Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Small Beginnings at the Pull-Up Bar
Yesterday I was mindlessly scrollaxing on Instagram when I came across this image. I immediately rolled my eyes and flicked past it.
Being a beginner sucks.
I'm not sure anything unsettles me more than appearing to not know exactly what I'm doing. Being an expert at all things is kind of my thing. If by some unfortunate turn of events I have to be a beginner at some point in time, I do everything possible to ensure my graduation from total-newbie to decent-amatuer under the cover of darkness. I'm careful not to tell anyone what I'm up to to so that when (if) I fail, it goes unnoticed and un-remarked upon.
On a study abroad trip in college (undertaken with the singular goal of improving my Spanish through daily use) I took a bus two hours out of my way because I didn't want to risk exposing my beginner Spanish. I knew enough words to ask the driver for clarity, but I also knew I would probably bungle it a bit, so I kept my mouth shut and hoped for the best. (I ended up getting off in a small village that was clearly not my destination as dusk approached and finally humbled myself and got on the right bus.)
Here I am at age 34 and if you see me doing anything that I appear remotely good at, odds are good I have been practicing for MONTHS or YEARS sight unseen. This hatred for beginnings is one of many reasons motherhood has been so tricky for me. Either I'm the beginner or these kids are at pretty much everything we do, all day long. Beginners are the WORST. They are slow. They make mistakes. If I'm not them, they are in my way. And if I am them...well I'm in someone's way and they are judging me hardcore from atop their non-beginner pedestal.
All of this hatred brings me back to that quote I quickly scrolled past. ..
You might remember that one of my new year's resolutions was to do a pull-up. One pull-up. A small thing, but one that has been out of reach my whole life. So for me it's a big thing. I downloaded a training plan in January, but have yet to buy the over the door pull-up bar thingy for the house, so I have started training at the gym. In the free weight section.
Where the only pull-up bar is positioned in the very center of muscle-y man-ville.
Two months ago I pulled open the double doors and headed toward the walls of mirrors defining the lifters' territory for the very first time. To my left 50 year olds were trying to out-press each other on the bench. To my right a cluster of high school boys nodded to their Beats while knocking out sets of curls with 40s.
No beginners here.
Oh wait, except for me. The little (comparatively speaking) girl with the ponytail and floppy arms. I pretended to look at my phone while really watching the guy making strides toward the pull-up bar.
He jumped up, strained against his grip and flexed his back. His body was lifted. It appeared weightless as he flexed and hung, flexed and hung, his torso a plank moved by the simple lever of his arms.
I waited for him to finish out his set, gave myself an internal pep talk and casually walked over to the bar. I turned to face my reflection, framed perfectly in the mirrors and jumped up. I flexed my back, and strained against my grip. Nothing happened. No lift. No slow but steady movement towards the bar. Not even a little twitch. Literally nothing happened. It was as if all my muscles had colluded to humiliate me.
I hung there for a good thirty seconds and dropped down, casually sauntering over to my water bottle like the hang had been exactly what I was going for. I thought I would have at least been able to flex my arms and make it part of the way there.
As I was rolling my eyes and flicking past that beginner quote above yesterday, thinking about how frustrating it has been to work towards this pull-up, the phrase below came to mind.
I didn't realize it (I thought it was just a pretty Pinterest saying) but as it turns out, it's from the Bible.
In the book of Zechariah, the prophet Zechariah is talking with God (as prophets do) about re-building the Jewish temple and in chapter 4, verse 10, God says, "Do not despise these small beginnings..." Another translation asks, "who has despised the day of small things?..."
(Insert emoji of blond girl raising her hand) Oh hey...I do! Me, God. I hate small beginnings. I despise days of small things. Big things are more my style. I prefer grand finishes, big finales, ticker-tape parades, confetti cannons. You know, winning.
But you know what the second half of that verse says? "Do not despise these small beginnings...for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin."
The Lord REJOICES to see the work begin.
You know why? Because while we are all people of small beginnings, God is a God of big finales. In Philippians 1:6 Paul says that God, "who began a good work in you, will perfect it..." The grand finish, the ticker-tape parade, the confetti cannons. They all belong to Him and come in His time.
During days of small things we are laying a ground work. Small beginnings necessarily precede big finales. The days (ahem, years) of small things are not a waste, not embarrassing, not insignificant.
And God knows that I in particular need a continual IV drip of beginner's humility in my life. Out of His great affection toward me He put this seemingly inconsequential goal on my heart and directed me to the pull-up bar at the gym. Where my pride is laid low and the work begins. He is using this silly pull-up thing to teach me again, that He rejoices to see me begin, that He is with me and that He will carry me to completion. Because as I am learning, in my weakness, He is strong.