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Life With MS: Faith Isn’t For All Of Us

Faith and religion seem to go hand-in-hand with chronic illness.  Many people that I talk to who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (or other similar diseases) are very reliant on their faith. Their belief in a higher power brings them comfort and helps power them through a rough life.  Many of those who are not afflicted with a chronic illness also rely on faith and their beliefs in order to cope with those of us that do battle one of these incurable diseases.  The landscape of the Multiple Sclerosis community is overwhelmingly religious, or at least it seems that way.  I have had countless people (both with MS and without) inform me that they would pray for me.  I’ve also been told many times to “stay faithful”.  I am always grateful for such acts. However, they fill me with mixed emotions because I do not share the same beliefs. I do not believe in a God, and I am not alone in that non-belief.  (Please finish the article before you get angry with me).

Mixed Emotions

I’ve been told in the past that I am courageous for the way I open up and discuss my life with MS.  I never really believed that.  I do believe this article is courageous though.  I’m shaking in fear as I write this (and really hoping my family will still talk to me afterwards), because I know that I am very much the minority with regards to this topic.  I know that most people believe in a higher power (and it seems to be an even higher percentage among those battling an illness).  I also know though, that there are others out there that think the same way I do, so this is for them.  Someone has to speak for them, someone has to speak for people like me.  There are many, many articles posted about the importance of faith when fighting a disease.  These articles cater to the majority of people (or so it seems).  I wanted to post something for people who don’t think that way.  I wanted to say you aren’t alone and that faith and prayer are not the only ways to fight this disease.  I also wanted to bring to light the fact that not everyone is a person of faith.

I feel I must point out that I was raised religious, went to a religious school, went to church every weekend, the whole nine yards.  I even taught bible school at one point.  My family did everything you could possibly do to instill a strong belief in a higher power.  Despite all that, I don’t know that I ever actually believed.  I feel it’s important for people to know that it wasn’t because of my life with MS that I think this way.  Even in my youth, I was not a believer, no matter what it may have looked like.  I know that having a major event in your life, like getting an incurable disease, can tend to make people either more or less faithful.  That simply isn’t the case with me.  (I’m still extremely thankful for that upbringing though, it taught me a lot and I wouldn’t change a thing)

As I mentioned, I have the utmost respect for the religious and for those that pray for me.  I understand the importance of it to you and am always very thankful.  When someone says they will pray for me, I take it as their way of showing a little bit of love and care for me.  That’s a great thing, no matter what we believe (or not).  Understand though, that not everyone feels that way, and not everyone wants that.  While I always appreciate prayers, as someone who doesn’t share your beliefs, my initial thought is that it feels like you do it to make yourself feel better.  I know that isn’t the case, and that your intentions are good; however, there will always be a part of me that feels a little lost when I’m told that.  I’d prefer if you took that time to help spread MS awareness instead, maybe share one of mine or my colleagues’ articles about the disease, or even simply said, “Hey, I’m thinking of you” or “I’m here for you”.  Those things are as special to me as prayer is to you.

We’re in this together

I know many people who think the way I do are often afraid to be public about it (at least the few I talk to).  That’s usually because we often receive extreme backlash and even more calls for people to pray for us.  Personally, I’ve even received many a message trying to change the way I think.  That simply isn’t going to happen for me or anyone like me, so please don’t try.  Please accept us for who we are and don’t look at us as an enemy or someone to change.  Remember that we enjoy life every bit as much as you do and we struggle at times too, the same as you.

I know some of what I am saying may seem unbelievable, even unconscionable, to those of you who take pride in your beliefs.  I’m simply asking that you respect those who do not believe the same as you.  I’m only trying to open up everyone’s eyes to the fact that not everyone believes in the same thing.  I’m hoping for a realization that calls for faith and prayer are not deemed universally helpful to everyone.   I am extremely happy that your religion and faith are something that helps you, but they’re not for me, and that should be ok.  Understand that we fight this disease too, we still have a lot in common, and there’s a lot we can learn from each other.

