When I was in physical therapy after my car accident, something my therapist said to me stuck fast.
I was working my hip flexors to be able to walk without assistance and to realign the muscle and bone structure of my legs. To do this, I had to lay on my side and slowly raise one leg as high as I could for a certain number of counts before bringing it back down.
While that may sound easy (especially if you have strong hip flexors), the technique of it was difficult. One of the key points of the exercise was to relax the muscle after each lift instead of keeping it contracted (which didn’t work the muscles properly). I’d been doing well at going through the exercise (like thirty lifts a leg) when I learned that I had been doing them wrong and had to start over. As I did them correctly, the number of reps I could do dropped to 10-15 a leg — less on my weak hip.
Then my therapist threw me a curveball. I had been counting from the first rep (obvious, right?) And ending on whichever I could reach, up to whatever number I had been told to aim for (thirty at this point). At the beginning of this session, he came over and set his hand on my hip as I lifted and he asked “does it burn?”
I had been getting stronger over the last couple weeks, so I could answer “no.”
He nodded, took his hand off and said, “okay, these ones don’t count. I still want you to aim for thirty, but don’t start numbering them until they burn. That’s when it matters. That’s when they’ll really count.”
In that moment of course, I absolutely detested the poor man. It was hard enough to walk around on crutches all day, now I had to do thirty reps in incredible pain? He was nuts. It was horrible, my hips burned and my legs shook, but I pushed through as many reps as I could physically lift my leg. And once I mastered thirty, he added more.
At the end of these sessions, I could hardly walk. Often it was all I could do to make it to the waiting room, and I would need someone to assist me out to the car, or I relied on my walker. My legs trembled like you wouldn’t believe and man oh man did my hips ache. But suddenly my recovery was accelerated. In a matter of a couple weeks, I had improved 50% over what was projected. When I left the rehabilitation center initially, I had been told that I probably wouldn’t be out of a wheelchair for three months, and likely wouldn’t be walking for another three-six months after that (which would have been my graduation ceremony). Not only was I out of my wheelchair in a few weeks, I was walking within a couple months.
So why am I sharing this?
I believe that this is an important philosophy to understand in all walks of life. When I started working out again, I drew on this experience to help me push through workouts — if it didn’t hurt (obviously not in a serious, health concerning way) it didn’t count. If I didn’t end my workout collapsing on the floor, I pushed my way through another one. If I was sore the next day, I forced myself to not cheat through the sets.
But in other areas of my life, I cheated.
Namely, my faith and my philosophies.
I was comfortable speaking out about the things that were kosher and bland — the things that pretty much everyone knows and most can agree with. The things that didn’t make the majority of people uncomfortable. It’s easy to say where god is in my personal experience of faith. It’s easy to jump on board with #alllivesmatter. It’s easy to passively share cryptic memes/photos/quotes without stating my own personal feelings on the matter — just enough to make people wonder but not enough to make them ask.
If you follow me on Facebook, I’m sure you’ve seen that recently I’ve grown to be much more outspoken about my political views, but it wasn’t until a couple days ago that I realized how important it is to own where I stand in the world, even if that means challenging what I think I know.
This past week, for the first time in my entire life, I questioned the existence of god. I didn’t question his power. I didn’t question his love. I didn’t question his words. I questioned his actual existence.
I questioned whether I could truly believe in a god who ordered his people to murder men, women, and children. I questioned whether I could believe in a god who allowed my family to struggle to the point of despair. I questioned whether I could believe in a god who allows such terrible injustices as a toddler being beaten to death and her killers given sentences like 3-15 years. I questioned whether I could believe in a god who has allowed thousands of people to be killed in the last couple years by acts of terrorism, both domestically and internationally — and yes, I consider every mass shooting an act of terrorism. Suddenly, everything seemed fuzzy… My absolute certainty that god existed was gone. And I felt the way I imagine many children feel when they learn that Santa was a myth — you build this beautiful image up in your head of some great idea and when you learn the truth, that image suddenly withers. It doesn’t just *poof* away in a cloud of glitter and leave you a little sad that it’s gone. It dies, and shrinks into a black, cold, bitter mess of twisted vines that lead nowhere.
After seeking some advice in the situation, some conversation prompted me to remember that instance in physical therapy, when my legs shook and the muscles burned and I was starting all over again.
I realized that through the years, this is exactly what has been happening with my faith, and I believe in everyone’s faith. There comes a deciding moment when everything hurts, everything shakes, and the thought of continuing to push through is impossible. Not just difficult, but impossible. You can’t remember why you started in the first place and you’re certain that if you stop now and find your own way around, it will be so much easier. But these, these are the moments when your strength is building. It’s not the moments when you are certain you can achieve all, when everything is happening the right way, when you don’t have to worry about the future. It’s the moments when everything has fallen apart, when nothing makes sense, and when you have no idea how to keep going. That’s when it hurts. That’s when it starts.
Recently in a discussion regarding allowing the Syrian refugees asylum in the united states, someone asked how anyone who calls themselves a Christian could insist we turn them away. Someone else who identifies very strongly as a Christian replied that her faith and her political views had nothing to do with each other. I jumped in and shared my own opinion on that matter, which is this:
If you are a Christian, if you truly claim to follow Christ, your faith should have everything to do with your political views. Regardless of whether you call yourself liberal, conservative, republican, democrat, green, independent, moderate, whatever, if you are not looking at the world as Jesus would, you’re looking at it incorrectly.
In saying that, I believe we must apply this exact same philosophy to growing our worldview. No one can be blamed for starting out with opinions, prejudices, and beliefs that they were raised with and taught, but learning should never stop there. If we aren’t challenging ourselves and our friends, families, and peers to stop and ask themselves the hard questions — even if their answers remain the same — how will we ever have any measure of strength in the world?
In finding my faith challenged to the absolute limit, I realized that all faith is is a form of unconditional love. I choose every day to love my husband, even when he has made it impossible, even when he has walked away from me. Obviously, I can’t question his physical existence, but I can question the existence of the person I am supposed to love. So even when I couldn’t make my brain wrap around the idea of a god incarnate who exists yesterday, today, and forever, even when I couldn’t find any promise in Jesus as his son, I chose my faith.
I choose to share that faith, even though my voice may be shaky. Even though I may still question and wonder and fight.
I choose to share my philosophy on the world, even though it makes me feel weak. Even though my stomach ties up in knots and I get an anxiety attack at the thought of seeing my notifications.
By speaking, by shaking, I am growing stronger. Though I may stand next to someone whose voice is bigger, tone is more sure, words more practiced, I know that I may still be the stronger one, because I will keep pushing through every trembling word.
I won’t start counting until it hurts.
With all my love,