How Do You Know If You Are Ready To Let Go of Your Faith?

When do you cross the line from believer to non-believer? At what point can you put a label on your new feelings and identity? How do you know if you are ready to let go of your faith?

For me personally—as I suspect is the case for most—it was a long and challenging process. As your thoughts continue to evolve, you might hesitate to say too much for fear your ideas will be dismissed by well-meaning friends and family. So you end up doing a lot of exploration on your own, feeling no one truly understands how agonizing it can be to confront your doubts head on.

Woman with dark hair in a sleeveless long white dress stands at the edge of the shore looking out at the water. Text reads: How do you know if you are ready to let go of your faith?

In spite of what some might imagine, it’s usually not a dramatic, earth-shattering moment that leads someone out of their faith. Often it is just quiet reflection or mundane daily activities that gently guide you right out the door. Once you make it outside, you realize this is where you belong. 

You end up doing a lot of exploration on your own, feeling no one truly understands how agonizing it can be to confront your doubts head on. Click To Tweet

If I had to narrow it down, two primary factors sparked my journey into non-belief: finally being able to admit my own unhappiness with my worldview, and homeschooling curious children who expected real answers not platitudes. After a brief introduction, I will address both of these in detail. 

Why Do I Bother Talking About This?

I share my non-belief journey on this blog is to let others who struggle with questions know they are not alone

You may not be ready to let go of your faith—or maybe you are. I am not here to judge or to sway you one way or the other. I am just here to provide perspective and solidarity. If even one person can relate to and be comforted by something I have written, it is worth it.

Writing also allows me to process my own thoughts, which in turn helps me to parent my own children as they navigate the predominantly religious-leaning world they live in. So to some extent I write so I can better support them.

A Little Side Story

One summer at a family picnic, a relative my kids had never even met walked up to us and the first words out of his mouth—before he so much as knew any of their names—were to ask them if they knew Jesus. As in, he saw they were our kids, made the usual assumptions about our religious beliefs, and felt totally justified in evangelizing them right there next to the potato salad.

At the time I still identified as a Christian, so while I probably found it odd and rolled my eyes a little, I didn’t say anything. Would I react differently now? Honestly, I don’t know. 

However, I do not want my children to feel uneasy in these situations {like I always did} because they are afraid of ruffling feathers. I want them to know it’s okay to say no, thank you, I am not interested in hearing about that right now when it happens again. Because I can guarantee it will. 

I want to help them find their voice. That is why I speak up even when it is uncomfortable. Even when I know someone will read this and judge me {and them} for it. Someone always does. 

When Your Default No Longer Fits

Christianity dominated my mindset for most of my life. I grew up in an area where Christianity {specifically, Roman Catholicism} was widespread. My extended family and friends impressed upon me this was the correct way to understand the world, and I believed it because it was all I ever knew.

I must be a Christian. I had to be a Christian. I was baptized, confirmed, and took communion regularly for years. I went to Catholic church until college. As an adult, I attended various Christian congregations, organized Bible studies, and joined prayer circles. I said marriage vows in a church and later baptized three children in the same church. 

It was absolutely my default programming. I didn’t look for anything else. I had no reason to. I was Super Duper Jesus-y. Or so I thought. 

I credited God/Jesus for every little occurrence and told people to have a blessed day and said corny things like God’s timing is perfect. I read the Bible every day. {Even when I didn’t feel like it. Looking back now I’m just like, why? What did I think would happen if I didn’t?}

I nodded along to my Christian friends’ prayer requests and touching God-stories. I listened to Christian rock music for crying out loud.

The truth is, however, something about my dedication always seemed off. I laughed and cried at the correct times, and played the role felt I had been given, but I never belonged. Maybe some seed of uncertainty always lingered. Perhaps I should have recognized it sooner.

Some might be reading this and assert, aha! that means you were never a True Christian to begin with! And if that is the message you want to take from this, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first time an ex-believer had someone dismiss their experiences in this way.

Regardless, I realized this wasn’t me. It began to feel forced. I started to think of my “faith” in terms of what I had to do, not what I wanted to do. But I honestly had no idea how I could make things better. Leaving my faith altogether—the horror—was still not even on my radar. 

