I recently joined a ladies gym. It has been light years since I was a member of one so this is kind of a “new” experience for me in many ways. Times have changed, there are trainers on duty to help you instead of manuals placed on each machine (yeah it has been a long time since they did that, right?), music is piped in, and the treadmills and ellipticals have TV’s mounted on top so you can watch your favorite programs while you sweat. Yes, it has mightily changed. But one thing remains the same…it has to hurt sometimes to feel better and move forward.
While I was working on some of the weights one morning, I met one of the staff for the first time. She wandered over and said “I am the in-house trainer here….can I show you a better way to do that?” Of course I wanted her to instruct me and she proceeded to tell me that the weights I was working with for my back were set too light because I was doing it too easily. “It has to give you a bit of hurt, you do it slowly unlike the cardio machines, and you have to feel the tug and a bit of a burn to know it’s working like it is supposed to work for you.” I had already thought this, but was going by someone else’s suggestion on the weight amount. I moved the weight amount up to almost double per her suggestion and by the time I finished I knew I had been through a real workout, unlike the other days where I in essence was really sitting on my rear and just flailing my arms around more than anything. Nothing productive was happening at all and I was thankful she caught me early. I was willing to listen, and I could stop sitting and start really feeling progress and the moving forward that I was wanting to experience. I had not joined a gym to just sit down…I had done enough of that in the years since my last gym attendance. I thought about it and if I had not redirected and had hung on to the first way of working out, I would have been disappointed and hurt by not progressing steadily. A lot of wasted time and effort would have been all I had to show for the time and personal investment I had spent. I had sat down long enough….for years…I was there to get moving again before it was too late for me.
This got me to thinking about one of my favorite characters in the Bible, Job. Here was a good man who had everything; land, talent and skills, wealth, position, a large beautiful family, respect of his neighbors and friends…everything. Then one day, it all changed. Every good thing in his life was taken from him, and you find Job sitting on top of the ash heap mourning his losses at some point, and he looks as if he is settling in. Victim mentality? Perhaps, or maybe just giving up. But as the story goes along, God sends him people to talk with him, and he comes to a personal awareness of his position and the incredible waste he was participating in. He evaluates his current life, or lack of it, sees the wisdom of shaking off the dust and is found eventually moving on again. It was hard, and even at times almost unbearable for him to move on…but move on he did. He had come to the realization he could choose to find out God’s Plan B for his life, or he could sit on his ash for the rest of his days, a bitter man with no one or nothing.
I know I have spent far too many years sitting on my ash. Not that I didn’t have reasons to embrace my own season of mourning. I have had failed marriages and companionships, a company I have recently sold that was worth one fourth of what it was three years ago, financial woes that would have put down most people I know. There were strains in all kinds of emotional areas prompted by mean-spirited people, stratospherically chaotic circumstances, or… I am unhappy to admit…. encouraged by myself and my poor choices in many cases. I have ignored health and reaped the sad effects of my ill choices in diet and exercise, given up too much personal power in some of my relationships with others, and stockpiled years of stagnation in situations where I was living a victim mentality rather than a victor’s life. Most if not all these seasons went on far too long, in far too hurtful a way for everyone, and ended up with a burned, ash-filled life to show for it all. And more often than not, I found myself sitting on top of it, scooping the ash up and flinging it over myself and crying “woe is me” till I even grew sick of hearing it. I was a sight…and pretty much a real mess.
Are you sitting on your ash today? How long has it been since you were passed over for that promotion you just knew you were going to get? Did the company you had invested your working life in suddenly fold and you were in your mid-fifties and looking for a job again? Has your house been foreclosed on, your once perfect teenager been in and out of rehab for the last three years, or have you lost your only grandchild to an unrelenting disease? Are you bitter because a relationship you thought might be your forever love has not worked out, or are you still mourning the loss of your childhood because you were physically or emotionally abused?
How have you responded to those disappointments and hurts in life? When the good things started burning and the ash started piling higher and higher, did you just climb on and sit down, maybe flailing your arms around and trying to get someone’s attention, anyone’s attention, to let them know you were suffering? Those who suffered in the Bible were given a time to mourn their losses. Mourning was validation, it was good, but it was to be temporary. There is a time to feel the hurt and to experience the burn of disappointment and heart-breaking loss. But there came a moment when God directed them to get up already, brush the flakes of soot off themselves, and start over rather than sit in the ashes of their defeat for the rest of their lifetime. He wanted to give them their Plan B, but they couldn’t get it till they were ready to stand up again and start walking forward themselves first. It takes a lot of guts and more than a little emotional maturity to get handed defeat and disappointment and just decide to let it go, toss it on the pile with all the others, and set a match to it and just walk away on the path to continued personal peace. There were situations where I didn’t for a long, long time. There were moments I could, and moments I couldn’t without a bit of ash sitting first.
There are days when I am still very much a Job. I feel defeated and want to sit on my ash, be left alone unless I am moaning and groaning and needing some attention, and I just have no real desire to do anything else but be bitter and complain. But that would be a big mistake. I can’t move forward into a Plan B if I am just sitting down on that heap of nastiness and the sooty remains of what was my life. It is my time to start a new fire, burn off my old ways, and all the old reactions and responses when I am handed new heartaches and hurts. It’s time to watch the blaze burn as a bright new future opens up for me because I was willing to strike the necessary match.
Each morning, as I drive to the gym and into a new day, I use the time to assess the last 24 hours. What has been brought into my thoughts, will, and emotions that I do wish for my life? What did the prior day’s events, conversations, and offerings deposit on my doorstep that I do not want to remain a part of my Plan B? I shake off a little more of the soot and ashes and partake of a clean and fresh walk into my new journey as I hold each day, each part of my life with light fingers because I know it may ultimately end up on the burn pile. I will be real here…there are many moments of two steps forward and one step back. I find myself wanting to change my middle name to “Poor lil’ ole” when I experience an unexpected bump or even a breach in a relationship, or a dive in the bank account, or even a stress or strain physically. But those little bruises are there to build me personally and stoke a brand new fire. The only way to get a great Plan B is start building a new life, a stick at a time. Gather some people, experiences and things close to yourself if they fit the Plan, throw others on the burn pile if not, rinse and repeat.
In Isaiah, the Good Book says the Lord promises to turn our mourning into joy, and bring beauty out of the ashes. I am the only one who can discern when it is time to strike a match, toss it over my shoulder onto the latest pile of nonsense, and then swiftly walk away…or maybe even at times run. But, I remind myself daily I have made the decision that I will certainly refuse to go sit on my ash for long periods of time anymore. Embrace the hurt little lady, deal with it, and move on. Otherwise, I end up with only a dirty tearstained face, a burned rear, and a stinky attitude….and those just aren’t too beautiful to anyone, now are they?
Time for the gym….and time for feeling that beautiful burn.