Devin

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Gracefullnot
    2 years ago

    Great article, well said. I would love to share it with people “in my circle” because you put into words what I struggle with. If you don’t mind me sharing, will you also tell me how to?… I’m not kidding, very technologically challenged here. and I little frustrated that I had to sign up for this site to leave a comment…smh

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Grace! I’d love for you to share, if you look under the title, there is a section of buttons next to “Share” that you can click on to share on various sites.

  • debrakay
    2 years ago

    I feel the same as you do. I am so glad you are writing articles here. I love your point of view.

  • pippin
    2 years ago

    Thanks for saying this. I appreciate the kind thoughts behind “I’ll pray for you”, glad folks find comfort in their faith, tired of everyone assuming we all feel that way.

  • tuckandtuck
    2 years ago

    Wow! You took the words right out of my mouth . . . thank you for the honest and insightful piece. I rarely (never?) see anyone posting about disease/illness from this vantage point, and I appreciate that you did. While I’m grateful to anyone with any type of kind words directed toward me (I’ll pray for you, keep the faith, etc.), it’s wonderful to hear plain and simple words of encouragement and kindness without the assumption that I share the speaker’s preferences. I always just say ‘thank you’ and would never comment otherwise. To do so would be rude, in my opinion. As far as my ‘beliefs,’ I believe in taking action, I believe in taking responsibility, and I believe in doing the right thing, even if nobody else is looking. I have a longer list, but those are the big ones for me. I hope you are doing well and that your struggles are few this day!! All the best. —— Raedon

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks so much Raedon! I very much appreciate your comments. I too have rarely seen anything like this, even though it’s what I always think. I was so worried about backlash when I submitted it but it’s been refreshing to see people be so accepting of it! Thanks again!

  • ArtistWithMS
    2 years ago

    Hi Devin,

    I completely respect your viewpoint and I appreciate you sharing it because it never crossed my mind (duh).

    I choose to believe in God and Jesus. Before Jesus ascended into heaven He gave us a new Commandment and that was “to love one another as I have loved you.” So I try to live this way. And “try” is the operative word…it’s much easier than fighting my way through.

    Who are we to judge others believe systems? I like John Lennon’s song ‘whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright, alright…’

    Having said all this, I want you to know you are in my thoughts and I’m sending positive energy your way.

    Peace ✌️
    Louise Miller

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks so much Louise! Appreciate you taking the time to comment! Seeing how so many have approached this post is refreshing. I think no matter what we all believe or don’t believe in, it’s very nice to see accept others and stay positive. That certainly gives me some hope for this world!

  • saddison
    3 years ago

    You should live in the South! lol I am a Christian, and I am in a wheelchair. However, that does not mean that I welcome strangers coming up to me in public places and asking to pray for me right then and there in front of everyone. As in introvert, I find this embarrassing, and it has happened to me multiple times. Sometimes, I have been so shocked that I have allowed it, At other times I or my husband have welcomed the person’s prayers in the privacy of their own home or church, and strolled away. People should respect other’s beliefs, personal space, and privacy. I enjoy your articles, and am a faithful reader.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you so much saddison! This is a fantastic point! Regardless of what you believe, having someone say they’ll pray for you can absolutely be embarrassing, not to mention make you feel bad. I think this is something that’s happened to so many of us too!