I blamed the ambivalent feelings I had over the years on a number of things: 

I’m too young, I’m too old, my Catholic upbringing, college rebellion, bad past relationships, not finding the right church, not finding the right Bible study, not finding the right friends, not having sufficient roots, being upset over my father’s death, not being grateful enough, not being strong enough, not wanting it badly enough.

It never occurred to me that maybe it is just wrong. Maybe this is just not who I am. 

I honestly had no idea how I could make things better. Leaving my faith altogether—the horror—was still not even on my radar.  Click To Tweet

When I finally admitted that I could still be me without Him, the burden of not being “good enough” dissipated. For the first time I began to believe my existence had meaning beyond belief. 

Lily pad and flower floating in the water, which has a purple hue. Text reads: Losing your faith, how do you know it's time to let go for good?

The Role Homeschooling Played

Unlike a lot of homeschoolers, we have always taken a secular approach. Even as a Christian, I never wanted our faith and our home education to overlap. We used only secular materials, and kept religion and church as completely separate entities.

Still, we wanted to investigate religious faiths as a homeschool subject, from an academic perspective. The school year we began this, it was very early in my own “evolution” so to speak. At the time I had only recently realized I no longer identified as a Christian. I had not yet admitted this to another soul. I was not very confident in my ability to “teach” anything about religion. But I decided I could learn alongside my kids.

I should clarify that even before my doubts surfaced, I knew I needed to give my children the opportunity to figure this all out for themselves. I did not want them to be exposed to one faith because I decided when they were infants that we should go to this place, read this book, and practice these rituals. I did not want them to simply follow along with me {not that I’d be a great tour guide}. 

I knew I could not simply push my version of God or religion on them at an age when they still believed everything I said. Because if I told them, hey from now on we’re going to go to only this type of church and pray only this way and read only these stories because they are right and nothing else is, they would say, okay. And that’s not what I wanted for them.

At this point, we had been on again/off again church goers for years. So they didn’t have a clear reference point as far as “religious studies” from a specific denomination or church family. It never occurred to me that the reason we had so much trouble finding a place that felt like “home” is that we were looking for something we didn’t need to find.

We first began studying world religions in our homeschool when my oldest two were nine and seven. We shied away from nothing {despite my initial reluctance} and discussed complex concepts from the start—the afterlife, how different people believe different things about the world, why we are here, and what happens when we die

I knew I could not simply push my version of God or religion on them at an age when they still believed everything I said. Click To Tweet

My kids were absolutely floored when they learned that many folks truly, honestly believe that their way—their religion, their view—is the only right one. That if you don’t follow the one, perfect, exclusive way you’re out of the club. 

Considering the number of people on the planet, and the number of diverse world views, it made no sense to them that anyone could claim to know the single, correct way to interpret God. 

In 4th and 2nd grade, they already figured out something many people never do: Thinking any one person or group knows the only true way—and everything else is a myth—is foolish at best. 

This was mind blowing for me, because it was truly the first time I really saw it in that exact light. Having to explain religious views to a couple of curious elementary students stopped me in my tracks. Saying it out loud and seeing their reactions enlightened me in a whole new way. Suddenly “this is the way we’ve always done it” seemed like a ridiculous reason. 

After a bit more chatting they somewhat timidly asked me what religion they were. I told them they’d have to decide for themselves. 

Then the asked me what religion I am. I had to tell them I didn’t know. Because at the time, I truly didn’t.

Of course, back then I still believed in capital-G God. Not in a magical, superhero, wish-granter God, but more of an omnipresent spiritual life force. I assumed the presence of a divine element “out there” whose understanding is likely beyond our limited humanness. 

It had not yet occurred to me that not believing was even an option. It seems absurd to say now—I mean, of course it is an option. But back then the idea completely escaped me. 

As time went on, and we researched more beliefs and read more stories {which they quickly discovered all vaguely sound the same} it became clear that we were all heading in the same direction. 

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but one day we were finishing up a book or a story and one of them looked at me and asked, what is it called again when you don’t think any of it is true? I think I’m that. They were not sad about this. They were relieved to have a word to identify their feelings.

What About the Little One?

