What Can We Do For the Non-Believers In Our Lives?

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Perhaps Our Heavely Father longs to hear, "He is safe. He is with me."

They are all around us. At work, at home, in the stores, on the road. For some of us, they are part of our family. Perhaps you married into a family of non-believers. Not just non-Catholics, but non-believers all together. You are a part of their family and they are a part of yours. There should be some sort of harmony, or at least you should be somewhere on the same page, yet you are worlds away.

It’s difficult to live in your faith and at the same time be in harmony with those who embrace the world and all its trappings–materialism, hedonism (pleasure for the sake of pleasure), money, success, lust, notoriety, and so on. Temporal promises and gains. Now let’s be honest–these things enter into all our lives at some point or another and in different doses, and we can’t help but become tempted. Sometimes it comes upon me when I’m flipping through the latest Williams-Sonoma catalog (small dose), or when I look at magazines and conclude that our house should look just as beautiful right now (big dose), or when I wish my husband would be strong and healthy already, like he used to be (very big dose).

But what happens when the worldly gifts are some one’s goal in life, when they become his obsession? How does a Catholic relate? We all struggle with this, especially me. I have known folks who live by and in the world for many, many years. They know me, they know how my husband and I prioritize our life and raise our children in the Catholic Faith, and yet my eyes have seen no change in them. Each year, they strive to win more awards, make more money, buy more things, and travel the world. They take barely a notice of Christmas or Easter, and Lent is simply the past tense of the act of lending out moola. It makes me a little anxious, and I fall into a sea of questions. Have my family and I not influenced them even just a little bit? Just what am I expecting from them anyway? A major transition? A conversion? Are my prayers and efforts useless? Why aren’t they happy? Do they see that I’m happy? Don’t they want a more peaceful life? Are they happy worrying, worrying, worrying? How do they carry their load without Christ? Why are they on the fast track? Don’t they get tired? To whom do they turn when they are overwhelmed and scared? Themselves? Money? Buying more things?

One day, I took my frustrations with  me to confession. Each year, during the holidays, my angst from watching friends and family embrace the world while rejecting Heaven mounts so high, it needles me to take my eyes off Heaven myself. And I become angry and very, very impatient.

Father assured me, “I’m sure this is frustrating. You will just need to keep trying to show them the love of Christ. And pray for them. That is all you can do.”

I was hoping for a magical formula, but deep down I knew he was right. You know, when Christ taught the apostles how to be servants of God, he didn’t start a major scholarship program, launch a non-profit organization, or dig wells all over the world. (All good things, of course.) No, he did something very, very simple. It was so simple, Peter was appalled. Essentially he said, “Wash my feet? A slave doesn’t even do that!”  But Christ corrected him. It is simple, loving, and selfless. Here is where the work of Christ begins. Something as simple as a prayer for someone you find hard to love, for someone who openly rejects Our Savior.

And it can change us, too. Set out to change someone else, and prayer winds up changing us. At the very least, prayer reminds us that they, too, are children of God, even if they don’t know it or if they choose to reject Him. They sadly have given up their birth right, but knowing that Our Heavenly Father, the one we love most, loves them, too, can make things a little easier and put our hearts with the One who is truly hurting. Imagine being Our Heavenly Father, who loves every tiny piece of His Creation way beyond human comprehension…and then to be rejected. He waits and longs to hear from them, but He doesn’t. They are lost to Him…and He still waits.

This makes me think of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11). My favorite character is the father.

When the son finally decided to go home, his father was waiting for him. Think about what that means. He must have been waiting and watching a little bit each and every day, to be sure that he wouldn’t miss his son’s return. Every day, anxiously waiting to see if his son just might be coming around the bend. He faithfully waited and didn’t give up. And when the father spotted him, the boy was still far down the road, probably rehearsing over and again what he was going to say to his old man, mustering up the courage and resolve.

But there was no time for that as far as the father was concerned. When he spotted his son making his way toward home, he ran down the road to meet him as fast as he could.

Of course, through the father in this parable, Christ was depicting His own Father in Heaven. Does Our Heavenly Father worry about non-believers–those who think they can go out into the world away from Him, do all things on their own and be their own masters? Christ made it very clear that His Heavenly Father does indeed love and worry about his prodigal sons and daughters and would celebrate their return to His home of faith. (Of course, in many ways we all become prodigal children at some point and in small ways, but that would be another post. This post is describing those who have made it their life goal to be their own masters and who outwardly reject God and Christ.)

