I was an Unhappy Atheist
How believing in God made me a grateful person.
When I was 12, I decided I was an atheist.
After all, I had prayed to God multiple times that my parents wouldn’t get divorced, and they still did. When my Catholic grandmother would drag me to church, I’d be incredibly bored; if God was so magnificent, why was church awful?
I didn't have a strong religious background or education, so letting go of God was easy.
After I made my atheist declaration, I believed everything was in my control. If I was having a bad day, it wasn’t the universe was trying to tell me something; that was on me. And since I was the one who controlled my destiny, I got anxious whenever things didn’t work out. No greater power was watching over me, protecting me, so I felt all alone in the world. I didn’t think there was any sort of afterlife and got down thinking about the eternal nothingness that I was someday going to experience. Life became pretty meaningless.
I did what I had to do – go to school, get my homework done, and, as I got older, work part-time jobs to support myself – but I was rarely joyful about life. By the time I was a junior in college, I was going to weekly therapy sessions because I was having panic attacks. I was anxious about boys, about grades, and above all, about my future. I’d get sad on the weekends when there was nothing happening on campus, and I’d stay in my room, all alone, sulking and binging on pizza. Whenever I didn’t do well on a test, it felt like a huge setback. If it was rainy outside, which it often was, I got upset.
Upon graduation from college, I met Daniel, a Jewish comedian who was no longer observant but still enjoyed going to his local Chabad for Friday night dinner. The first time he took me along with him, I felt the palpable joy in the room as the Lubavitchers and their guests sang Shabbat tunes and excitedly talked to one another while eating delicious food. This was the kind of joy and community and warmth I needed in my life.
I kept going back to Shabbat dinners and discovering more about Judaism. The wisdom I learned resonated with me and I began to see how Judaism's framework for living could provide a structure and moral guide I needed. I was fascinated by the stories in the Torah, which played out in my head like a movie.
There was no definitive time when I knew, for sure, that I was no longer an atheist. I just felt God when I was at that Shabbat table or learning Torah. It felt like serenity sweeping over me. It made my days better and gave me hope. Instead of just relying on myself, I knew God was there, watching over me, and ensuring I would be okay. I became grateful for all the blessings in my life, of which there were plenty. They were no longer mere accidents. Focusing on the good things showed me just how great my life really was.
When I decided to pursue an Orthodox conversion to Judaism, Daniel decided to become more religious and return to his Orthodox roots.
Throughout my conversion process, I noticed that my mood was shifting. I was still in therapy and practicing self-care, but I saw how being a believer amplified my efforts. If I was having a bad day, I could talk about it in therapy to feel a little better, but ultimately, it was up to me to say, “God, I believe that everything that happens to me is for a good reason,” and try to improve my day as much as possible.
Now, 10 years after I started on my conversion process and five years after I formally became a Jew, I am happier than I’ve ever been. I wake up every day with a great attitude, and I’m ready to conquer what’s ahead. I don’t let the little things overwhelm me; I can control them as much as possible by staying calm and centered, but I can’t change everyone and everything around me. I treat myself right, and I have trust in God that everything will be fine. I pray for the big and small blessings because I know God has the power to transform my life.
I don’t know where I’d be without Judaism – probably still miserable, not enjoying life, and being bitter about what I didn’t have. Instead, I focus on what I do have, I live every day to the fullest, and I am excited about all the joys life has to offer.