Interestingly, my youngest child—four, almost five, at the time the older two kids and I started pursuing religious education more intently—never had any doubts or confusion when it came to his own views. 

He had never been indoctrinated into a particular religious world view, so he had no reason to think any of them were more “right” than the others.

Unlike his sisters, he had no memory of “going to church” or hearing about God or Jesus or Christianity or any other religious dogma. He simply sat with us and listened to a wide variety of world mythologies with interest. When I asked him if he thought any of them were true, he looked at me like I had truly lost my mind. 

What is it called again when you don’t think any of it is true? I think I’m that. Click To Tweet

It was blatantly obvious to my pre-K student that these tales were fictitious. No one had ever tried to convince him of their realism, and so he took them at face value. He knew what sounded true and what sounded imaginary. These definitely sounded “like someone just made them up for fun.”

Of course as he got older and participated more in our discussions, we talked about how many of the people were likely real historical figures, but the mythology had been retold many, many times—like a long game of telephone. This made sense to him. 

What was more difficult to explain was why so many people still believe these stories to be absolutely true.

What Specifically “Flipped the Switch” For Me?

The truth is, nothing. And everything. Some combination of all of the above, I guess.

I have written previously about the exact church service during which I realized my relationship with Jesus was over, as well as a very memorable tearful incident I consider the beginning of the end

However, these moments were only two of many that I chose to write about; there were numerous other examples of uncertainty. Most are just vague recollections without great distinctions, just one part of a huge puzzle.

I honestly cannot pinpoint the exact moment my faith in any god—not just the Christian god—completely dissipated. The moment when you are ready to let go of your faith will be different for everyone. You might not even recognize it at the time. Or you might walk right up to the precipice and turn back around.

Wherever you may be in the process, remember you are not alone.

What Do I Call Myself Now?

The reason I use the descriptor “nice atheist” in my tagline is very intentional. People are typically surprised when they find out I do not follow any religion or believe in any gods. But you’re so nice! Cognitive dissonance definitely at play here. 

I admit I used to be incredibly uneasy about the term atheist. Of course, atheism literally just means without theism. Yet, you and I both know what kinds of connotations it carries. 

Consider this my tiny contribution to normalizing it. I hope that when folks come here and see these words under my blog title, they either react with a chuckle or with curiosity. 

And then I hope they continue reading, maybe questioning a few stereotypes in the process.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Lisa Marie Alioto

    I really appreciate your genuineness and honesty in this article. It’s a very tough topic to think about let alone discuss but you’ve done a great job with it!

    1. Valerie

      Thank you for your kind words, Lisa. Glad you stopped by. ❤️

  2. Avatar

    This is beautifully written! Religion is such a touchy subject, and I love how you qualified yourself of “nice atheist”! Not believing in any religion doesn’t make you a bad person! It doesn’t mean that you go around screaming hysterically at people that they shouldn’t believe!

    I still haven’t told people in my family that my kids aren’t baptized. I want to give them the choice once they’ll be old enough to understand what religion is. Thanks for this 😊

    1. Valerie

      Yes, I think some folks legit believe that when you leave your faith your primary goal is to recruit others to the dark side. 😂 Thank you for stopping by and for your kind words. ❤️

  3. Avatar

    A very well-written post! Religion is such a touchy subject that most tend to stay away from. While others do not have an issue talking about it. I appreciate your sharing your honesty and experience.

    1. Valerie

      Thank you for reading, Lina. I’m glad you stopped by. ♥

  4. Avatar

    Beautiful! I love to hear people be kind, genuine, and sensitive in their overview of working with those that are on the precipice from faith to a more evidence-based thinking.

    I take a similar approach as well and you can just look me up as I was once a Fundamentalist Christian minister. I’m on Twitter and have a website, been interviewed and have written on my experience and thoughts regarding Christianity and religions in general. By the way, I found my way to your article through frsit watching Anthony Magnabosco, then following @HowWE Let Go on Twitter and there I found your article. I’m retweeting it so others can read it.

    Have a beautiful day and I hope you and your loved ones are fairing well through this trying time.

    – Apetivist 🥰

    1. Valerie

      Thank you so much. I am very glad you stopped by. Looking forward to connecting on Twitter and learning more about your story. ❤

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