Patience and perseverance are not two of my strongest qualities.
Unlike some of the Olympian greats, I prefer not to work hard, push through tough circumstances or wait extended periods of time to arrive at what I want.
I prefer instant results with the least amount of work and discomfort possible. (Someone write this on an inspirational poster.)
Max and I have been working out together lately, and I am fairly certain he has started to realize that getting me from the parking lot of the gym to actually being inside the gym requires much more emotional and physical energy than the workout itself. The 100 yards from the car to the gym doors require a mental toughness and the patience of a practicing Monk.
The monk and me in happier times.
Last week, we had to run into the store before working out, and I told him I wished I would get caught shoplifting and taken to jail so I didn’t have to work out.
*Disclaimer: I do not steal and have never stolen. This simply illustrates the emotional turmoil I experience the minutes before working out and the lengths, in that emotional state, I feel I would go to avoid it
I came up with many ideas of things we could do besides work out: eat, snack, lay around and watch TV; all of which sounded much more appealing than the gym and would feel much better in that moment.
On the walk from the car to the gym, I can come up with 10,000 reasons not to enter it.
I’m too tired.
My brain hurts.
I have other things to do.
I hate it.
Sadly, there have been many times I literally arrive at the gym, pull in the parking lot, park and then turn around and go home. No thank you.
But Max held firm to our scheduled work out, knowing full well that in one hour, when the workout was over, I would feel energized, happy and proud of myself for being physically active. It would be worth it for me.
We get into the gym, change in the locker room, and I meet him by one of the machines to begin the experience of physical activity. After just a few minutes, I whisper
“How much longer until this is over?”
Max just looks at me.
However, without fail, as I begin to put in the work, break a sweat and get active, I feel so much better. The endorphins start flowing, and all of a sudden I announce how much I love working out and how maybe I could even train for a marathon or do one of those 30 day cleanses to purify my system so I could be a spokesperson for healthy living.
Again, he just looks at me as I have gone from one extreme, preferring prison over the gym, to sudden motivation to push my body to the highest level of athleticism. He knows we will go through the same emotional roller coaster together in 2 days. He continues lifting.
If I have learned anything over the years, I have learned that my emotions and my feelings cannot be used as tour guides or directors for arriving at what is best for me.
In the past, some of the best paths the Lord has placed me on felt like way too much work and and way too painful. Many of the best decisions I have made were often the most terrifying and the most uncomfortable. Choosing another way would have felt so much better at the time.
Looking back now, Praise Jesus I fought through that pain and held on. His greatest blessings came through my biggest disappointments and challenges that felt horrible.
Look at the stakes in this tree: I bet that tree is pretty uncomfortable. He wants to be free of that discomfort and stand up on his own. All the other trees look big and full and healthy, and these stakes feel as if they are getting in the way of that. But those stakes are designed to support, protect and make the tree stronger in the long run, allowing roots to grow. He will feel full and healthy when he makes it through this. Although momentarily painful- enduring this season is important for this tree if he wants to withstand the winds and storms that are coming his way. His roots have to be developed and strengthened. It’s not his time yet.
While making decisions based on feelings may satisfy short term discomfort, like the stakes in the tree, long term joy and fulfillment comes when you push through tough situations, do the hard, but right thing, and hold fast through the discomfort.
Unfortunately, most times in our lives, the results are not as instantaneous as how we feel pre-workout and post-workout.
A lot of times, like the tree, you may have the uncomfortable stakes in place for years before you can see why they were necessary in the first place.
How many times in my life have I thought I knew what was best for me?
I can actually answer that question by saying almost every single day.
Almost every day of my life, I could believe that what is best for me is what would make me feel good at that moment.
What quick decision or step could satisfy this longing, desire or discomfort?
In the case of right and wrong: agreeing with someone and not standing up for something I know is Biblical because it feels yucky and offensive.
In the case of friendship and relationships: holding on to bitterness because forgiveness feels so much harder.
The hard conversations that would be easier avoided.
In the case of the gym: going home and laying down with a jar of peanut butter.
Clearly I am using the gym as a deep and academic metaphor for the times in our life where God is using a little bit (or lot bit) of discomfort to achieve a purpose bigger than us.
Something where you know God has you there for a reason, but it would be super easy to take the escape route to avoid the pain.
But what is God doing in the discomfort and the stretching?
What purpose or lesson is God teaching me or using me for in that season?
There are many situations in life that feel so uncomfortable at the time, but prove to be the very things that shape us and grow us and mold us.
Throughout my life, I have done everything in my power to manipulate circumstances to quickly achieve whatever the desired outcome was. God usually takes longer than I prefer, so I have been known to take a step before the path is ready.
The results are usually faster, but never, ever better than the outcome God had waiting for me.
Like clockwork, my premature actions trying to band-aid and quick fix my momentary discomfort results in a messy explosion, me laying my plans at His feet and Him ultimately having His way in me. His better way.
My human tendency is going to always be to try to weasel my way out of discomfort to get momentary relief, or an illusion or cheap substitute of what I want.
To take off the stakes that are supporting me and developing me. To leave the gym as soon as I get there because I’m in a bad mood. To leave a situation before God is finished working on it.
I’ve been on a journey the past few years to stop letting my ever-changing emotions make decisions for me.
The walk from the car to the gym can be a long one. You want to turn around and take the easy way out. The stakes might be uncomfortable. You want to remove them.
But I’ve learned, and am still learning, to grow in the discomfort, push through the things that don’t always “feel good,” and believe that when it’s all over, I will look back, stronger, happier, healthier and so very glad I didn’t go home to snack the night away on Schuler’s cheese (with a hint of horseradish) and crackers.