[Squat.] I hate this. [Squat.] When is this going to be over. [Squat.] My legs are on fire. [Squat.] Why did I sign up for this. [Squat.] What kind of word is “squat”? [Squat.] It’s a gross disgusting word. [Squat.] I’m never going to get any better at this. [Squat.] I am the least in shape person in this gym. [Squat.] I could just leave. [Squat.] No one would stop me….
And then, the way he does, the Holy Spirit broke in and whispered “Do everything without complaining.” [Squat.] “Whatever you do” [Squat.] “do it with all your heart” [Squat.] “as if working for the Lord” [Squat.] “and not for men.” [Squat.]
I’ve been going pretty faithfully to the gym for over a year now. For me “pretty faithfully” means a 5:00am class 2 or 3 times a week most weeks. It’s an improvement over “absolutely nothing” which is what I was doing previously.
I feel stronger and have more stamina, sure. But the best lessons I’m learning aren’t so much physical as they are mental. I’ve never played a sport or been an athlete of any kind (I mean I was on the track team in Jr High, but that was mainly about looking cute in the shorts). I’ve never until now consistently done physical exercise that allowed me to understand the power of my inner dialogue. Some mornings I’m already in a negative slump of “Ugh, why am I doing this. It’s too hard” before I even step into the gym. Those days are kind of awful. Wishing the class was over before it’s even started. Comparing myself to others. Grumbling and frustration that my old fragile knees and the mystifying presence of bone spurs and arthritis (am I 87 years old now?) mean I sometimes have to modify exercises.
But some days I catch and intercept those thoughts. Just…stop them. It’s my choice. I get to decide. I can keep up the internal grumbling or I can choose to think of the good: Gratitude for the ability to pay for classes. Thankfulness for the amazing, encouraging attitude of the trainers. Remembrance that not everyone has the ability to exercise at all because of physical limitations, and I can be grateful for what I am able to do. It takes WORK to chase out those grumbly thoughts and replace them. The complaints come floating in and land real easy-like, and the thankfulness has to be chased down and grabbed hold of. But man, is it worth it. That 45 minutes then begins to feel like – dare I say it – a gift, rather than torture. Exercising? A gift?!? Pshaw. I can barely believe I’m saying it. But on the right day, with intentionality, yes – a gift.
Here’s the rub: I have learned to change my thought pattern when it comes to the gym because I’ve learned if I don’t I’m going to be actually, physically miserable for 45 minutes. I can’t take 45 minutes of constantly thinking “I want to quit. When will this be over.” So much better when my inner script is “This is hard, and hard is good. Hard is so good for me, so keep going.”
But I have admittedly been much slower to learn the power of taking thoughts captive in other areas. I can sit and stew on my disappointment in my children until I’m not enjoying them (nor them me). I can sit and count the (very few) ways my husband frustrates me until all the wonderful things he does don’t enter my mind at all. I can ruminate on the ways I get it wrong as a mom until I forget the ways that by God’s grace I get it right. I can name my fears about the future until all the faith is very nearly driven out of me.
I want to stop. Intercept and renew. Chase down truth. Name the gifts. Feel the hope.
[Squat.] Okay, God. [Squat.] I’m going to pray with each squat. [Squat.] Help me use this time to pray. [Squat.]
I see my husband and my children’s faces. [Squat.]
(Short, one word prayers because apparently I’m winded and out breath even internally?) He hears. He helps us to renew our mind. It matters. What I DO and what I FEEL really, truly is born of what I THINK. Huh. If the gym teaches me nothing else but that and how to do a proper squat (Drive your knees out! Drop your hips back! Weight in your heels!) it will have been worth it.