to be mocked or attacked, and you want to guard your heart. But until you join me on the porch, you'll never know if I just have an atheist agenda or if I just truly, genuinely care about you.
My friend, you haven't just left your screen door open and unlocked for your son. You have confronted your discomfort and have stepped outside to meet your son on the porch. I hope he has joined you there. I hope that it is there, in the slightly humid air, on a slightly stiff swing, that the two of you can feel the cool evening breeze of understanding and love that makes sitting on that porch worth the uneasiness that such a fundamental divide stirs within the both of you.