Hello everyone. So I was planning on my first post being an explanation of where I am and how I got here, however, I think I am just going to begin with a simple question. Thanks for your discussion!
So I have recently become a non-theist, and something has begun to happen frequently. I become quite lonely right before bed. As a Christian, I had prayed every night before going to sleep since I could talk. It evolved from the memorized prayer my father taught me to me telling God about my day, the troubles and joys, praying for friends and family, and just contemplating my faith in general. It was a peaceful time for me. But now for the first time in my life, I am sleeping alone. It's to me and it creates sort of cut off feeling. Throughout the day I am quite happy with my recent decision and feel at peace with it. It is at night when I feel like maybe I should just keep up my faith. It also creeps up on me occasionally throughout the day at times where I would normally pray. (Prayer was obviously a staple in my life.)
So for you ex-theists (or anyone who has input) how did you cope with the loss of prayer? Or that feeling of being cut off from a relationship which never really existed.
I guess the real question is this: How did you feel when you broke up with God?
Most Christians believe that prayer is talking to God. Somehow they believe that when they are alone they can telepathically converse with the Creator of the Universe. They believe that God has a plan laid out for each individual but yet they pray for him to change his plan and make something they want happen instead. Whenever someone tells me that they will pray for me I ask them what does God’s voice sound like. The answer always implies it’s a one way conversation that allows God to decide (change his plan) to grant your request depending on how worthy you are.
I have often thought that if there was a god that he would be driven demented hearing a billion Christians recite the same prayers over and over, 24/7. “Why can’t you humans ever remember where you left your damn keys?” To think that he already would know that tomorrow it is going to be more of the same! “I am Master of the Universe and have to deal with millions of my creation begging me for something each day forever. It’s Hell up here!”
Atheists say that action is more effective than prayer. That is true but what is seldom mentioned is that “thinking is better than prayer”. All religions demand frequent praying sessions. This stops people from having enough time to think, to give consideration to the doubts they have about their faith. Praying ensures the mind manacles of religion are kept firmly in place.
What prayer really is though is a lot simpler. It is just a form of chanting. It is downtime. The repetition has a soporific influence. It is ritualistic and becomes part of one’s routine. If you are doing it all your life then it is most likely that you feel a void. It is not a void though, it is freedom. You probably just recited them verbatim and after a minute you were not even listening to the words. Rather than miss the actual prayers you probably just miss the routine. So replace it with something else like reading a chapter of a good book while listening to some calming music and give yourself something different to think about before you sleep.
Recently I've started doing Buddhist mindfulness meditation, and part of this is 5 minutes of Compassion meditation. In turn: for myself, for my nearest and dearest, for people neutral to me, for challenging people I might not like, and for all beings everywhere, I recite the prayer: may X be well, may they be happy, may they be peaceful. May they not be angry, may they be free from envy, may they be free from hatred, may they be free from suffering. May they maintain their wellbeing, may they attain spiritual bliss. One consequence of this is that I am slower to anger and the list of people I don't like is growing shorter. At the end of 45 minutes' meditation I say a prayer of gratitude for all the blessings in my life. This has the benefit of making my life feel more abundant.
Prayer doesn't have to be to a God to be beneficial to yourself. Why not look up some Buddhist prayers?
Buy a telescope (you can get a decent starter amateur scope for 100 dollars) and stare into the night sky. See craters on the moon. The rings of Saturn. The moons of Jupiter. Patches of Galaxies. You can replace the feeling of awe and connection with the sky God you once believed in ... with the far more incredible immensity of the glowing universe and the intimate connection you have with every star and every galaxy. In a sense, every celestial object that is visible has a meaningful connection with you (a force of gravity, photons which have travelled for a near eternity bouncing off your eyes, star dust that your body shares with so many other cosmic objects. I think if you do this (or something of the sort) you'll have a much more awesome sense of awe and mystery with the universe without the mystical nonsense and you'll feel a much more intimate and clearer connection with the universe. :)
Share this activity with a friend from time to time and the loneliness will certainly blow away.
This is the part of freedom that isn't in the brochure. You've never been alone before. Have patience with yourself as you adjust.
Aloneness and loneliness are states of being you've denied yourself experiencing fully until now. While both can be unpleasant, either can be quite a rich field for the mind to rest or grow. Clarity, poetry, peace. The treasures are numerous. It isn't a wild party but that doesn't mean you can't live it up, embrace it.
The difficult things you donated to an infinite third party's "Yeah, I'm listening, go on...." you are now "stuck" with. You are more than capable of listening to yourself. It is a matter of courage and patience, IMO. Filling your head with other things just delays the necessary journey. I'm quite guilty of this myself. It doesn't matter how virtuous the other activity is. If you don't leave enough time to encounter yourself it's been unwise.
I think my husband often feels like this, and I don't know that he's found a good solution for himself yet. He was the sort of theist who loved sitting in a old church and praying. For him, he felt connected to something larger there in that place, and he hasn't quite found that same feeling anywhere else yet. If thats's what prayer gave you, a sense of connection to something bigger, then maybe that's what you need to find.
For me, I never felt a loss, but I was always connected to nature and science more than god and religion. I found and still find my peace hiking, backpacking, and looking out from the top of a mountain. It makes me feel small; a part of something bigger. I feel awe trying to fathom all of the years and winds and waters that culminated in the beauty before me. I get the same sense from star-gazing, and traveling to learn about other cultures. Ultimately, these activities take me to a place where the lines between me and it and you are blurred, and I can see myself as simultaneously small and a part of something bigger.
Besides that, I agree with what others have suggested. If prayer was something important to you, meditation and mindfulness could be an excellent replacement. At night, you can still talk or write through the day, vent through your troubles and joys, and list your hopes for your friends and family. You can still contemplate what it is to be good, what decisions are best, and if you're unhappy with something, why. It was always just you, strong, wonderful you, sorting through these things on your own. The only difference is now you know it.
It's ok to grieve the loss of your 'relationship' with 'god.' It does feel lonely. But you were always alone. If you try to restore your faith out of fear and loneliness, you'll be lying to yourself...will it work? I don't know. It takes some time to get used to being alone without feeling fear. It sometimes returns depending on the circumstances, but once you get past this stage it's not as difficult. You learn to comfort yourself and be okay with keeping your own company.
I remember I had a lot of prayer-thoughts and instincts to still talk to 'god' but over time those faded.
Hey guys, thank all of you for your thoughts. They have been really helpful to me. I'm really glad to have found a community for support; you guys are great!
I may be atypical, but I'm a loner. I spend great periods of time alone and don't particularly miss proximate socializing, by which I mean face-to-facing. I have a cat and she provides me more than enough of that sort of companionship.