If you've ever attended a fitness class taught by me, you've heard me say "are you SEVERLY uncomfortable yet?" This is what I say to incite maximal effort, to try to teach the class participants that the benefit they can experience from the workout is directly related to the effort they put in. I teach a lot of my classes before a lot of people even wake up, so I applaud the fact that the room is full; that people chose to get up before the sun to get their workout in. That's impressive. Sleep is so seductive. It draws you in and wants to hold on to you for as long as it can. Overcoming that desire to hit the snooze button over and over again takes discipline. Getting dressed in the dark and driving to your workout facility in the severe cold takes commitment. But putting in the work effort and getting so incredibly uncomfortable without over-exerting yourself takes practice. It is a skill that is learned the more you exercise, the more you push yourself within your known limits, and the more you trust in the process and the progression of movement and level of difficulty. During the exercise, during the exertion - nothing feels good. It's severely uncomfortable, in fact. It is a struggle to finish. It is a struggle to stay strong and focused and dedicated and so uncomfortable. The old saying "no pain, no gain" is completely false, however. Just to be clear. Exercising shouldn't feel good, yet it should not be painful. Learning the difference also takes practice. Learning what your body can handle without over-exertion and ultimately causing more damage than good. Let's remember this mantra instead, "no train, no gain."
That's why a lot of people quit, quite frankly. It's hard. It doesn't feel good. The expectation that results would happen immediately or sooner than they are, frustrates a lot of people. And when I'm being honest with myself, frustrates me too.
But the act of exercise - pushing yourself beyond what is comfortable - is so good for you. It positively affects your thought process and shapes your body. It strengthens your heart and your conviction. It sharpens your reflexes and your mind. It pushes your limits and dreams. It opens up new doors when it comes to what your body is capable of and what you can do.
Do you feel good during a speed drill or threshold run? Do you feel good when you're lifting a new, challenging weight? Do you feel good holding a yoga pose longer than you did last time? Does it feel good when you're pedaling uphill? I hope your answer to these questions is a resounding "NO! It's uncomfortable". You are not feeling good while pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. But you know you? You feel AMAZING when you're done.
I find a lot of parallels between exercise and faith building. Between the practice of being fit and the practice of having faith. Faith is a gift. As is the ability to exercise. Not everyone has it. Not everyone fosters it. Not everyone takes care of it. Not everyone works to improve it. The degree to which you can increase your fitness has to do with your genetics, your gender (yes, there are staggeringly different abilities between males and females), your age and your workout efforts. You can do nothing about the fist three factors, but you have complete control over the forth. Your workout efforts directly impact your level of fitness. You can choose to maintain your current level by doing just enough to keep the status quo. You can choose not to do any activity and see your fitness level decrease. Or you can choose to consistently practice exercising to the point of it being uncomfortable (nothing "feels good") to reach new fitness heights, to overcome plateaus and to accomplish goals that you once thought were impossible.
The Holy Spirit works saving faith in our heart. We do nothing to earn it. Ephesians 1:13
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is present in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and plants the seed of faith in our hearts. The Holy Spirit worked when we were in church as infants and toddlers, if our parents brought us. The Holy Spirit worked when devotions were read to us at school, if we went to a school that read them. The Holy Spirit worked when we listened to family devotions led by our parents, if our parents read them. We had nothing to do with those instances of faith building. We had no control over that. We did not choose our parents, our grade school or our church as children and even as teenagers. But as adults, we do have control over how we build our faith. Receiving it was an act of the Holy Spirit. We did nothing to accept it or to earn it. But we can have an impact on how we grow and build our faith. Or not. Very much like our fitness. We can choose to attend church. A church that speaks the truth! Not just a church that makes us "feel good" about ourselves. The truth is we are all sinners. Every single one of us (Romans 3:23). The truth is we need to be told we are sinners. We need a church that will show us our sins. We need a church that will preach law.
Who enjoys that? Nobody!
But it is crucially important. Why? Because if we are not shown our sins, there is no need for a Savior.
My fitness comparison lacks the intensity and magnitude of our need for a Savior, but let's think of it like this: if we do nothing to increase our fitness - if we don't exercise to the point of being uncomfortable because it doesn't feel good - we lose out on the ability to reach new heights and use our bodies in ways in which we never thought possible. Much like only attending a church and surrounding ourselves with friends who make us feel good about our choices and our life makes us feel comfortable and pleasant, or not willing to be the friend who "sharpens" another friend (Proverbs 27:17). Our faith will never increase. Our relationship with Jesus will never grow to the level of intimacy that He desires and that will set our hearts and our minds free from the sin-strained troubles and worries of this world. Having a "feel good faith" is only diminishing the relationship potential with our Savior! He wants so much more for you than a pleasant life, than a safe and comfortable life. He wants you to be pressed and sharpened and refined and uncomfortable in order to feel the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7), the peace that only He can grant and the peace that encourages us to continually get uncomfortable in our faith.
How can we do this? How can we get okay with being uncomfortable?
It takes practice. It takes consistency. It takes trust and hope. We all have a natural knowledge of God and he has given us our conscience (Romans 2:15). We know when something that we are doing, the way we are living, our actions or condoning of actions is not in line with God's will. We will constantly struggle. The devil is good at working on our weaknesses. He is good at helping us claim the victim. He is good at making us feel comfortable with our sin. Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter? In Matthew 16:21-23 we read:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. 'This shall never happen to you!' Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.'
Ouch! Jesus called Peter -a devout disciple who loved Jesus so very much- Satan! Peter did not want to hear the uncomfortable things that Jesus was explaining were going to happen to him and the events surrounding his death and resurrection. Regardless of how we feel about our circumstances, God's will for us is always better. In fact it's perfect. It may be contrary to how we feel, contrary to what we think, even contrary to what we are being told by our friends and family. In Galatians 5:13-19 we read:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Once you are shown your sins, hear the truths of your life without Jesus' saving love, once you are shown the way to repentence and forgiveness, you are set free! You are free to serve Jesus and your family and your neighbors and your community humbly in love.
I encourage you, dear sisters, to get uncomfortable, both in your fitness and your faith. Let Jesus's peace rule in your hearts by reading God's Word daily and being richly filled up with His Spirit. God's Word is mighty to save. It saves you from a life of comfortable nothingness and from an eternity of the most complete form of uncomfortableness - hell and a forever separation from our Savior.
Dear Heavenly Father - I boldly ask you to make my life uncomfortable. I don't want to live a complacent life, not realizing your potential in me. Urge me to seek friends who will test me and sharpen me. Enable me to withstand the hardships and troubles I will face, both in my faith life and fitness and health. Forgive me when I don't seek you. Forgive me when I limit your ability in me by giving up or never starting. Make me bold enough to start so you can help me succeed. Amen