Dear (family member),
I know it upsets you that my beliefs have changed. I no longer identify with the faith in which you raised me, and perhaps this brings you shame because you are inclined to assume personal responsibility for the direction my life takes. Maybe it even feels to you like a personal betrayal. It’s not, by the way, because this isn’t really about you, is it? It’s about me.
You also may fear for my soul, and it makes you unspeakably sad to think that after we die you will go to heaven and I will not be there with you. I no longer believe the same things you do about that either, and for that shortcoming you might even believe that I will be brought back from the dead just to be punished, perhaps even perpetually. That doesn’t really make sense to me, but let’s leave that aside for the moment and instead talk about how sad this makes you. I want to ask you a question about that and I hope you’ll take some time to really think about the implications of what I’m asking.
Do you believe that you will miss me in heaven? If you are going there and I am not, do you expect my absence to cause you sadness then and there, in that place?
It seems to me there are two options. If you miss me in heaven, and if this causes you pain and sadness there, then heaven isn’t really what you were promised it would be, is it? You can’t exactly have every tear wiped away if you’re sobbing for my absence the way you sometimes do now. But what’s the alternative? That you won’t miss me in heaven? Will you get there and forget that I ever existed? Will you remember me but feel no pain for my absence? Am I such a passing element of your life that you will spend eternity not missing me at all? Can you truly be happy in heaven without the ones you love being there?
Suppose for a moment that you will be just fine. Suppose that you will not miss me, and you will experience no sadness for my absence at all because heaven is supposed to be free of sorrow and pain, right? If that is the case, then shouldn’t you be letting your future state of mind affect you in the here and now? Isn’t that something you were taught to do? The Bible speaks of your trials being “light and momentary” compared with the weight of glory that awaits you, and it suggests that you should let your future way of seeing things impact the way you see them now. It tells you to “set your mind on things above” and not on things below because your current state is temporary and your future state is permanent.
Does that really work? If so, then why can’t the same principle apply to soothing this sadness by considering that you won’t feel a thing once you’re in heaven? I know you feel sadness now, but don’t your beliefs teach you that you won’t feel sadness in the afterlife?
I wonder if you really believe that? I mean I know you want to believe it and you were taught to believe it, but do your instincts tell you otherwise? Doesn’t it strike you as somehow wrong that someone you love will be gone, and you won’t feel a thing?
Perhaps you’re okay with that. Perhaps you feel completely confident you won’t feel any pain, in which case you have nothing to worry about. The light and momentary sadness you feel now will be more than made up for by the oblivion to my absence that will one day replace your grief. In that case you have something to look forward to, and you should take comfort in this assurance from your faith.
Unless it’s not really that comforting at all. Because maybe it isn’t. And I don’t claim absolute knowledge or omniscience, but I would like to suggest that your instincts tell you this doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make any sense that all your loved ones will reunite one day in heaven, and your whole family will celebrate new life together…except not me. I’ll be left out, presumably because I didn’t believe the right things, or whatever you believe my cardinal shortcoming may be.
Whatever the reason, it seems to me you have two choices: You can do what the Good Book says and trust that your sorrows will be brief and will soon be replaced with rejoicing (in which case what are you worried about?), or you can follow your own heart now and conclude that what you’ve been told will happen to me (and to you) makes no emotional sense. Either way, something isn’t right.
It grieves me to see you suffer the way you’re suffering. I want to ease your pain, and from my perspective your suffering is totally unnecessary. It also puts something between you and me that strains our relationship unnecessarily. So please do both yourself and me a favor and reconsider whether or not your pain is based in a notion that cannot be questioned. Ask yourself the questions I’ve asked and see if there’s any hope for looking at this differently. It would mean the world to me if you could.