  • Drew Swan
    3 years ago

    Devin,
    I have been reading your blogs for quite some time, and can’t thank you enough for how much you have helped myself and my family open their eyes to MS. I first want to say I appreciate and respect the courage it takes to speak on this topic. I would also like to say that I would like to myself tip toe around this topic because I am a firm believer in my faith in Christ. It deeply saddened me to hear some of the replies, not all of them, but the ones who spoke about this world being a better place if people didn’t pray to a non exsist deity… I’m not trying to ruffle feathers here I just want the other side to be heard, because maybe y’all might be surprised but it’s not the non believers getting persecuted and killed over having faith. It’s never been easy for me as a Christian , I work in a place where my religion is completely disrespected and I sit back and say to myself, I served in the military and deployed to fight in the war, I did that so that people could express their thoughts and have the freedom to do such. But I can’t count how many people I run into that bash me, and say how could you believe in that garbage – and I won’t get into why I do on here but I have plenty of reasons. So just know that I respect all of you who decide not to believe, because it’s a freedom I put my life on the line for. I will put an end to what I’m saying, and hope I don’t get to many people angry, but know I just wanted to toss my opinions as everyone else was doing. 🙂 thanks devin and I’ll be sure to keep reading your posts because you help us all out

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you Drew! I very much appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts on this. As I hope I conveyed in my post, I respect everyone’s believes. Whatever works for you. I think both sides here have witnessed some persecution but what everyone needs to remember that most of the time, this isn’t a choice for anyone of us. You believe or you don’t and it’s always going to be hard to sway people from one side to the other. The fact is, it’s hard for both sides because that’s unfortunately how people are. If anything, I hope (I at least tried) to showcase one side without being really critical of the others. Just to say, hey, there are two sides, but we can all get alone. As history has proven, that’s not an easy thing to do. Just know that I respect your beliefs and I hope that all of us can find respect for each other.

  • Lisa
    3 years ago

    Again, Devin, you have written so well about something i have been feeling. Thanks for this piece.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much Lisa! I appreciate hearing that!

  • Barberintex@me.com
    3 years ago

    I get the flip flop thing but not telling the hubby about that one.

  • joannmaxwell
    3 years ago

    Hi Devin. It is interesting to hear you say that a lot of people you meet talk about their faith. I have found the exact opposite to be true!! I was concerned that no one talked about faith and MS that I wrote a book chronically how my faith has allowed me to work through the grief and find emotional and spiritual victory.
    Thank you for your writing–I always enjoy your posts!!

  • lcal
    3 years ago

    Hi Devin
    Thank you for your article as you took the words out of my mouth. I am a person who basically keeps to myself and I tend to connect with ppl be it in person or through writing that I feel an intellectual or emotional connection with which affords me to open up. You, for me thru your writing of experiences is why I had finally logged in months back with an account of my own. Thank you for the connection Devin. Again you took the words out of my mouth so I have nothing different to add to you thoughts in religion. Except…..I am spiritual, different from religious and THATS OK IN MY BOOK

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you so much lcal! It’s wonderful to hear from you!

  • djeanl
    3 years ago

    I am not one to write or in fact talk about my MS Journey with anyone. I saw your article and it hit a nerve thus my reason for commenting. If I did not have faith I would not have anything to believe in, or a reason to go forward. When I was a child I was told It is better to learn about and believe in God, than to not, my road would not be easy in this life but faith would give me the strength I would need to get thru. For if you believe you have nothing to lose. You will only gain (hopefully) the gift of peace. And believe me this life with MS is anything but easy, which I know you all understand and my faith is how I am able to get up each day and to face this world. So I guess what I am saying is it not better to believe and find peace thru him, than to be bitter and angry and worrying about tomorrows. At least it has been for me.

  • Artanis12
    3 years ago

    I’m a bit more harsh about this issue than you. The fact that you had to say “Please finish the article before you get angry with me”, (angry??), that you know some of them find the way you (don’t) believe “unconscionable”, and then have to pepper the piece with pleas to the faithful to quit trying to change you, not to see you as an enemy, and to please respect you, says absolute loads to me, your politeness notwithstanding. Clearly, the type of people who have been praying for you ARE doing it for themselves. Those who aren’t, don’t get their knickers in a twist at the idea of someone having a different view of life than they do.

