‘I’ll pray for you’
By Je-Woo Im
Five years ago, my family and I immigrated to California from Korea in hopes of better careers and academic opportunities. Coming into a diverse neighborhood of the Bay Area, we were able to easily find a Korean-American community. The people, unironically consistent with American dramas that portray Korean-American societies as strongly Christian (e.g. Kim’s Convenience), were connected through their unified belief in God. Accordingly, we were invited to join a Christian church despite our strict atheism.
In a foreign land where much was unknown to us, the security of friends, community and a weekly dose of homemade Korean food was tempting. Even aside from some friendships that could be easily made up for at school, I envied the opportunities that churches provided for their members, such as music groups and volunteer trips. In retrospect, I believe it is entirely wrong for someone to feel pressured to join a church for the social aspects rather than the religion itself. At the time, though, seeing my friends take international trips to volunteer while I spent my first few summers at home not knowing what to do, I resented my parents for rejecting all the church offers.
My resentment, however, soon changed course. Three years ago, my sister was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease where her immune system attacks her own organs. While her future was compromised and my parents were staying up all night for weeks researching what she could do to improve her situation, all that our relatives and friends could say was, “I’ll pray for her.” Even my own grandma told us to pray each night and that God would help us. Looking back, this wasn’t ill-intended, but at the time, the seemingly impractical words and advice that they gave us frustrated me.
Unable to withstand the weight of my sister’s disease, my mom spiraled into depression. I was a junior in high school, and, despite the rigorous course load, a varsity crew practice schedule, and club activities, there was no one in the household but myself to wash dishes, do the laundry, cook food and feed my mother. I was half-forced to become the caretaker of my family. As I barely kept my nearly-falling-apart family together with little sleep and dwindling morale, my grandma continued to advise me to pray each night. This time, my frustration and anger over the impracticality of this advice was much more extreme, for God, if he existed, was surely not helping.
Instead, the internet provided me with sensible ways to help combat the illnesses that my family were going through. I played the viola for my mom every night after making her dinner, an
d I made time to go out on a walk every other day with both my sister and my mom to stimulate the production of stress-busting endorphins. I paid close attention to what I cooked — particularly to the balance of protein in our diet — because these details were critical in helping my sister’s immune system recover. Ultimately, these efforts paid off, and both my mom and sister are doing much better now.
To be clear, I was and am very appreciative of the kind words that my religious friends and family gave me through hard times. Nevertheless, as I pursue my dreams of becoming a caring physician, the basis of my knowledge and beliefs in science will grow increasingly important as I deal with life and death situations without God’s help. To truly help the ones in need, I choose to believe in the solid foundation of knowledge rather than religion.
Je-Woo Im, 18, attends Northwestern University as part of the honors program in medical education. In high school, Je-Woo was on the crew team that won the national championship in 2019. Je-Woo also took part in multiple medical-related internships.