In my first year of grad school, I took a foundational Theology class. One day my professor listed some famous atheists, and described their theories of why God doesn't exist. After explaining them all, she asked for thoughts. I raised my hand and said "it seems to me that before their unbelief came belief- a belief in a God of a particular type- that is, they imagined who God was, or who God should be, before deciding that God wasn't what they thought He should be."
Atheism is fascinating to me, in much the same way as walking a tightrope without a net. Aside from my love of God and real feeling of God's love for me, I acknowledge that to live without the comfort of believing that there is more than this would make me panic. In a real way, I need to believe that there is more, better, waiting for me and for my loved ones, or I don't know how I'd get through life. And I do believe it, and it does guide the way I live.
I remember in my mid-twenties, realizing that I just shouldn't call my mother when I was upset about something. As lovely a person as she is, she just couldn't give me what I wanted when I was sad. I wanted "poor baby" and she could only give me "get over it." It isn't her fault, it is just who she is. It was my ability to shift my understanding of her that set me free from constantly being disappointed in her, and to know her better- who she really is.
In the same way, I remember just a few years ago, having an epiphany driving in to work one day. I was thinking back at some of the very tough times and difficult experiences that I'd gone through in ministry, and realizing how much I had learned. But the big AHA was this: all that time, when I had been asking God to fix things and make my life easier and more pleasant, He was instead, teaching me. I had been looking for a God that would rescue me from pain, and He had been, all the time, a God who was a mentor- a teacher and companion.
Again, it was me who changed- I was the one who realized that I had tried to imagine God in my own image, to fit my desires. It would be comforting to have a God that supplies all our wants- but instead I know that God was relating to me in a way that I truly need. Every week at Mass we recall the persecution, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. It occurs to me: if God wasn't a God who would intervene to stop the suffering of His own Son, why did I think He should intervene to stop mine? Realizing this about God set me free from constantly being disappointed in Him, and to know God better- who S/He really is.
Don't get me wrong, I would love a pain-free life. But now I am comforted by the belief that God mourns when I mourn, laughs with (and at) me, and reveals God's self to me through everything I experience. It has changed my prayer life- I don't really ask God for things in prayer anymore, but rather I turn to Him to share my life with someOne who loves me infinitely. I am still learning about God.