Strength Training

Strength Training

Clearly no one desires difficulties in life, but I’ve heard lots of folks say that they’ve benefitted from the challenging experiences they’ve lived through. I know I have. I can look back and see how my character was honed through the trials  in my life.

Peter Marshall tells us,

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” 

Growing stronger spiritually and emotionally  parallels with strengthening our bodies.

“When properly performed, strength training can provide significant functional benefits and improvement in overall health and well-being, including… improved joint function, reduced potential for injury, increased bone density, increased metabolism, increased fitness, … etc.”  Wikipedia

I keep thinking about lifting weights and doing planks. It’s a shame that my ruminating hasn’t strengthened my body one iota. I’ll develop  habits for awhile, then I get busy or bored and the routine flies out the window. That kind of exercise isn’t fun for me. It takes effort and pushes me beyond where I’m comfortable. I like my comfort.

When I was growing up I was always riding my bike or walking. I never thought of it as exercise. It was my transportation. We weren’t a particularly athletic family. I got a message from my parents that if something is hard you should quit. Don’t take risks. Stay safe. Stick with what’s easy on your body. Don’t “overdo”. Rest.

Physical strength training is crucial and I know it’s something I need to incorporate more into my life. Now, however, I’m focused on the stretching and strengthening of my faith muscles. I’d prefer lower impact training that allows me to follow my familiar routines–to find my way around in the dark when I need to. I want to grow as a person; as a Christ follower, but I don’t want the growth to be painful. Always to love more and emulate Jesus, but not to make major changes. Such as looking for a place to live amongst strangers, in a new area; while losing the secure place I’ve lived for so long.

Apparently God likes change. He seems to plunk us down in strange uncomfortable circumstances where life doesn’t flow naturally and easily. And maybe we can’t even find the toothpaste.

I think of the great heroes of our faith who gave their lives to pave the way for us. The patriarchs, the prophets, the disciples, as well as modern day leaders. Why shouldn’t I be pushed and prodded beyond comfort to attain greater depth and purpose? When did I get the idea that growth is easy?

My dear parents loved routine so much. I would roll my eyes and say to my daughter, “Please help me stay flexible and not get stuck!” Here I am, totally understanding how they felt. I’m not as rigid with daily schedules, but, inflexible about moving? Yes, same.

So that’s what has me lamenting today. The tension between comforting sameness and change which will undoubtedly bring desired growth. Prayers are often answered in ways we didn’t imagine when we prayed, “Please change me, Lord”. “Help me to be more loving— to be less selfish.”  Thus, the transitions that have unwittingly come upon me.

Today I’m thankful for the still small Voice. The One who never fails. I sense Him saying to me to take a step in the direction I know to go. I won’t “feel it” yet, but as I go it will eventually become more and more natural. Stay focused on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Consume the Bread of Life; the Word, like my life depends on it because it does. Spend time with caring like-minded friends.

I recently heard someone say, from a cross-training perspective, when you’re exhausted you’ve used 40% of your capacity. A similar truth can surely be applied to our emotional and spiritual selves! I now know that our muscles, whether physical or otherwise, will not strengthen without going beyond the comfort zone. I still have 60% of my potential remaining!

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.

Charles Spurgeon

 

 

 

 

How to be Strong

How to be Strong

I was feeling weak and vulnerable. Awake most of the night, I was anxious about house-buying decisions and transitions; then dragging around in a fog early the next morning,

When I showed up to take care of Eliza, Mary and John read my expression. Sharing with them briefly through my tears, and hearing their responses eased the pain.

I began to see some things differently in the light of day. I recalled the times I wish I’d asked for support; when I swallowed hard and acted strong and together. It wasn’t arrogance that caused me to appear unruffled and unemotional. I believed my stalwart demeanor was expected and even required. Everyone has challenges and no one wants to hear me complain about mine, I thought. I was self-conscious about my labored droning on and wasting someone’s time.

I never set out to be the strong one.

When I was a single mom of two young kids I pushed my emotions down deep inside. It was my responsibility as the care-giving parent to keep it together. I was worried that my son could be harmed by my debilitating emotional pain. I was the sole provider, working two jobs at times. I wanted to show him what I knew to be true: that God is a good Father and He would see us through.

My daughter with autism was ultra-sensitive to other’s emotions, and reflected what she perceived. I was extra vigilant when around her (and still am!) as her expressiveness could be very difficult to corral and manage.

Recalling my childhood I don’t remember ever talking about feelings. The unspoken message was to be quiet and good. We knew our parents loved us unconditionally, but it wasn’t exactly in vogue to share feelings.

Once while walking with my friend Cynthia, I casually mentioned how hard it had been staying up all hours of the night with Dawn who couldn’t get to sleep. It was an ongoing problem for years. It became routine; Tom and I would take turns staying up to keep her calm and try to coax her down to bed, sometimes not getting her to sleep until daybreak. It was horrible! Cynthia stopped abruptly and said she’d always wondered why I’d never complained about raising my special daughter. She didn’t know how I’d kept it together.

Another clue that I was holding it all inside.

I remember a pastor discussing what it’s like to have a broken heart. Without warning, I broke down in a way that I’d never done in the past and haven’t since. I hurt so deeply inside and couldn’t quit crying. Every memory demanded my attention. That very day I’d had such  difficulty managing Dawn’s behavior so I could attend church. I cried so much that morning, experiencing such pain but ended up feeling freer somehow.

When my sweet mom passed away a few years back, so many griefs from the past seemed to tag along right beside the recent grief and loss. I promptly felt the pain of an earlier divorce, of raising a cognitively disabled child who needed constant attention and raising a son without his father. As I looked back, I actually felt sorry for that girl who endured so much pain and wished it could have been different for her.

Evidence of storing the pain away.

Recently, days apart, I bumped into two acquaintances from church. In each case, when I asked, “How are you doing?” each indicated that she was doing terribly. One began to cry. I felt grateful for honest answers! I really cared. I like to pray specifically for folks. The Lord used them as examples for me. I realized that there are people with whom it’s okay to cry and talk about my distress.

I still haven’t figured all this out but I want to be better at being honest. To not stuff emotions until a meltdown occurs. But to look at things in my life and take risks to share my burdens with others. I’m glad to do that for friends and I know there are folks who’d do the same for me!

I’ve begun to see true strength in a different light. I’m strongest when I’m transparent and honest with others and allow them inside my pain. To let some light in.

Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:16