If you were to stop by my workplace most days around noon, you would most likely find a group of us gathering in the fitness center to have the school trainer torture us for about 45 minutes. It makes a huge difference in my day, and I am always grateful, even in those moments when I complain. The only time I really cringe and want to run away is when the trainer tells us to grab a couple sand bags. Each bag is about 30 pounds, and I hate every second of every exercise. We start by carrying two bags across the gym which feels like simulating a panicked walk through the airport when you are about to miss your flight.
The other day, the trainer took a workout sled, flipped it over onto a towel, and filled it with two sandbags. He explained that we would push the sled from one end of the gym to the other.
I grasped the handles, took a deep breath, and pushed. Nothing happened. I tried again, pushing harder, my feet running in place like an animated cartoon character. I was going nowhere fast. In spite of the encouragement from others, I couldn’t move forward. The trainer, filled with pity, traded one of the sand bags for a smaller weight, and I slowly made my way across the gym.
Sometimes the burdens of life can feel like trying to push a sled filled with sandbags. I struggle and wrestle and try to get to a better place, try to make progress in my struggles and yet, I often just stay in the same place, never moving forward, feeling like I am running in place.
Sandbags can be many things. Maybe finances, or illness, the loss of a job, a broken relationship, a difficult teenager, unimaginable pain and grief. When we take the time to slow down and consider what we are carrying, it can be surprising and overwhelming to realize all that we are cramming onto “the sled.”
Is there any way to do this well? Does having faith in God in the middle of our struggles make any difference?
In the book Struck, Russ Ramsey writes about a time in his life when he was faced with the possibility of death. A bacterial infection attacked his heart, and he had to have emergency open heart surgery a few days shy of his 40th birthday. Ramsey describes the process of healing in the cardiac rehabilitation center and explains that five minutes on the treadmill can feel like a marathon. He writes, “Rehab is a mysterious process. I cannot heal myself, but I can and must participate in the that process.” (p 98)
He continues: “I regard cardiac rehab as a spiritual assignment. It is a spiritual task to put in the work of rebuilding a broken life. We are all either resisting or cooperating with the process of rehabilitation – physical or otherwise. There is something holy about taking up the task of stewarding a life, especially our own. If we come to this work at all, we must come with humble expectations and a willingness to be led. We submit to the process, trusting that the science is sound, even when what we’re called to do hurts. The benefits of cardiac rehab far outweigh the pain.” (p 99)
Spiritually, I think life can feel like cardiac rehab. We face brokenness and pain and working through it feels daunting and exhausting. Some days we dread the work and wonder if our efforts are making any difference at all. Vulnerability and remaining present in the pain often feel like running in place and getting nowhere.
I was especially challenged when Ramsey said, “We must come with humble expectations and a willingness to be led.”
It is easy for me to do this at a lunchtime workout. I trust that the trainer has designed a workout for my good and even though it feels difficult, I push myself to participate. When I couldn’t push the sled, I whined, but was still willing to say, “I can’t do this. It feels impossible, but I don’t want to give up. Could you please help me?” And the trainer did. He didn’t say, “You don’t have to do this.” He simply adjusted the burden and said, ‘Keep pushing.’”
It seems interesting that I am willing to submit to the authority of an athletic trainer, but resist the authority of the Lord.
So often when things are difficult, I strive to deal with the pain on my own. When faced with resistance, I have thrown up my hands and said, “I can’t do this. It doesn’t feel worth it,” but never ask for help. My tendency is to want to figure things out on my own and carry the burdens alone.
In Matthew 11: 28-30 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
When Jesus tells us to come to him with our burdens, he doesn’t promise to take them away and make things easy. He promises to give rest to our souls. Trusting him with our burdens first means that we are willing to bring them to Him. We spend time with him, honestly sharing our struggles.
Let’s go back to the workout word picture. Some people have told me that they might like to come to the lunch time workout, but they worry that they won’t know what to do or feel like they aren’t in good enough shape to join the group. So they never come. Some come and they feel really sore the next day so they think, “That didn’t work out well. I am never doing that again.” But some come and stick with it, even when they are uncomfortable and eventually it is a part of their day that they don’t want to miss.
Spending time with the Lord can feel the same way.
We might be worried that we have no clue about how to start or what to do.
We might feel like it isn’t helping or it is too hard to make time every day.
We might find that the quiet makes us uncomfortable because when our brains actually slow down enough for us to reflect on all we are thinking about, it just feels like too much.
Please hear me when I say it is worth it.
Jesus invites us to come to Him and to get to know him. He does not promise us a life free from suffering, but He promises to be with us.
We often resist giving up our independence and don’t like the idea of submitting to anyone’s authority. (Cue the meme of the little girl with her hands on her hips shouting, “You’re not the boss of me!”) When I go to the lunchtime workout, I am submitting to the authority of the trainer. When he explains an exercise, or instructs us to do three sets of something difficult, I don’t say, “Excuse me! I think I have a better idea of how to do that and it’s much easier than your idea. I’m going over here to do that exercise instead.” What would be the point of going to his workout if I refused to participate? I don’t always like it, but I never argue about his authority. I trust that he knows what he is doing.
I know it feels harder when we consider trusting the Lord’s authority in our lives, but He is trustworthy.
In Psalm 73 it says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” It also says that God is always with us and that He “holds us by His right hand.”
Some days can feel so confusing and lonely, and yet His word is true. He is always with us and will never leave us or forsake us. If we seek Him we will find Him. He is worth the search.
I read an amazing blog by Emily Freeman called How to Wait Well. She shares the story of a remarkable 104-year-old woman who has lived a beautiful life. I encourage you to take a moment to read it today. You can find it here. Freeman writes,
“We are a generation of tired people, longing to see evidence that what we wait for in secret is worth it.
We believe and want help in our unbelief.
Our souls make quiet work of always scanning for truth. When we find it, the tears spill over and take us by surprise.”
This week, may we find the courage and strength to admit when we are running in place and unable to move forward. May grace await as we ask for help and may it be the beautiful truth and love of the Lord that takes us by surprise.