    You might have gathered by now that I’m of your mind. And I actually do have several very devout friends, in spite of my heathenish ways. I know for a fact, they pray for me, but they also don’t announce it to me, which is why they have been friends of mine for so long. If they did, it WOULD be about them, because the type of somewhat coercive and conspicuous religiosity you describe (it practically demands your agreement does it not?) is very rarely about the person that is the object of the announcement.

    Unlike my tone in this, like you, I am generally gracious and don’t ruffle feathers IRL. But it IS annoying at times to have to be the one that is tippy-toeing around their feelings all the time, when you’re the one dealing with the disease. And yes, just being a friend and actually helping with time and/or company, or a simple “Thinking of you”, is far more appreciated than announcing you’re passing the heavy lifting off to some deity so you can feel like you’ve done something meaningful.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks Artanis12, appreciate the comments. My pleas to keep reading and don’t try to change us were more for the people I don’t. I had liked to think my friends and family already had some sort of idea about how I felt about these things (though that clearly wasn’t the case). My biggest hope for this piece was that strangers who maybe never gave it much thought, would get through this and hopefully have their eyes opened a bit. It can be a difficult topic to address with a wide range of people. So my hopes are that if I did tippy toe a little bit here, that they’ll take it as a sign of respect and then offer me the same. Thanks so much for the comments, very much appreciated!

  • PVANN
    3 years ago

    Thanks for posting this. Don’t feel alone in this. There are many non-believers out there. I was raised by an agnostic/humanist mother and an atheist father. This is something I have pondered most of my life. I am not silent about my lack of belief, but not confrontational about it. When people offer to pray for me, I thank them. When I people want me to pray for them, I reply that I am thinking about them and hoping for the best.

    Things have changed a bit since I was a child, People do not try to convert me anymore. when people ask about my faith, I tell them. When people assume my beliefs are the same as theirs I tell them I am a non-believer.

    My husbands response always cracks me up – “I am an apathist. We don’t hold services. Even if we cared enough to go, no one cares enough to give the sermon.”

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much PVANN! Appreciate you reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. It’s very nice to hear from other, like minded folks!

  • ElleKay
    3 years ago

    I’m gonna go read all the rest of your posts. The first two I’ve read so far hit really really close to home. I also am not a believer. So it was nice reading this. We are definitely all in this together.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you ElleKay!!!

  • westwind
    3 years ago

    Hi Devin I hope your doing well. My friend/significant other is atheist and I was born Jewish and now claim and i believe and try to be a good person/spiritual. It is perfectly okay to believe what ever you chose. I think those people that have difficulty giving you the respect you deserve are very shallow. How would they feel if their beliefs were challenged and they were told all that they believe was a lie. I bet that would make those folks very uncomfortable. Everyone should be given the right to or not to believe as they see fit. I read tarot card and believe in reincarnation, does that make me a witch? This is my attitude “I am who I am and if that is a problem just keep on walking” Your life choices are yours alone . LIVE LIFE TO IT’S FULLEST ENJOY EACH DAY LIKE IT’S YOUR LAST AND THOSE NAYSAYERS CAN GO FLY A KITE.! No judgements.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you westwind! Very well said!

  • MarcieKim
    3 years ago

    Devin, thanks for sharing! You should never feel afraid of sharing your beliefs and opinions about anything and I hate that you were concerned about people’s reactions. It’s so important that we talk to each other. As a Christian, I once stuck my foot in my mouth trying to comfort a friend from another religious background. I still cringe 25 years later. We each see the world through our own lens. Thanks for sharing us a peek through yours.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you Kim! Appreciate you reading this and sharing your thoughts!

