I read your article last week about members of some religions not being comfortable with non-member neighbors. I wish you would tell me how to tell my family and friends that I have decided to leave the religion I grew up in. I started attending another church this last year and I know my family isn’t going to be thrilled about that, so I have been hiding it. But it shouldn’t be this big a deal, right? I don’t know why I am scared to tell them, but I am. I know it’s fear, like you always say, but how do I get past it and just get them to respect my choice. Any advice that would help me?
I have received this question a couple of times before, so it’s time to answer it. And you are right, it is a fear issue. Some people have compared the fear around this, as close to the same fear an LGBTQ+ person experiences coming out of the closet, as it brings up similar fears of rejection from friends and family. The first step is to get clear about what you are really afraid might happen when you break this news. See if any of these fears resonate with you:
- They will think less of me
- They will think I am wrong and being deceived
- They might try to change my mind instead of respecting my choice
- They will think I am going to hell and freak out
- They might be insulted because I think what they believe is wrong
- My friends might not want to be friends anymore
- My friends might lose respect for me because they think I am wrong
Here are some things to think about that might help:
Some of those fears are unlikely to happen. If they are really your friends, most people don’t care which church you attend. If they do care and can’t love you where you are, they aren’t really your friends. There are also new people around every corner, and changing your friendships now and then isn’t all bad.
What others think about your choices, your intelligence, or your values doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t change anything about you. You are still you, with the same unchangeable value. Opinions are just flimsy thoughts floating through the heads of other people, they have no power to do or mean anything — unless you give them power. Don’t give them any power.
Decide that the only opinion that matters about your life is yours. No one else has to live with those choices. They may have thoughts about your choices but, in the end, they won’t think much about your life. They have bigger problems in their own lives to worry about.
When you make a decision that other people disagree with, you have two options when you interact with those people: You can approach them afraid of rejection because of this difference — and you will probably be defensive, quiet and tentative about being around them — or you could approach them the same loving way you always have. You can stay in trust that your value is the same as everyone else’s no matter what you do. You can then stay in a loving, outgoing, open state where they will feel your love, not your fear. The way you approach your friends and family will determine the way they respond to you and your news. If you are the same you, it makes it easier for them to be the same them too.
Try speaking your truth to someone in your life that you know is very loving and accepting first. Follow the procedure below to speak your truth lovingly with each person in your life:
- Ask them if they are in a place right now where you could talk to them about something sensitive. Ask if they could hold a loving space and show up for you because you really need a friend who can. (If they are busy or distracted, wait until they have time to focus on you.)
- Ask them, “Would you be willing to tell me what you love or appreciate about me?" Let them share. Thank them for the love and support they give you.
- Tell them what you really love and appreciate about them.
- Ask if they would be willing to let you share something that has happened in your life and if they would be able to love you through it, even if they don’t agree with your choice. Wait for an answer.
- Ask them if they could not try to judge you, change your mind, or try to convince you you’re wrong. Could they just listen and support you? Could they give you that? Wait for an answer again. Asking permission questions like these are asking them to show up for you in exactly the way you need. This is a great way to create a space where you feel safer to speak.
- Share your story and let them know this isn’t about thinking they are wrong and you are right. It’s just asking them if they can respect and honor your choice and still love you, as you are going to respect and honor their truth and love them.
Reassure them that you are going to be fine and you would really appreciate it if they could trust it will work out fine in the end and focus on their love for you instead of their fear. Tell them you really want to maintain a close relationship with them and you know this can and will happen if you both focus on love instead of fear.
The funny thing about religion is there is no ultimate source of absolute truth about God or the afterlife. Even though people say they know their truth is the truth because they feel it’s truth, they can’t prove it. This means we are all choosing a belief system that feels right to us. We cannot prove we are right or that anyone else is wrong. So, we should allow each person to follow the dictates of their own heart and should not push our beliefs on them, nor should we try to make them wrong. You might remind them of this truth and ask them to set aside any fears and trust that we are each in the perfect classroom journey for us.
If you are rejected (which I highly doubt you will be), choose to see even that experience as your perfect classroom journey. It would be a great growth opportunity and a chance to focus on owning your own value and not caring what others think.
You can do this.
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