I lay next to my boyfriend, he to my right and the window with pale sunlight to my left. I watch him sleep, his back to me. It's a quiet Saturday morning.
I look at where we are now, 2.5 years into our relationship. He's back in school looking to earn his Bachelor's degree, maybe even Master's. I'm almost 2 years into my first professional job, which has been a great success overall.
You could say we are the epitome of a healthy relationship. We care for each other when we are sick. We never go longer than 5 minutes upset with each other, always working to improve our communication with each other. We say "thank you" when completing household chores. We have hobbies together and hobbies apart. We've had a few critical points in our relationship, such as finances and future goals.
Everyday I wake up thinking that I made the right choice to be with him, and that firmness grows stronger moment by moment.
We have our moments, of course. Sometimes we are worn down and exhausted; sometimes we say things out of frustration, without thinking. But in the end, we always end up back in each other's arms, learning and growing through each obstacle and experience.
Yet sometimes I recall two years ago, when I was still a Christian. My boyfriend was an atheist at that time, and I went through one of the deepest bouts of anxiety when struggling with the thought of loving someone who would be doomed to hell when they would die (I was raised with conservative Christian, bible-based teachings). I remember being so distraught that I couldn't eat. I remember trying to break up with him three times over three days just to escape the anxiety. I remember being unhealthily obsessed with researching the Christian concept of hell. I felt eternally stuck - after all, how could I talk myself out of the deeply held conviction that hell was real?
What triggered it? My former best friend, also a conservative Christian, disapproving my decision to enter a serious relationship with him, all based on the fact that he was not a "fellow believer." Mind you, I had been so supportive of her when her and her now-husband started dating, and even got married. But of course, since I wasn't following the bible-based teaching of dating and marrying a fellow Christian (a debatable tenet, but still taught and maintained in my religious circles), I didn't deserve the same support.
Looking back, I wonder: perhaps I should thank her? It was really the Christian wake up call I needed that ended up driving me to losing belief altogether. See, it's easy to believe in hell when everyone in your closest circles believes in Jesus, constantly reaffirming your belief system. But what if you have many close family members who didn't believe to the same extent as you, or even at all?
I'm grateful that my boyfriend and I ended up working through my religious difficulty, and we came out all the stronger. I had a kind religious mentor in my life at the time that was helping me navigate, with prayer and fasting, the emotional difficulty of dating a non-believer. She was sure god was at work, you see, and was sure that our relationship was happening for a reason. I am grateful I had someone like her ground me in faith and maintain my relationship.
Though after a few months, the thought of hell started haunting me, not just with my boyfriend, but with my extended family as well. How could god banish one of my aunts to hell, just for not believing? This aunt who is like a mother to me.
I started having questions to the tenets I used to hold so dearly, questions that the usual Christian answers didn't seem to satisfy. Eventually, after more breakdowns and lots of research, I lost my belief altogether.
But I look back now, and my heart breaks for anyone who makes a decision on behalf of a religion that is not true. Whether it means breaking off a great relationship for a difference in beliefs, or behaving a certain way because you believe that "god" wants you to? Why is it religion gets the exception of understanding? Is it because we humans are so sensitive, so afraid of the unknown, of death, that ignorance is essential in living a productive life? I don't get it, and looking back now, I don't feel it was fair that I was blindly mislead, made huge decisions in my life in that blindness that I would not have otherwise decided.
Some might argue that it's all part of the human experience - we change over our lives, make decisions differently than we used to. But I can't help but wonder how drastic those decision-making skills would change if religion didn't exist at all...
Food for thought.