I tried out for drill team once in junior high. My self-worth rested in the hands of that panel of judges as they watched a bunch of seventh and eighth-grade girls file into the gym one by one to perform our dance routines. Sixty tormenting seconds of shaking knees and forced smiles from my introverted self while trying not to forget the moves I had rehearsed a hundred times by then.
There was this dreaded part at the end that I remember vividly in which we were required to do the splits. I was no Gumby, and this was more like a bad episode of Star Search. Before the tryouts, I attempted to loosen the muscles in my legs by generously applying Icy Hot muscle cream. Great idea, right? Word of advice. Don't do it. What I was really trying to do was bypass the difficult work that should have taken place in the preceding weeks of conditioning my body to do what I was asking it to do. And since I didn't do that, I forced myself into the splits while feeling like a blow torch was being applied to my legs.
So the end of the story goes as one might imagine that it would. I did not make the team (boooo....I'm still recovering), and I hurt myself on top of it. Junior high is brutal.
Years later and well into my adult years, I still prefer to avoid the stretching process. I want a lot of things. I pray that God will help me see people and love them the way that He does (it's tough isn't it?). And He has answered that prayer, but this girl still has a long way to go. I pray to be reduced to love. In my responses, my actions and in my heart. Those hidden places. It's easier to control my outward behavior than to change the posture of my heart, and God cares a lot about both. I pray to be more like Jesus. Wise and gentle and always about the work of the Father. Not so caught up in the stuff of this life.
But I don't like the conditioning process that shapes me into those things I long to be.
I find myself whining and doubting God the moment my comfort comes into question, like my children in the backseat on a road trip. "How much longer?" They don't realize that the repetitive asking does not expedite the length of the ride. Put some earbuds in. Take a nap. Look out the window and enjoy the view. We will get there when we get there, and when we do, you'll be glad you endured.
I used to jog on a regular basis. Not because I loved it. At all. It was physically hard. The muscles in my legs would often fight against me and scream for me to stop. In cold weather, my lungs would burn. I often wanted to quit halfway through the set distance and walk instead. But I felt great afterward. After I had pushed through and self-talked myself through the run and made it to the goal I had set for myself. I had more energy, mental clarity, and less anxiety.
In the same way, hard circumstances in life condition us. They make us stronger and softer in the spaces that need to be strengthened and softened. They make us more pliable and more solid. Ready for the sprint and prepared for the marathon. They are beautiful gifts to our character if we allow them to be. If we allow ourselves to be crushed the way olives and grapes are pressed to make olive oil and wine.
We are made new in the process.
There are many circumstances I have walked through in my life that didn't feel good at that time. Things that I prayed would be removed quickly. But on the other side of those unwanted events, I realize there was an inner work taking place in me that was necessary and good for me in spite of my perceiving it as bad.
What area of your life are you being stretched in right now? If it were to be removed or resolved today, what long-term gift could you be forfeiting?