I like to add one more image to the story, something any parent would appreciate. Can’t you picture the father longing to hear news of his lost son? With so much silence between them, wouldn’t he long for any kind of news, any kind at all?

If a father heard nothing of his son who went out into the world, imagine how comforted he would be to receive a letter from a friend, saying “Your son is safe. He is with me.”

Father was right: “Keep trying to show them the love of Christ. And pray for them.” At the very least, we can say to Our Heavenly Father, “He is with me.” At least it’s a start. I understand. I struggle to do this, too. I do.

Editor’s Note – I have removed some of the comments on this post due to personal attacks on others. Positive discussion on this important topic is appreciate but derisive comments aimed at the author or other commenters will be removed. LMH

Copyright 2011 Kathleen Blease

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17 Comments

  1. This was extremely helpful. I am married to a non-believer (muslim) and this just reminds me – the only thing I can do is pray. 🙂 Bless you!

  2. Though I’m not a mom… (I’m a dad) Thank you for sharing… Just the other day I watched my 2 year old girl go run after a ball in field…

    And my heart ached when I thought one day she might “run away from me” (in the sense, become more distant, maybe when she’s a teenager, or if she turned from the faith I’m raising her in).

    God’s ache must be so much greater for those lost in the world. May our courageous actions and words bring people to find freedom and forgiveness in our Savior Jesus.

  3. Jen Hrazanek on

    Kathleen,

    This is such a powerful piece for me. My parents do not practice their faith. My siblings don’t either. I have prayed about why this is for a while now. One day, while I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I had a vision of my family in church, all of us together and attending Mass. It was clear from the image I had that we weren’t there for a wedding or funeral, but simply for a Mass. This vision was so clear and specific and I have held on to it since that day, praying for each of my family members to return to their faith. I am learning that everything happens in God’s time, not mine. I pray for them and wish they would find their way back to the Lord, but I am confident that our Heavenly Father is keeping His eye on them every second of the day. All things are possible through Him. Thank you for sharing your these thoughts with us. The non-believers in the world – in our families – need our prayers!

  4. @Jen,

    A beautiful, beautiful vision. How wonderful to hold onto this!

    Dear Friends,

    I am so humbled by your comments and so grateful that you have shared them. You’ve put HOPE and DESIRE into words much more clearly than I could, and it lifts my heart to hear what you have to say. Thank you! All things are possible in Christ!

  5. @Joe. I am hardly a zealot, and my home has been open to all friends and family, both Christian and atheist. I hardly alienate them. It is hard to believe that you are so angry over the simple idea that I am willing to pray for you. The door to Christ has one door knob, and it is on your side. It’s up to you if you’d like to turn the knob or not. You are free to make your own decision.

    What I hear in your comment, Joe, is a very deep angst. Try to understand that there is hope in someone much bigger than yourself. He died for us and for you, too, even if you don’t want to believe it. I’m sure I can’t change your mind. That will have to come from your own heart.

  6. Think I’ve been harsh?—maybe a little but it has nothing to do with your praying—reread your second and third paragraphs and consider carefully how you characterized atheists and those who believe differently than you. Your descriptives speak volumes about your thoughts and feelings of them AND about how much you hate the world and mankind’s enjoyment of it. I for one am tired of the arrogant lie that pervades the minds of many Christians—that atheists are corrupt, superficial, uncaring, materialistic and lost. Some of the most psychologically messed up people I’ve met call themselves Christian—as they are fettered with low self-esteem, irrational fears and internal conflict.

    Also, you are profoundly wrong with regards to the nature of belief. No one “chooses” to believe anything. You cannot force belief by an act of will. If I asked you to choose to believe in Thor or Zeus or Krishna—you could no matter how you tried. To hold a belief as factual I first need to be convinced of it’s truth in reality. For those of us who validate knowledge by way of reason and thoughtful inquiry (instead of faith and fear), it is impossible to buy into the Christian dogma. The nonsense of substitutional atonement, the claims for the supernatural and the barbarism of biblical morality are a mockery of science, reason, decency and believability—the very foundations of a rational mind. I could never be a Christian because there is no reason to, in fact there is every reason not to if you are brave enough to remove your filters and honestly evaluate the true nature of your belief system.

