Early on in her deeply affecting account of how she arrived at a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ, author Deirdre Reilly tells readers, “Many of us haven’t felt good enough for a true, deep, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual friendship with God or His Son. Or, we haven’t ever known how to begin a search for the true Christ. Or, we honestly think it’s just a lot of hooey.”
“Guess what?” she goes on. “You are good enough, and so am I. No matter what state we are in. Right now—right now this minute.”
In her new book, The Pretend Christian (Crosslink Publishing, June 2021), Reilly shares her path from “a pretend sort of faith” to “an eternal relationship” with God.
It’s a rich journey, rife with real-life ups and downs. Her journey in her Christian faith is one that readers of all denominations and faith practices, and of all ages and stations in life, will appreciate and enjoy—and likely return to, again and again.
“I really think the Holy Spirit helped me to write this book, and to access feelings, memories, and past emotions—some negative and uncomfortable—that allow others to see themselves in my journey,” Reilly told Christian News Journal in an interview.
“That’s the power of the Holy Spirit,” she also said. “It isn’t about me, but about others, those who need Christ’s love.”
Reilly is a writer, editor, and mother of three sons based in the Boston area. Her work has appeared in CBN, Fox News, Dallas News, the Boston Herald, and many other outlets.
During a phone interview with CNJ and in a follow-up email, she shared more of why she wrote The Pretend Christian—and what she hopes all readers will take from it in 2021 and beyond.
CNJ: Many people keep their faith struggles or feelings inside, shielded from the wider world. Why did you choose to share your own faith journey?
Deirdre Reilly: I have always had a heart for those who are unsure of faith or have no faith, because that’s a lonely and even scary place to be, and I have been there. As I say in the book, thinking that you and you alone are responsible for your own happiness can be overwhelming. This book is for the hopeless, the uncertain, and those who feel unseen. They are indeed seen—by God. Also, I’m at an age where I care less about what others may say and more about sharing anything that will bless others and enhance their lives. So I am trying to put to use the only skill God gave me—writing!
CNJ: You stress that it’s the relationship with God that matters—that it’s far more important than any particular church we attend, or particular denominations. Why is that so important?
DR: Many of us have been trained to center our faith within the walls of the church, I believe. The community, inspiration, and positive feelings we get from being in a church community are terrific and important. The Bible tells us to worship in community. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” But this is never a replacement for a one-on-one relationship with God and His son, Jesus.
During the pandemic, we lost our ability to go to church, instead worshipping online or alone with our Bibles and prayers. It’s during these times that we realize church attendance isn’t enough—we need to go deeper, building that relationship with God. It isn’t always easy, as we sometimes feel as if we’re speaking into the void when we pray, but we are not. God is working “behind the scenes” in our lives, always creating a future that is in our best interests, and that shows His love and intimate care for us.
I have seen it too many times not to believe it. As the relationship deepens, you will begin to see God working in your life, which is amazing.
CNJ: You also share stories and examples from within your own family—allowing the reader to connect with you on a very personal, human level as you share your faith journey.
DR: Yes. My grandfather, for example, was never comfortable in church, but he was a committed Christian. It was in his personality to worship differently, and God understood and honored that, I believe. Many cannot go to church due to physical constraints, and they are not overlooked or unseen by God. It is in our personal relationship that we find the tenderness and intimacy from God—a loving concern from the Creator of the Universe that goes with you everywhere, unconstrained by a church’s physical walls.
As a side note, my grandfather was a very talented engineer—and his son, my uncle, was a pastor, and asked him to record the church services. So my grandfather ended up in church after all, doing something he loved that also benefitted the church community. That is God working everything out!
CNJ: You share as well how you worked hard to teach your three sons about God throughout their young lives—including the poignant moment when you told your oldest son, Fred, who was then 14, about how God is with him in every adventure of his. Your son then responds, “Why have I not heard about this God?” Tell us more about that.
DR: That was such a special moment! I had been concentrating so hard on teaching my sons about God’s rules that I neglected to talk about the multiple dimensions of the Almighty—that God loved each of them unreservedly and was with them in every endeavor in which they found particular joy, the things that made them feel alive. For Fred, at that time, it was snowboarding, and God suddenly prompted me to explain to my son that God was there, cheering him on as he flew down a snowy trail. God is in every healthy, adventurous endeavor, and He delights in what delights us.
He is not just a God of rules—but a God of encouragement, joy, and limitless passion for us. He loves us so much that He allowed His Own Son to be a sacrifice for the wrongs of mankind. We can hardly take in that type of love.
I will add that I hadn’t been able to express this dimension of God to my sons because I hadn’t yet experienced it myself—I hadn’t had my moment when Christ became real to me. So all I could share were rules. I was “being a good Christian” by attending church, teaching children about God’s love as a CCD teacher, and praying (when I remembered to).
But after my moment with the real and living Jesus, which I detail in the book, everything changed. I understood why Christ is critical to faith—and just how deeply I am loved, despite all my faults and failings. How freeing that was! But it took me years to get there.
CNJ: For those who struggle to believe in God, who remain filled with doubt, what are your words of advice and encouragement about faith?
DR: First, it is absolutely OK to be a doubter; it is part of the human condition. God understands all our emotions, and Christ experienced being both human and divine, so human doubt is nothing new to Him, either. God will meet you where you are, if you invite Him in. You don’t have to be perfect. You can have grave mistakes in your past, and your life can be full of failure, pain, discouragement, disappointment. It is of no consequence—God wants you, and He created you for a purpose! Your life is precious to Him, no matter what state you’re in.
Second, approach God in whatever way feels natural to you. Even if your prayer is simply, “I don’t know how to pray, but I need help, God, please come to me”—if you are sincere, God will be with you.
Like any relationship, you will have ups and downs in your faith walk. But just as you don’t give up on a spouse or child when the relationship feels fragile, God won’t give up on you. Ever. Ask God to send the right people to encourage your faith, and He will. I found faith—and my dearest hope is that others meet the life-changing Jesus, too. I hope for others to have the baseline peace that I now experience every day. I know I am loved by God, which sees me through.
CNJ: You also say forthrightly that committed Christians have a “special duty to represent Christ well, in word and deed.” Can you elaborate?
DR: How many people have been turned off from Christianity by popular pastors and preachers who “claim the faith” but act in ways contrary to it? How many have been repelled from faith by various priest-abuse scandals? Poor behavior by leadership ends up with hearts broken and faith betrayed. That said, no one is exempt from redemption—so there is hope for every man and woman, no matter what the sin.
As Christians, if we listen more, empathize more, and reach out without judgment, Christ’s saving love will shine through us. God will do the heavy lifting in converting souls. It is our job to assist Him by sharing the Gospel, by being a true friend to the overlooked, downtrodden, and dispirited in life, and by being real with our Lord—admitting our sins and striving to stay away from committing them again. There is a wonderful life just waiting for those who doubt. I pray they take the first steps to making it a reality!
“The Pretend Christian” is available through Amazon and other outlets.
Share your thoughts on this story and other stories on Christian News Journal’s Facebook page here.
For more news and stories of the day from Christian News Journal, click here.
Maureen Mackey is a writer, editor, web content executive, and regular contributor to CNJ.