Believing in God has always been as natural as breathing to me, and as vital. It has been the foundation for my life, and the framework upon which we have built our family. And like breathing, you take it for granted until your ability to do it is threatened.
One month ago, my husband Dan came to me after all the kids were in bed and said we needed to talk. I could tell by his ultra-serious expression that this was going to be a life-changer, but I was unprepared for the words that followed: "I am an atheist."
I felt that I had been suddenly plunged into a cold, stormy ocean, and every word he said was another heavy stone around my neck. He had come to this realization 3 1/2 years ago after a year and a half of struggling with his faith, he told me, but had felt that hiding it was better for our family. He couldn't live with himself anymore, though, and needed to come clean.
Sinking and sinking, I thought about every prayer we had said as a family, everything we had taught our kids together, every time we had knelt in prayer together at the end of the day, and the million other ways in which our life was so entwined with our beliefs -- all lies. 3 1/2 years? Three and one half years?! Every moment of every day. WHY?
I can't even begin to express all the thoughts that were churning through my head, thoughts of past, present, and future. What would happen now? How was our life going to change? How would this affect our children? How could he just give up on the promise of being together forever? Could he truly believe that this life is all there is, that we were really only married "until death do us part?" Dan tried to pull me back, assuring me over and over of his love for me and our children, his dedication to supporting me in my own faith and helping me raise the kids in the gospel, and the kind of man he always intends to be. But I felt like I was hearing him from underwater -- all I could really hear was the fear pounding away in my own heart. I thought that I knew Dan. I thought that I knew who we were, together. Now I was terribly afraid that I was losing him, and myself and everything else important to me along with him.
I floundered in the depths for what felt like a long, long time. We talked for hours, and when we finally went to bed I did not sleep. I felt like we had lost something so important, and that I had never had a chance to save it, to fight for it. I prayed and prayed but found no peace. The next day I went through the motions, keeping it together as best I could for the kids, but there was no relief. We had returned only two days earlier from an incredible just-the-two-of-us vacation to celebrate our tenth anniversary, and the suitcases full of memories were still in the middle of the living room floor. I couldn't bear to look at them. I couldn't bear to download the pictures I had taken on the trip. For me, the trip had been magical -- two weeks of just us, laughing and talking and having all sorts of funny adventures, growing closer and just being so... together. But now it was all muddled together with the fact that I felt like I had been living in a fantasy world of my own creation. Had I imagined every good thing about our relationship? Because obviously Dan was living in a very different world than I knew. The trip had become the ultimate example of the facade of our lives, a sham of happiness that I had been blinded by.
I talked to Dan about it that night, and he was visibly upset that his timing in telling me the truth had ruined my memory of the trip. He told me what the trip had meant for him, and the way he described it sounded just the way I would have before everything got smooshed together in my mind. It was like the first shaft of light for me -- the realization that, while it was true that I had not known or understood what was really happening with Dan, our life and our love was not a figment of my imagination. And then he said something that I will never forget. I asked him why he had chosen now to tell me -- if he felt I was ready for it, or if he just felt so much pressure from living a lie that he had decided that it was time to sink or swim. He said, "Never for more than a moment did I think we would sink, because I knew that I would swim." I realized then that I had underestimated his love for and commitment to me. He was just as fiercely committed to us as I was, and he would do whatever it took to protect that.
I had been clutching fear so tightly that I was paralyzed. As I began to let it go, there was room in my mind and heart for other emotions: understanding of what Dan had been going through for the past five years and the pain of bearing that burden all alone for so long; gratitude for his determination to live as an honest, loving, moral husband and father; trust that he really meant it; and, finally, peace. When I stopped shouting so loudly inside my head, God was able to send me the peace that I needed. I began to have specific, undeniable experiences that let me know God is aware of our little family at this moment of upheaval, and that He has not let go of Dan. He is there, and He loves us. I don't know what is coming in the future, but I do know that.
I began to hold on to peace and love with both hands, instead of fear and resentment. As Dan and I have worked together through the inevitable issues this has brought forward, we have grown so much closer and more united. And I have felt God's love stronger than at any time in my life. I feel so grateful for Dan, for our family that has shown so much love and understanding, for a kind and thoughtful bishop who gave me a blessing that was literally a godsend, for a friend who took me to the temple and let me cry it all out to her, for a hundred moments of guidance and peace that I have felt in the past month.
How is it possibly that through losing so much, I feel like I have been given so much more? How can having the foundation of our marriage and family swept away lead me to a stronger relationship with Dan and with God? My only answer is the grace of God. To me there is no other explanation for being able to overcome the overwhelmingly negative emotions with which I reacted, so quickly and completely. Dan doesn't explain it that way, of course. And that hurts my heart, but I know that he is working so hard to be the kind of man he wants to be. He is positive and supportive and so full of love. And I am grateful for that.
It has been a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process -- sometimes a rogue wave of sadness pushes me back under for a while. But instead of feeling like I'm drowning, I am trying to let my faith in Dan and in God pull me out again. Dan and I are sailing our ship together. (Do you think I've beaten this metaphor to death yet? Because I could go on...)
P.S. Why am I putting something so personal out into the blogosphere? First, I needed a way to let as many people as possible know about the change in our family. The last month has left me emotionally and physically exhausted, and having to explain this to people over and over again just makes it harder. This was the best solution for me, short of renting a billboard that says "Dan is leaving the church. I'm okay. Our marriage is not in danger. Go back to your lives, citizens." I don't mind talking about it, but having to break the news again and again is just too much for me right now.
Second, I guess I hope that this experience will help someone else. I do not think I have suffered in some uniquely difficult way -- on the contrary, I think everyone goes through utterly heart-wrenching experiences at some point(s) in their lives. But after this storm hit, when I went online, I couldn't find any experiences like mine. Or like Dan's, that might help me to get some perspective. This blog post is entirely my story, I realize. Dan is going to write his own experience -- why he hid the truth for so long and what he wishes he'd done differently, as well as his experience with finally telling the truth -- and post it here as well. People need to be able to talk about things and know they are not alone, whichever side of this kind of situation they're on.
P.P.S. A note about commenting. I think nearly everyone who reads this blog is made up of our family and friends, so I'm not that worried. Please leave comments if you'd like -- nothing is worse than radio silence after putting something like this out there. But I've seen too many mean, bitter, snarky, contentious comments on blogs not to be afraid of that one random person who, protected by the anonymity of the internet, decides to take in on themselves to inflict pain. Please know that this is coming from an intensely personal and painful place in our very real lives. If you don't have something nice to say, please just keep it to yourself and click to the next blog...