Up until I was eight, I was Lutheran. My family went to Church every Sunday and my older siblings were involved in the choir and the various youth groups they had. We went to Vacation Bible School every summer and we knew the meaning of Christ in our celebrations of Christmas and Easter. I remember sitting down with all my brothers and sisters (there were a lot of us) and choosing what we would each give up for Lent. At the time, I vaguely understood that we celebrated Lent as a run up to Easter, and that our sacrifice was supposed to represent Jesus fasting and resisting temptation for 40 days. I always gave up either sweets or television. I always, always failed to resist the temptation that my siblings brought.
In hindsight, we should have teamed up and given up the same things. When you have given up TV for over a month as a kid, and your little sister is watching Power Rangers full blast on Saturday morning, you kind of forget that you aren’t supposed to be watching it with her. I had an advantage with my parents, too, because there were so many of us. They always forgot who gave up which item, so they didn’t correct us when we slipped. Nothing bad ever seemed to happen when I didn’t abstain from the item that I chose during Lent.
I prayed a lot as a kid. In church, before bed, all the time. I’d talk out loud to God or in my head. I’d beg him to answer me with a sign or just speak to me. I had so many questions. When I’d had enough of this silence from His end, I sat down and wrote a letter. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I do remember asking Him to please write back and answer my questions. I asked Him to just remove information about specific sins in my head. I marched out to the mailbox at the end of our driveway and put the flag up, with a lonely envelope inside simply labelled “GOD.”
I did get a response. It wasn’t from God, but it was written from His perspective. I was immediately suspicious of the letter, as I had never heard of God writing anything. I hadn’t even heard of Santa writing anyone back. This handwriting looked so familiar. Could it be? I rushed to my room, locked myself in. My little sister, whom I shared the room with, was thankfully out elsewhere, presumably to stink up someone else’s room. I pulled my letter from the tooth fairy out from my top-secret hiding spot (under the mattress). As I sat and compared the identical lettering in disbelief, I was overwhelmed. I kept trying to work out how the tooth fairy and God could have the same handwriting. They were written by the same being, or person, so maybe these entities had the same secretary?
I couldn’t make anything add up in my head and it wasn’t just because I was only eight. And then it hit me: I was pretty sure this handwriting also belonged to Santa. Since it was the middle of summer, I had no hard evidence from Santa to compare this letter to, but I had a pretty good idea.
Now things were adding up: someone was impersonating Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and God. Whoever it was had to be remarkably sneaky and have access to our house. I did exactly 10 days of snooping before I found the culprit: my Dad.
Once I concluded my investigation, I didn’t feel any better, though. It had kept me busy for a while, but now I had nothing but questions. I couldn’t just ask my parents about it. If they knew I had caught on to the Santa and tooth fairy gig, I might get less presents at Christmas! If I asked them about the mysterious letter from God, which certainly was not from God, they might get me in trouble for doubting our religion.
So I kept all the information to myself. My materials went back into my top-secret hiding place, and I started to read more about different religions during our weekly library visit. I found out there were all kinds of different gods, and they each had followings with their own versions of the bible. I was deeply impressed that my parents had been able to keep up this deception for so long. I mean, after all, if Santa and the tooth fairy weren’t real, why would God be?
Our pastor moved to a different state, and we stopped going to church after that. It had been sporadic for a while before then, so it made sense to stop when our favorite pastor was moving on. Living without a religion hasn’t affected me greatly, but sometimes I do feel like I’m missing out.
I don’t have an omnipotent deity to comfort me when my life is merciless and unforgiving. When someone I love dies, I am not comforted in knowing there is an afterlife where we will be reunited. A lot of books and blogs I read talk about faith, and at that point, I feel they weren’t written for me. I’ve sought answers, and I’ve looked through a lot of religions, hoping to feel some connection with a presence greater than myself, but come up empty-handed each time. I feel each day like sand in my hands — I try hard to enjoy every piece of it as it slips through my fingers, because I don’t think there is an afterlife.
I have been an ass before. I have had profoundly tough times in my life. I often don’t live life to the fullest I could, because I want to binge watch something and eat chips. I don’t think I am better than anyone else. I just live without faith.