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late night at the gym

Vertical Leg Raise
Image from bodybuilding-wizard.com
Dean and I go to a local gym several times a week, most often pretty late at night. The gym is not as full that time of day which means that everyone has a bit more breathing room and the equipment is readily available. As far as gyms go, it is pretty relaxed. There are some hardcore iron-pumpers there, but there are also a lot of people just trying to improve their health and stamina, people of all ages and sizes and fitness levels.

Last night at the gym I walked over to use the leg lift thingy (pretty sure that's the official name). There was a muscular guy standing a few feet away. Just standing there. I hesitated, wondering if he was using the equipment and just resting in-between reps. He took a few steps away from the apparatus, so I assumed he was not using it. It still felt a bit strange to have him not ten feet away, looking in my direction. Then I thought, so what if someone watches me. I will do just fine. So I got up on the foot steps, adjusted my arms on the arm rests, gripped the handles, pushed my back into the back rest, took a few preparatory deep breaths and got into the zone (pretty sure this warm-up routine was impressing the watching guy). I dropped my feet off the foot rests and let them dangle in mid-air. Then I lifted them up to waist height, legs straight out, pressed together. Perfect form. I exhaled with each lift, pretty pleased with how good I looked. Well, if the guy was going to watch, I might as well do my best. I could see him out of the corner of my eye, facing me, not moving, muscular arms just hanging at his sides right next to his muscular legs.

I got to 15 leg lifts and started to struggle. My form was now not quite as perfect, my legs not quite as straight, I was also swinging my legs just a bit to keep the momentum going (a definite no-no). I began to grunt with each lift. Well, the form might be slightly off at this stage, but surely the grunting was impressive. It meant I was pushing through the pain! I finished 20 leg lifts and let out a big exhale as I set my feet back on the foot rests. It might not have been all that impressive of a showing according to Mr. Muscle, but I think I did alright. Nothing to be ashamed of. I stepped away from the equipment and shook out my arms and legs (I had seen people do that, so I thought I would do it too).

I glanced at the muscular guy, still standing motionless a few feet away from me. He didn't smile, nod, or acknowledge my pretty good performance in any way. I walked around him to another machine, thinking maybe he had indeed been waiting to use the leg-lift thingy, and then I saw it. He was looking at a screen hung above the machines, watching the hockey game. I don't think he even noticed me at all. Silly me.

Sometimes I get caught up in the same type of head game when I write or teach or put anything out there in a somewhat public forum. I think about who is watching me, how many people will read it, what their reaction will be, what the comments might be, if it will get any traction. I am sure that people are watching me with a critical and comparative eye. Most concerning is that I think this matters somehow. It really doesn't. What matters is that I do the reps (to continue the gym analogy). That I write and write and get better at communicating. That I discuss and converse and teach because learners need to keep on learning and pass on what they learn. When we are transformed we need to let others see that transformation. We also need practice making our ideas clearer and more accessible. I am not at the gym to impress anyone; I am there to build stamina and strength and do my body good. In the same way, I am not writing or talking or teaching to impress anyone. I write and talk because my heart and head are full and I want to express myself. I don't always do it well. Some of my posts and talks garner a lot of attention. Some sit there alone and forgotten. Some of my thoughts and ideas remain private and are never shared. It doesn't matter. I do the reps. People might like or favourite or retweet or none of the above. None of it matters. Do the reps.

Jesus' call to discipleship involves practicing good habits over and over and over again. Eugene Peterson calls it a long obedience in the same direction. It takes commitment. It takes discipline. If we are only doing it because someone is watching, we are not likely to go the distance. I must choose to love again and again and again, even when it hurts, even when I am tired, even when no one will ever see. Do the love reps. I must choose to forgive even when I am wronged by the same person or in the same manner again and again. Seventy times seven. No one but me and Jesus will know if I have truly forgiven. Do the forgiveness reps. I am currently writing a doctoral dissertation. Only 5 or 6 people will read it, if I am lucky. It makes no difference. Do the writing reps. We worship and pray and try to be generous and kind and loving. Maybe nobody is watching or maybe the whole world is watching. It doesn't matter. Do the reps.

I don't want to be famous (look how well that turns out for most folks) or rich (just give me a bed and a cup of tea and a book). I want to be genuine and authentic like Jesus. That means people might follow me one day and un-follow me the next. So be it. I am not trying to amass likes and shares (by the way, this is me giving myself a reality check talk as much as anything). What is the way of Jesus? It is loving one person at a time, doing one act of kindness at a time, praying moment by moment, and not letting any of it go to my head, no matter if the outcome is public acclaim or negative feedback or relative obscurity. The people who know me and love me (Jesus, Dean, and a few others), my trusted friends, are the ones who will tell me if I am on track or making a misstep. They are the ones who will walk with me in tough times, cheer me on in good times, and laugh with me when I take things too seriously. And that really does matter to me. A lot.

Oh Eternal One who knows me better than I know myself, let my words and deeds always be internally motivated and never externally determined. Let me do the reps because it's the right thing to do, not because Mr. Muscle is watching. Amen.

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