  • poetgirrl
    3 years ago

    Devin, thank you for having the courage to write this. It’s hard, especially in America, to be in that non-religious minority, and especially when one has a chronic illness that can also be isolating. I’m much older–70–and my parents’ generation is gone now, which makes it easier for me, but I remember having a few conversations with my father that were very difficult, although I don’t think I ever told him the true extent of my non-belief. Religion has always struck me as way too convenient, such an obvious attempt to protect ourselves against the unknown. And yet, as another commenter said, as I get older I’ve come to see that I don’t know everything. I believe in the sacredness of life and love, and right now that’s enough for me. I wish for you all good things.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you so much for commenting poetgirrl! I very much appreciate you sharing your experience with this. As you have mentioned, it’s very isolating and hearing from others who fee the same way is so comforting. Not just for me, but anyone who reads this, so thank you again!

  • Makbawehuh
    3 years ago

    Thank you for this lovely article. I was planning a post on just this subject for world MS day last year, but was unable to complete it due to an attack. I grew up in a family of the faithful and, having already been disowned, I don’t have much to fear from being outed as an atheist. That said, I appreciate how difficult writing a post like this can be, and I laud your struggle. No, you aren’t alone in tackling this without faith. Good luck, and stay strong.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you Makbawehuh! Always nice to know we aren’t alone!

  • Nobu
    3 years ago

    Hey Devin – great article. I not religious at all, but grew up with a sort-of practicing mom and a not-anything dad. But the practice has little to do with my lack of religion – and that was an idea formed long ago.

    Being good, wise, caring etc. has little to do with religion, but it has everything to do with humanity. I say practice what you like as long as it is for you. Like hiking and camping – do no harm, take only pictures, leave no trace. Everyone garners strength from different methods. To me, that is a construct of what works for each of us.

    I choose to believe that my attitude and activity has some level of impact on how I face MS but not necessarily on how MS treats me. Since I don’t have a full notion of what MS entirely is, I choose to put on my shoes, take things at a workable pace for me, and well, damn the rest.

    But I will by no means tell someone else how to live their MS or life as long as they grant me the same courtesy. Life is too short and so very complex to let those little things be a barrier. Happy Spring and may your MS be manageable today and always! Nancy

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you so much Nancy!

  • Michelle
    3 years ago

    I’m first off going to applaud you for speaking up on this subject It takes a considerable amount of cottage to do. Thank you for starting to bring about some discussion with thus subject.

    In the hopes of adding to people’s understanding, I’ll add to it, though i think you pretty well hit the proverbial nail on the head.
    I grew up Catholic, but let’s just leave it at the short story…”confirmation classes” and the priest was the point of “this isn’t for me”. I’ve met many good people of faith, and I’ve met just as many not so good people. I quickly tired of all the hypocrites in religion, and to ‘ve honesty, out had totally turned me away from any organized religion.
    I get a lot off the “I’ll pray for you” as well. I feel the same way you do. I know they mean well, and leave it at that. But I also want to scream that i don’t want to be prayed for. I want to have someone learn more about MS , or come do some cleaning for me, help me get outdoors so i can recharge “my inner self”, or just have some understand that going to the local park just doesn’t do it. I want people to stop looking at me and presuming things. There are so many other options besides an “I’ll pray for you”, it feels empty and like an excuse to get away as fast as they can- ehich most do, and which is why I probably hate that phrase. By the way, for those who feel the need to run as soon as you learn i have a chronic illness, dont bother trying to be polite, everyone sees through it, and if your an adult afraid of being around someone with a chronic illness, well I don’t want to be around you and your unenlightened, shallow, negative self either.
    I think we have all had those who try too push their faith off on us. Again, agree with your opinions on this too. I especially don’t care to hear “well did you ever think that this is your punishment for not believing and worshipping God”? (that was from some stranger who started out all concerned about my walking “funny”…) They apparently don’t like the answer of nope, and/or i don’t believe a God goes around giving people major illnesses either.
    I’ve learned to be very careful as I lean more towards the pagan beliefs. There are extremists there as well, but it’s generally a much more accepting place. I think my family has gotten the hints, well my mother has, and seems ok. Not sure about my sister… Anyway, hopefully your family, if they read this, embraces you and your beliefs. It is a difficult subject for anyone who isn’t of strong religious beliefs as they are so many that go for a full attack on you. I really wish they would do more showing of those beliefs and less talking!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you so much Michelle! I very much appreciate you taking the time to talk about your experiences, it’s helpful to see that and know I am not alone!

