M was raised in a very fundamentalist Christian church and has a much stronger, identifiable sense of faith in God than I possess, not having that background or support in my formative years. Yet between us, I am less likely to worry about issues or problems or the future we face. He is not necessarily more negative, yet my “hope for the best, plan for the worst” motto is very much a gray against the starker black-and-white of his outlook in imagining the very worst possible outcome in most situations.
We have had numerous conversations on this topic and others like it. As a person of broader, deeper, more developed sense of faith, I believed he would be the one far more secure in the overall big-picture plan of how things would work out. I mean, if God truly directs and provides, would you not find more comfort and hope in the idea that tricky and painful situations and unknown outcomes are in His hands?
With M, he readily admits that his fears and contradict his faith, and that he struggles mightily sometimes. This is not a judgment or scorn of his beliefs or those of anyone else. It’s more me sorting out what it all means to me. And essentially, I think I am at the present moment ill-equipped to come up with a rational discussion for anything I am thinking or feeling on the topic. So I am keeping this very general as it relates to my current thinking about the overall bigger picture of my life and times.
Earlier this week I had a conversation with a dear friend who has had a terrible May. She is by nature a worrier, yet also a faithful Catholic with a strong belief and support system within the church. Her issues are real and they are serious, and I know she struggles with addressing them adequately. Therapy is imperative to unlearn less desirable, effective, or even unhealthy coping mechanisms yet it takes time to peel back the layers and get at the root of the painful issues the plague us. While I have no desire to turn this into a theoretical discussion, In my most casual observation, faith is meant to provide comfort and build stronger ties within communities of believers.
I am not exactly discounting the impact of religious faith – perhaps things would be much worse if people did not have that to backstop them. But since I do not possess that particular component, I wonder if in my pragmatism I could be missing something significant. Any quite honestly, I am not sure how comfortable I would be trying to complement my pragmatism with greater belief, stronger faith in a higher power.
These were the thoughts perking in my brain this morning at the gym.
It has been a great week. I have had my little dips and was annoyed by and with events in my life, but without the irritations, how would I know to appreciate and savor the joy?
But the matter of faith has been on my mind this week. I awoke today with very stiff and sore leg muscles from yesterday’s training. Anymore this is just one of those things that happen from time to time, like power outages (we had a big one throughout the region last night) and perfect weather days. Stiff and sore muscles are relatively meaningless to me anymore; the only impact was on my List of the day and choosing something relatively easy on the lower body.
Because I know the stiff and sore is transitory and will pass. It’s not a terminal event much less something that impacts practice or inspires thoughts of a rest day. I know these things from a year of experience now. I know that while my legs might be screaming at first in my warm-up and maybe even into the first set of lower body anything, the muscles will get working and settle down. And they were fine.
From a year of training with J and 8 months of daily practices of something exercise-related, I am much more knowledgeable about listening to my body. It still wants sugar/salt/fat foods, but is learning to understand it is less likely to be indulged.
Many months ago, before I found my consistency gene, I crossed paths with J one Sunday morning at the gym. It was odd to see him there, non-red-shirted and sweating away on a leg machine. I seriously doubt he remembers the encounter, one of many he has ever week with members of our gym, but he commented it was “church” for him, which at the time sounded like a cute way for a philosophy major to describe spending his workout time on a Sunday morning. But through the months of persistently pushing myself to maintain my practice schedule, that very brief interaction has come to mind more than once and become more truthful for me as the days pass.
For the entire span of time I have known him, whether he was running or not, M has always said that exercise is good for more than just the body, that it strengthens the spiritual heart and expands the mind. For so long that sounded like psychobabble mumbo jumbo that would only come to someone like him with his “never say die” sort of stick-to-it-ness. He also said it was hard, especially at first – and on that I absolutely believed him. He also said if I just did a little bit every single day I would improve and it would get better. Until earlier this year, I mostly remained super doubtful on both counts.
But I now know his advice was from a place of truth and experience. I am not a special snowflake incapable of having similar epiphanies.
With my friends having their own meltdowns and fearful episodes, I suggest they try exercise. If nothing else, focusing the brain on doing a squat or a plank or a glute bridge moves the mind from worry about whatever. Thinking about how sweaty and gross I am getting (and now feeling a teeny bit proud about it) also tends to push me away from the hamster wheel thoughts.
This post, the snapshot of my own thoughts – I know people suffer and there is no simple solution to healing in a single post or even the lifetime of posts I might write and publish. However, as someone who has experienced a fair share of tragic and harmful events, I know there is no simple solution and that I am incapable of doing much other than hand-wringing and a limited amount of listening and consoling. The view from where I am standing right now and looking out at my future – it
looks is bright. I cannot change the past, only do my best of make my peace and let go of those events that weigh me down. And a big part of that process for me has been changing my thinking about and attitude toward it. Not an easy task for me. It required time, hard work, and patience in a society that wants instant gratification and easy solutions … yesterday.
I know I am not the same woman who walked in the gym a year ago to meet with J. My confidence has soared and my fears have faded. My outlook is sharper, my inward attitude and self-esteem have improved, my give-a-damn button seems to be far more selective. I have enhanced my happy, and I thought myself pretty happy before this leg of my life’s journey began.
And I have worked damn hard to get here. My ingrained habit is to pooh-pooh that part, minimize my own contribution to self-improvement and growth, deflect the credit toward others. I could not and did not do it all on my own.
In this instance, is faith manifested as belief in me by others? I suppose so, to a degree. As for my faith in me, I can trace its origin for the most part to everything I have had to learn – every squat, row, pushup, press, lunge, etc. Every yoga pose and maneuvering through a pilates class. Every drop of sweat, the blood, the tears. Finding that place of “enough!” with a job and striking out on my own, weighing my concerns that M and I would be starving and destitute with the the reality of a stricter spending plan and the acceptance of potentially supplementing our monthly expenses from savings at first. That leap of faith counts among the best decisions of my life thus far.
There is a quote from Fred Devito painted on the wall of the gym – “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” At first I did not take it particularly seriously; I thought it was one of the quotey platitudes people offer up as inspiration. But maybe in the quotey platitudes there is a kernel of truth, something overlooked and processed into inevitable cynicism with the drone of repetition. Maybe we just discover our own truths in the quotey platitudes and it is different for each of us.
I have a lot of gratitude for the forces that brought me to J’s doorstep, that brings me back to TM’s office each year, that introduced me to RD. M, my kids, friends near and far, you readers and followers of my humble little blog – the whole damn tribe encourages, supports, carries me forward and keeps me trying to do better, be better. And I know I return something to them, to all of you, besides just my sincere and heartfelt thanks.
Maybe a lot of what faith is revolves around the energy exchange between us as people, what we give, what we take, what we share just be being citizens of the world. Maybe this is the grand design of a higher power. In all candor I am not sure. I like to believe there is a God, that there is something in the universe that encourages and brings out our better selves. But I do not want to depend upon it, to simply take it on faith and take it for granted. I suppose I want and need motivation to keep trying to live up to my better self, the me I aspire to be. And to continue to choose wisely those with whom I share with, learn from, teach throughout our experience on the journey.
What I know for sure, the adventure continues. And today, right now, that’s more than enough.