As a boy, I remember thinking there was nothing as stupid or irrelevant as anything having to do with God. The Lynches were atheists. Dad progressively pushed to get us away from celebrating Christmas. His ultimate act was to have us open gifts the evening before. (Way to stick it to the man, Dad!) He brought home an aluminum tree in 1957 and we put it up every year through the late ’70s, after over a third of the limbs no longer had tinsel. Most of our few ornaments eventually slid to the center. Other kids had sprawling, flocked trees with color wheels, popcorn, cranberries, and shiny ornaments, all animated by the warmth of nearly endless strands of lights. The Lynches had sticks shoved into a pole, covered with shredded aluminum foil. I tried to not have friends over during December. Dad made sure we received mostly educational gifts or underwear, so we wouldn’t get enthralled with the holiday. Nothing says Christmas like unwrapping a bag of thin dress socks.

As a kid, every picture or statue I saw of Jesus depressed or spooked me. His eyes followed me, like he was trying to get my attention so he could tell me off. “Hey, you, kid. Yeah, you. Look over here at me! Wipe that grin off your face. I’m carrying the weight of the world, and you couldn’t care less … I didn’t come to earth for you.”

I was never supposed to get Jesus. I was sure God was, as Karl Marx had said, “the opiate of the masses.” Everything about me cried out against everything to do with God.

Except this thought I couldn’t turn off …

Awakening: No matter how diligently parents try to train a child in the absurdity of faith in God, they can’t stop his voice: “What if I’m here, after all? What if I think about you every moment of the day? What if I hold that magic your heart keeps waiting to be true?”

It followed me at night, on walks home. It stayed with me through the years when I mocked his name. I lived my entire childhood claiming to not believe in a God I secretly wanted.