Well, my sports career did come to an end, and in my euphoria I stopped working out altogether. You can probably guess what resulted. I got fat. Okay, maybe that's not "Christian" to say. We're all beautiful in God's eyes, but let's be real. I was fat. The worst part was, it took me a year and more than fifty extra pounds to realize it. At the time, I was a high school senior with aspirations of being an actor. If I wanted to be a sexy leading man, then I needed to look like one, and I certainly did not. It was at that point I knew I'd be making a return to the gym.
The first few weeks were AWFUL. To avoid a gym membership, and possibly the embarrassment of being seen in gym shorts, I worked out at 5:30 in the morning before school with one of my friends who played varsity football. Not only was it disgustingly early in the morning, not only was I doing all the sprints and workout I once dreaded, but I was now carrying the equivalent of a third grade child around my midsection while doing them. The huffs and puffs, dry heaving, and pain were back with relish. Boy, I really wanted some relish in that moment.
Fast forward six and a half years, and I now voluntarily put myself through high intensity workouts 3-5 times a week and I absolutely love it. I need no inspiration or workout partner to get me to the gym each day (I've sweated off the third grader as well, I might add). I have learned to love the pain, because the pain led to growth in my muscles. It led me to become more healthy and to feel more alive. Once I noticed the correlation between pain and growth, I didn't really mind going to the gym. In fact, I look forward to it now.
This principle of pain being a sign of growth is present in so many areas of life.
I remember as a child, I would often wake up in the night with extreme muscle spasms in my legs. I screamed and yelled while my mom came in my room and held my hands until I was finally able to relax again. She assured me that what I was going through was totally normal. "They're just growing pains" she would say. Medically speaking, it's more likely that my spasms were a result of my particularly athletic and active schedule (this was before I quit team sports) rather than the pain of my bones actually growing. Although, as a 23 year old adult, I now stand nearly six foot five, so maybe there was something to my mother's claims.
Who was I to complain about leg spasms though? I was eleven pounds, eleven ounces at birth. My mom knows about pain. Ask any mother what the worst pain in the world is and she will say without pause, "birthing a child." Was is worth it though? And would she go through it again? Well, statistics tell us that the majority of mothers would give a resounding yes and yes.
Pardon the pun, but isn't it interesting how our worst pain comes from the labor of creating more life? The writer of Hebrews talks about this with such incredible wisdom...
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11)
Finance author and radio host, Dave Ramsey likes to say that "money is amoral." It is neither good nor evil. It is how we use our money that determines the role it plays in our lives.
Here's something to chew on, pain is also amoral. It is neither good nor bad, but it is actually our reaction to the pain that determines its role in our lives. Will we persevere and endure through the pain? Or will we retreat back into comfort and complacency?
We see in the verse above that after the endurance of pain comes a promise of pretty epic proportions. A harvest of righteousness and peace? Count me in! Give me some overalls and call me a farmer. The problem is, most of us are so averse to, and downright afraid of pain that we never actually get to the harvest. We resist the "training," and as a result, we never get to the "later on" that the verse is talking about.
But what if we began to take a different attitude towards the pain in our lives? What if we began to ask a different question? Instead of saying, "Why would God allow me to hurt like this?" What if we said, "What life is God going to bring by me persevering through this?" What if we started looking at all our suffering and hardship as growing pains? What if we knew that the pain was just making our muscles bigger? What if the pain was from the labor of producing new life? By simply changing the question, we begin to change our perspective. We begin to see our pain not as a present unpleasantry, but as a sign that "later on" is on the way, a sign that the harvest of righteousness and peace is coming soon.
For some reason, I think most of us forget to include pain and hardship in the promise of Romans 8:28. But God truly does work ALL things for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose. Pain is not excluded from that promise, and that's good news to somebody who has been brave enough to read this far.