Knock Yourself Out


I had convinced myself that I didn’t believe in God, that religion was a joke and a way for people to justify their bad behavior that happens between Sundays. It wasn’t a theory I came to lightly, but for years I have had a hard time even looking at bible verses, let alone subscribing to the philosophy behind them. I was hurt, broken, and felt betrayed by a religion that I had built my life around.

There are very few people that I have shared this part of my life with, the part of me that gave up on trying to understand why a higher power that I had been told to pray to and also had been planning the hardest times of my life, supposedly from the time I was born. I have been very selective with those that hear my story, both because I wasn’t sure I actually believed it and also because of how personal of a decision it was for me to walk away.

Before Justin’s diagnosis in 2011, I had been an active member of my childhood church. I grew up going to service on Sunday morning, was an angel in the Christmas Eve pageant, was an active youth group member, and continued mission work well into my college years. It was that building where I met my husband and built our relationship, it is where we were married, and was an extension of my home. When, after only 15 months of marriage, at the age of 28, Justin was diagnosed with lymphoma my faith flatlined. The more that I had heard that “it was all in God’s plan” the more hurt I felt, and couldn’t come to understand why anyone should have to endure that kind of pain. Associating struggle and pain with the faith I had invested so much in broke my heart, instead of turning to my faith to help pull me out of the struggle, I cemented myself in the stance that it was all a joke. I didn’t fault anyone for believing, but for me, it no longer made sense.

The few people that I felt safe enough to share this with were supportive, understanding, and let me dwell in my feelings. I felt no judgement or push from them. They listened, shared their story, and encouraged me to stay positive. Even in my positive space, when I felt comfortable with the decision I had made, I felt doubt lingering in my resolve. I would hear someone mention staying strong in their faith, hear scripture, see someone lift themselves up through their relationship with God and it made me wonder how they stayed so committed and optimistic. I began to contemplate visiting a Sunday service, sitting way in the back of the sanctuary, hopefully unnoticed, just to see how it felt to be back in that space. The only time I got the courage to go was to attend a funeral for a family friend,  someone taken from this earth way too soon. Not the best way to break through the wall that I put up. That was fourteen months ago.

Last week when Justin’s grandfather asked if we would attend that Sunday’s service where he would be honored as a veteran, I said yes with no hesitation. Of course we would go and stand with his grandfather. Inside I was curious of how I would feel walking back into the building that I know so well, conspicuously attending a service we’ve missed for the better part of the last five years. We sat with Justin’s family, stood up in front of the sanctuary behind his grandfather while he was honored, and listened to one of my favorite people give her second sermon as the Head Pastor of the congregation. In the midst of my anger, my hurt, and my avoidance, I forgot how much I enjoyed to listen to her preach. She has an incredible way to make you feel like you’re having a one-on-one conversation, magically she picks up on the single topic that has been weighing heavily on your heart and mind. It seems like she is just up there chatting, those of us that know her know she spent countless late nights preparing for this very moment. Her opportunity to reach all of us in the room, and inspire us to keep moving forward for the week ahead.

On this particular Sunday, a little unexpectedly, it was like she was speaking right at me. I had forgotten about her ability to pull you in, read your mind, and put you at ease. With the presidential election finally over, we were a country divided, and a country in need of love, kindness, and understanding. I had walked into the sanctuary that morning feeling drained and unsure of our future, scared of the actions being brought to light after such a polarizing electoral process. She shared a story from her own personal life, about a time where she was asked “What’s your story?” and had the opportunity to not only share, but learn about the culture of the life of the serviceman sitting next to her. It was an opportunity for understanding. If only we could all go through life look and speaking to understand, we might not feel so divided. If we could “knock ourselves out with kindness and love” we might be able to break down the walls in between us. I smiled, made a note on my bulletin, and felt a little thawed from my time away.

I am still not sure that I have all the answers, maybe no one does, but I know that going through life feeling betrayed isn’t going to inspire anything other than frustration and anger. I refuse to live my life in that way, and I absolutely refuse to create those feelings for myself. On a beautiful November morning, I felt a little less hurt and a little inspired by the message put forth to the congregation. Knocking ourselves out with kindness and love.

5 thoughts on “Knock Yourself Out

  1. Beautiful and honest. I love it. And BTW, all that stuff about God’s Plan and Everything Happens for a Reason are all flat out lies. It’s our imperfect world that deals us shit. God is there to help us handle that shit. When we feel lost and disconnected, it’s because we have walked away from God, not the other way around. But, he is patient and will wait on you forever! That’s pretty awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Emily…I just read your post about Sunday… tears in my eyes of gratitude for “sharing your story” so vulnerable and beautiful with all of us who love to read your reflections. It’s real. All of us can find something within it to relate to. It is never God’s plan to cause us any harm or ill will. That’s not who God is.
    The charge at that sermon’s conclusion was for all who heard it to share their story trusting that doing so would make a positive difference to others, even on the storyteller. You have done both. Thank you Emily! Sharing it with us makes us all stronger and it inspires and challenges us to “knock ourselves out with kindness” when we wake up each day going to all the places that day takes us and leading us to the people we encounter. In the church we use one word over and over again: “together.” We go together. It’s Biblical. No lip service or “pie in the sky” mantra that comes up empty. Its relationships that matter. Jesus calls us all bothers and sisters. Military and First Responders who were honored last Sunday show us in such a tangible way how to serve without reservation for the united purpose of the whole (not divided) country. They keep at it. The Christian Church needs to keep at it because its what Jesus has called us to. Our country needs hope. Hope is “a favorable future under God’s direction.” Emily your story gives us hope to, not one time, but every time to sit down to write.
    You mentioned your childhood church. In my childhood church my 5th grade Sunday School teacher taught me a mantra she said really helped her keep the faith when life/the world seemed full of adversity. Those days when she got discouraged about not doing enough or wondering if her one voice, one life, could make a difference to anyone. I will never forget it: “Do your best, pray that it’s blest and let Jesus take care of the rest.” So simple when the world gets so complicated. It’s harder to practice than it sounds but it fits. 37 years later I still say it and try to live it. She did make a difference in this world and in my life. Why? She lived it. It is a constant reminder to me that the task ahead of us is never bigger than the God behind us .
    My Sunday School teacher’s story all those years ago. Emily, your story shared with me tonight in your post. Seeds planted and growing to bring greater faith, hope, and love out of me, out of us all.
    Hey Em! That minister you spoke of…you make sure she keeps giving those sermons her all even if it takes all night! After all, that’s part of the deal when we “go together.” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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