  • Dimitri
    3 years ago

    I grew up Christian  (Greek Orthodox), but have considered myself an atheist for most of my life.  I used to be one of those conceited atheists that thought they knew everything. 

    But in recent years I have begun to question my opinion.  This is not the ms talking either.  I started questioning my atheism  pre-ms diagnosis.   Perhaps it was some sort of ms psychosis though.  Hahaha. It was during a depression I had.  I was just thinking that I had to change my outlook of the world because this one wasn’t working for me.  I didn’t embrace religion (cuz that would be silly) haha, but I accept the fact that I don’t know everything.  So from there I made the leap to there may be a greater power who has the word set on autonomous mode or something.

    I’ve always been a person of science, but if you look closely the more science learns the more questions arise and the weirder the universe looks.  And if I think too much it will only send the brain spinning.  I just have to have faith that the universe will be here tomorrow (for some reason).  I respect everybody’s beliefs nowadays.  Believe whatever you need to to get through the day.

    Unfortunately I think religion has corrupted faith.  I find it difficult to believe that God has a human form.  I think God would be more like a consciousness. Then religion turns around and anthropomorphosizes God.  Damn.  Hey this is all too confusing.

    There are theories like biocentrism that I find interesting. Though that’s kinda egocentric to think the universe was created by the human brain.  I’m starting to lean towards Elon Musk’s Plato’s cave theory where we’re living in a computer simulation. Sometimes when the ms kicks in and my eyes are acting up I can totally relate to an ultered reality.

    At the end of the day though, I believe in positive energy.  I don’t do this purposely.  I think I’m just naturally optimistic or naive like that.  I have a hard time conceptualizing nothingness.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you Dimitri! Like you, I’m sure, I’m constantly reading up on different theories. I certainly understand that at some point, my view might change. I’m always looking for answers, I’m always thinking about it, and it is all very fascinating to me. I will say this, by and large, my responses to this, have been much more positive and accepting than I expected. These days it seems more and more people, at least on the news, are not very accepting of each other, but so far, seeing the way people have been responding, it fills me with hope!

  • teddy s.
    3 years ago

    Devin,

    It does take a lot of courage to talk about the things you have here, especially when the people you interact with don’t know how you really feel about these things. When they discover your beliefs, you may think that they will not respect those beliefs, or you, but I think that those who truly respect and admire you will continue to support you no matter what. And those who would abandon support for you once they discover your true feeling on faith and God are hypocrites. I know many people who feel the need to mention God in almost every conversation who, in reality, are very bad people.

    I, too, am a non-believer, and their are few, if any, of my friends and relatives who know this. It is not because I am ashamed of this, but I also don’t believe I need to “get up in anyone’s face” about it. I wish the people would profess their faith would do the same.

    You took the time to reply to my post in the caregivers forum about my situation with my fiancee. So many people who I have had conversations with tell me I am a “gift from God”, or how God gave her me to help her through her life. Out of respect for their feelings, as much as their beliefs, I accept their statements though I do not agree with them. I know what they mean, and they mean well. For that I am grateful.

    I will emphasize something you mentioned above to those who try to change our beliefs: “Please accept us for who we are and don’t look at us as an enemy or someone to change.” I know there are those that claim they have “seen the light” at some point in their life. I have seen my light, and she is now lying in a hospital bed, waiting to die.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Teddy, thank you SO much for this message, it means a great deal to me. I really appreciate it and I hope that things are as good as they can be for you right now.

  • qvh5op
    3 years ago

    Devin, thank you for writing this. I agree with everything you’ve said.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you qvh5op!

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