I smell like chlorine and my hair is a mess of damp tangles, but I feel victorious.We’ve just arrived home from a trip to the gym.
I hate the gym. I know there are many, including quite a few of my friends, who call the gym their “happy place.” For me, a trip to the gym is like walking willingly into a lion’s den.
Wandering a charcoal gray carpet lined with all types of confusing machinery takes me back to the insecurities that haunted my teenage years. I stare at the various pulleys, pads, and bench seats while my mind begins focusing on just how inadequate I am to be in the center of this place. I’m weak. I’m out of shape. I have absolutely no idea how to use equipment other than the treadmill, the elliptical machine, and the swimming pool.
I clutch my water bottle nervously and plunk my rear end on the nearest bench. With many quick and hopefully subtle glances, I try to make sense of the instruction panel adhered just above the weights. Do I push or pull with my legs? Do my arms move up and down, in and out, together and apart? Sitting there, eyeing the other obviously more skilled participants in this ludicrous ritual, I attempt to shrink even further into myself. I. Feel. Like. An. Idiot.
So, I hate the gym. I’ve avoided it for the better part of a year until tonight when I decided to take my boys to the pool. While using a bathroom stall to change into my swimsuit (because changing in front of other women in the locker room just adds to the anxiety), I took a deep breath. I knew my body needed this. My feet, my back, and my mind scream at me daily – reminding me that the only way to get in shape is by using my body, but the old fears still rise within me.
The boys and I did make it out of the locker rooms and into the pool. We swam a few laps. We played a few games. I kept my mind focused on them – the two little men who needed to see me calm and collected so that they would feel safe in this new environment, too. And it worked. They had a blast. Me? Well, that’s one trip down.
Off and on throughout my life, whether as a child, a teen, a wife, a mom, a teacher, or a friend, I’ve felt like I just don’t fit – like I’m forever wandering a workout floor without a personal trainer.
Growing up, my parents and brothers enjoyed math and science. We discussed theories and new discoveries at the dinner table. While I tried to hold my own in the conversations, my mind often wandered a different path. These meanderings led to a rule of sorts. After a conversation ended and the others moved on in their discussion, I might want to add to the original topic. I rolled my comment around in my mind, thought about the steps that led me to the point I wanted to make, and explained my thought process before stating the main point. This way, the others could truly make sense out of my whimsical wanderings.
For instance, one little daydream that sparked this “rule” occurred when I was about 14. On a rainy fall day, my family had been discussing the creation of rainbows and the science behind them as we gazed at the rainbow in the sky that followed the recent downpour. As we talked, my brothers threw around words and phrases such as “color band” and “refraction.” Eventually, they ended the conversation while I entered my little imaginary world. Out of nowhere, from their perspective, I asked, “What if each color of the rainbow was a different flavor? What would the flavors be?” Of course, the others in the car just whispered, “What?!” My comment didn’t fit with the way their math-and-science brains moved. Math, science, and the gym are not gifts for me, nor are they talents. Mostly, they are necessary evils.
Let me clarify: I can do them. I’ve learned how to mold my words, actions, and thought processes to fit into those environments, but they are not really me.
On a recent trip to visit a few friends, I began applying the old rule of explaining my thought processes. After so many years practicing that skill with my family, it has become second nature. And it has served me well in many circumstances.
But these circumstances were different. As I sat on the sofa in our little rental cottage, my two traveling companions came and went from the room as they settled in for the night. I’d been quiet for a few minutes, lost in my own thoughts until I came to one I wanted to share. Instinctively, I began back-tracking and explaining.
“You know? I noticed something.” One of my friends commented when I’d finished sharing. “You seem to begin your conversations with ‘Okay, so I was thinking about….’”
I explained my process to her and the reason behind it.
“You don’t need to do that with us,” she smiled, “we understand completely.”
I was stunned. Never had I been in a situation where the others in the room understood me in that way. I had friends who thought like me! Their brains wandered in similar directions! For once, I didn’t feel odd and strange and, well, weird. Because I’m not.
Those insecurities and inadequacies I felt as a teen in so many situations were all in my head, just as they are now. Just because my perspectives and thoughts are unique doesn’t mean they lack value or worth. Thinking the way I do – seeing the world as I do – doesn’t make me less. It just makes me ME. And God created ME to be ME.
Of course, I need to continue learning and growing into what that truly means, just like I need to learn how to use more pieces of gym equipment. In an exercise room, each piece of equipment isolates a part of the body and focuses on developing a particular muscle. Every muscle is designed with a purpose, even those we think we don’t need or we rarely use. By focusing on them individually, the entire body becomes more powerful. Similar to sitting down and working at a new tool in the gym, God will continue to place me in challenging situations or present me with new opportunities for growth, and I’ll need to reshape and mold my spiritual muscles in order to develop my gifts and my talents to gain more confidence in who I AM in Christ.
This is why I count tonight’s trip to the gym a victory. It is not my happy place. It doesn’t feel like ME. But I grew a little bit tonight in my understanding that it is my own perspective that limits me. I am reminded in the book of John that if I remain in Christ, He will remain in me. And apart from Him, I can do nothing. In Him, I can conquer anything. Even the gym.