There’s a well-known Christian allegory about a man walking along a beach with God. As they’re walking together, he looks up and watches as scenes from his life flash across the sky. In every scene, he sees footprints in the sand. Sometimes there are two sets of footprints, his and God’s, but sometimes there’s only one.

The man notices that during the most difficult and trying times of his life, he could only see one set of footprints. He asks God, “You said if I followed you, you would always walk with me. But why weren’t you there for me when I needed you most?” God replies, “During the hardest times in your life, it was then that I carried you.”

People who leave their religion are sometimes left with a feeling of loss. They might find themselves wondering, “What now?” What will become of the purpose and direction they felt in their lives? Where will they turn for guidance and comfort? Even this story seems to emphasize that God is a necessary part of one’s life.

But in doing so, it also diminishes a person’s own strength and resilience. You see, even though the experience of life without God may be new to them, the reality of it is not. The real twist of the story is that God was never there. There was always one set of footprints, and they were yours.

Through every struggle and triumph, every success and defeat, everything lost and gained, you carried yourself. It wasn’t God, it was you. All of the courage, all of the resolve, all of the endurance you would attribute to God was your own doing. You were the one who found meaning in your life. You were the one who found the strength to go on. You were not weak. You were not helpless. You got yourself through it all, without God to help you along. You did it before, and you can do it again.

Giving up the belief in God doesn’t mean losing everything it gave us. It means finding all of this within ourselves. We never had to look above for someone to carry us. Everything we needed was right here. They were our footprints – and that’s exactly how it should be.