  7. Editor’s Note – I have removed some of the comments on this post due to personal attacks on others. Positive discussion on this important topic is appreciate but derisive comments aimed at the author or other commenters will be removed. LMH

    • You removed a critique I wrote in response to inflammatory things the author of this post wrote about nonbelievers and atheists. I see you operate by a double standard. If I respond and admonish her fallacious mischaracterization of atheists you have a problem with that—but when the author brands non-believers as money grubbing, hedonistic, lustful. materialistic, superficial, unhappy and not a peace—IT’S OKAY FOR HER TO LAUNCH THOSE MISSILES?
      Profound insults can be leveled while being couched in prosaic and flowery language and that is surely the case with Kathleen’s post. How can you not recognize this?

      • Joe, looks like we’re both not catholic moms, but have ended up on this site… Just wanted to start with something we have in common 🙂

        A question for you. As an atheist what motivates you to live a moral life? Really, I’m interested. I’ve wrestled with God’s existence too.

        Your comments about Christians and Christianity seemed like blanket statements themselves. Do you see anything positive in Christianity, in terms of its contribution to history, culture, or society?

        I think the positive side of your atheism is that you are honest. There are scores of religious people who believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist. Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for people like this.

        • Pete, of course I see positives in the Christian religion and other religions too if one cherry picks through the minefields of conflicting doctrines. But Christianity did not invent morality, though some Christians like to think they have a monopoly on it.

          You ask “What motivates an atheist to lead a moral life?” My answer is… the same as for a believer; the realization that we cohabit this mortal coil with other human animals and our mutual survival depends on certain codes of conduct.

          We can understand morality better by realizing that it exists to serve a purpose [morality is contextual]. It begs the question–>what conditions are required for the survival, happiness and mutual co-existence of the human species? Morality attempts to answer this question for everyone, theists and atheists alike.

          An atheist does not believe human morality is authored by divine command or celestial authority, nor is it blindly followed as a matter of faith. ALL morality is man-made including biblical and religious morality. The real question is… do we establish moral codes by a process of thoughtful inquiry and critical thinking?, or do we accept by faith the bronze age tribal doctrines of ancient book of mythology? I was raised in a Christian community but I don’t “wrestle god’s existence” or with moral questions. For me the answer is easy.

          • Joe, thanks for the thoughtful reply… A few more questions for you (I’m enjoying this exchange, by the way).

            I’ve always been interested in history. In fact, while starting out studying aerospace engineering (of all things) at university, I ended up studying history. So I’m interested, in your opinion, as someone who is well-educated… Do you accept as a matter of history that Jesus Christ existed?

            In my view Christianity isn’t ultimately based on doctrines, or for that matter morality. The claim is that God revealed himself in human history. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We follow what he said and did.

            For example, forgiveness was the hallmark of his message. A personal question (rhetorical if you like): Are you married, do you have children? Have you ever wronged those you love most in the world? Do you struggle to love them the way you would like? Why can’t you love them more? Do you ask forgiveness? Do you extend forgiveness? It is real to you? Or is it a biological response, just so we all get along in the end?

            I struggle to love those whom I’m closest to. I have a wife and 2 little girls, that I love so dearly, and yet I fall short of loving them as I would like. I see my selfishness (my sin) getting in the way. How about you?

            Have you ever doubted your doubt? Really. If you respond to any of my questions, I’m interested in this. I’ve doubted my faith, and I’ve doubted my doubts. For me, the latter one out.

            “The first thing that must strike a non-Christian about the Christian’s faith is that it obviously presumes far too much. It is too good to be true: the mystery of being, revealed as absolute love, condescending to wash his creatures’ feet, and even their souls, taking upon himself all the confusion of guilt, all the God-directed hatred, all the accusations showered upon him with cudgels, all the disbelief that arrogantly covers up what he had revealed, all the mocking hostility that once and for all nailed down his inconceivable movement of self-abasement – in order to pardon his creature, before himself and the world.”

            -Hans Von Balthasar

  8. Joe, I am sorry that we have a misunderstanding on this. I’d love to discuss it with you in positive terms, and I do promise not to launch any missiles or use any all caps. I’ve reread what Kathleen has written, and I do see how from your perspective you could feel that she is making blanket statements. When I read her first few paragraphs, rather than hearing her say that ALL non-believers are moneygrubbing, etc. I think she is speaking in the context of people she has encountered in her own life. I also hear her saying that these feelings and thoughts have led her to seek out the sacrament of reconciliation. I want you to know that I do welcome a conversation with you, that you are not being personally attacked, and that I don’t believe that was the aim of Kathleen’s column. Please engage any further comments directly to me and I will happily discuss them with you in a positive and mutually respectful tone. I’ll be in and out today, but will do my best to keep in touch with this conversation.

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