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).
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.