You likely know this well-beloved hymn, but here's the story behind it.
Whatever you do, don't give up on your atheist friends. Love them. Talk about your faith, if they are willing. Pray for them. My husband was once an atheist. Many other Christians were too:
"They came to realize that they could only tear down and thus were left intellectually with no habitable place to live. John Henry Gordon, who held the only full-time, salaried secularist lecturer position in England, came to believe that secularism was a creed of "mere negations."Read more of atheists who go on to believe in God here.
Don’t say “I’m sorry” if you regret the consequences, but not the action.
Don’t say “I’m sorry” unless you fully intend never to do it again.
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
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(ht to Betsy)