I caught myself starting to pray the other day and quickly stopped, surprised at my thoughts. I hadn’t prayed in at least a year. Why did I do this? Why was I offering a prayer that I know no one will hear?

I used to pray all the time. I went to Sunday School every weekend, and I believed in God, most of the time. As a teenager I even attended several youth retreats organized by my church. They were usually held at campsites with funny names and always were near a lake. On these trips, I would sit around campfires with other Christian teens and confess my sins and beliefs to my peers. I’d even cry.

One time in fifth grade a girl slammed me into my locker, and I asked her if she thought that was the Jesus-like thing to do. Yep, I was that kid. Go ahead, hate on me. I guess she thought what she was doing was fully WWJD, because her reaction was to sneer and punch me in the stomach.

Eventually I started resenting Sunday School. There was this youth pastor there, BJ, who really rubbed me the wrong way. One time on a mission trip I was standing by myself and he came up to me and said, “HEY LOOK! THE QUIET AWKWARD KID.” I tried to be civil, but really I was thinking: Thanks Beej. I really love it when people point out my greatest insecurities in front of large groups of kids I want to think I’m at least somewhat cool.

As I became more frustrated with BJ and the whole youth group, I started to fight with my mother on Sunday mornings. I would beg to be able to stay home, and she would either win the fight and drag me along to church or lose and leave the house alone and upset. I started paying more attention in science class, and reading more on my own, and thinking about the fact that God’s existence could not be proven. It started to bother me. The Sunday after I got my driver’s license I drove to church, walked in the door, told my Sunday School teacher that I was really sorry but I just didn‘t believe anymore, and walked out.

So, now I’m in my senior year at a small Christian school in Nashville, and I’m required to take a class titled “Christian Dynamics.” Being neither Christian nor dynamic, I’m not really sure how to go about this class. I disagree with most of what the teacher says, but I don’t want to fight him all the time. But I also don’t want to stay silent in our class discussions. There’s this really sweet girl named Krista who sits behind me. One time in class she was talking about a girl who she met at camp one summer. She told us how the girl was an atheist and that every time she tried to tell this girl about God, the girl would just tune her out. She ended with the statement, “I know where she’s coming from, but at the same time, I just don’t want her to go to Hell.”

Also, the other day in class our teacher, a sweatery guy named Coach Perry, asked us to write an essay on where we were in our relationship with God. I stared at my paper for a good five minutes. I contemplated making up a load of crap about my “walk with God” because that’s pretty much what he and the whole school want to hear, but I didn’t. I told the truth and wrote about being an atheist. Later, Coach Perry approached me in the hallway and said he really appreciated my paper. I gave him a skeptical, “Yeah?” He replied, “Yeah. Unless it was all a lie, of course.” He walked away, leaving me frustrated. I had poured out my heart and he didn’t even believe me.

Despite what Coach Perry might think, I don’t buy into Christianity anymore. I can’t. However, the religion surrounds me every day. It’s a part of the Bible Belt culture I live in, and it was a huge part of my youth. A majority of my friends believe in God, and my parents are attending church and Wednesday-night Bible studies more frequently. Most of my teachers start class with a prayer.

So I guess it’s not really so weird that when I was super stressed about homework this week, I reflexively started to pray. The prayer was kind of like when you eat a burrito and burp up the flavor a few hours later. It was an aftertaste of who I used to be. ♦