Level One

CFL course, NASWI, Fitness
I look just like this in class. Exactly this.

The class is called Strictly Strength. The title and description intimidated me right off. I am not strong, strictly or otherwise.I imagined kettle bells and giant weights and me, collapsed on the floor, begging for the water bottle I inevitably forgot to bring.  Being sick a couple years back took all the muscle I had away, and strength has been a bit elusive since that point.

So while the sound of it was terrifying, the promise was worth the risk. I jumped in as the class newbie.

Level Up?

Surprise—there are levels to being strong. For just about any move the instructor taught us, she explained that there was a level one and a level two—or even three. There are options! There are large weights, and there are small ones. There are heavier bars and lighter bars. (And now I know I have to get there earlier if I want a lighter bar.) There are moves that test your further than other, easier possibilities. I did not have to walk in the room and lift a kettle bell above my head on the first day. Thank you, sweet eight-pound baby Jesus. That would have been ugly.

The most important thing I learned right away though—

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

Oh, I want to be at Level Two. I want to do the harder twists, the longer planks, the tighter crunches. But the part of me that is tired of injury remembers that is why I am doing this—to avoid hurting those parts of me that have gotten bruised, pulled, and pained by doing too much.

So I keep it slow. And steady.

Other people can do the full planks. I stick to the hands and knees ones. Someone else may be able to do double leg lifts. I will happily do them one at a time. Maybe one day I will do those harder things, but right now, I’m at Level One. And that’s an OK place to be.

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Church Has Levels, Too

Some of us show up to church at Level One. We don’t know the songs. We aren’t comfortable singing in public, anyway. We get part of what the pastor’s talking about, but some of the things are fuzzy, and we’re not sure how they apply to our situation. We don’t want to volunteer, because we’ve been burned out, and we’ve been called out by the person who felt we just couldn’t get it right. We don’t understand the unspoken cadence of the service that informs everyone else to stand up, sit down, or dip the bread in that cup rather than drink the juice.

Everyone else seems to be at Level Three, at least.

We want to be. We want to pretend we know the lingo, act like we’ve got our life together. But then we remember why we’re there—because we want to stop the hurt that happens when we are fake. We hate the bruises, pains, and sprains in our hearts over trying to be what we’re not.

Maybe church is a place where it’s OK to be at Level One. At least, we hope so. We long for grace for those who aren’t quite ready for the heavier lifting. We pray there is kindness for the ones who need the lighter weights, and we wish for others who can bear more to offer us their shoulders and their lighter burdens. We hope that, if anyone notices we can’t do what the seasoned attenders can do, they will not point that out but treat us as if there were no differences at all.

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

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Searching for Sunday

Church should always welcome the Level One folks. Partly, because Jesus told us to. Partly, because we were all Level One at some point. Party, because they have something to teach us.

If you’re trying church for the first time, or if you’re back for the first time since something there hurt you immeasurably, don’t push it. Don’t expect to be lifting the 25-pounders your second day. Don’t think you have to know all the moves in order to fit in. Embrace awkward. Know that you don’t know and that it’s OK. Know that sometimes you can’t manage whatever task it seems everyone else is taking on, and that’s OK, too.

Level Two will come.

It doesn’t really matter how long it takes. I makes not one bit of difference how long you have to keep doing one leg lifts. You’ll get there. You’ll grow stronger. Maybe one day you’ll see that person who doesn’t seem to know the steps and you’ll say to yourself, “Oh—I remember that. I’m stronger than I thought. I think I can be a shoulder for her.” That day, you’ll be the grace someone else needs to poke her head in the door and say, “Maybe I’ll try this. It’s scary, but maybe it’s just what I need.”

Dance Like We Just Don’t Care

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I went to three exercise classes last week. You might think that is normal. You are just not me. Three exercise classes is more than I have gone to in approximately three hundred years. I don’t do group classes. I don’t like them. I am not peppy or muscle-y, and I am barely scraping the edge of social. I went anyway, because a body that works when I want it to is becoming more important to me than my preference for private exercise. (By which I mean, no exercise at all more often than not.)

And wouldn’t you know, it occurred to me during the course of the hour, that exercise class is a lot like church. How, you ask? Well, let me tell you. 

Observations on a morning of exercise class:

Observation One: I love exercise classes where I am the youngest member.

Because I work at home, I am able to go to classes in the morning, after the overflow of committed enthusiasts who go before they get behind the wheel for their commute. Those people are scary. I have been at the gym at 6:00 am and seen their classes with accompanying blaring rock music. How can anyone endure that eardrum assault so early? I have watched them race onto the track and actually run, putting feet together in a coordinated, fast motion at that hour.

This is not possible for normal people. They are clearly the spawn of aliens.

But the 10:00 am classes? Filled with retired folk. Do you know what is glorious about an exercise class filled with people over 65?

They Do. Not. Care.

They don’t care how they look. They don’t care if they get every move right. They don’t care if they can’t stretch as far as that girl next to them in the designer purple yoga pants. They do not care the tiniest bit. They dance like they don’t care.

I love it.

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Church people care.

They care if your kids are crazier than theirs. They care if you volunteer as often as they do. They care if your opinions line up with theirs. They care if your clothes are nicer/not nicer/less modest/less expensive/more expensive/more outlandish/more casual than theirs. They. Care.

Not everywhere. Definitely not at our church. But at many.

So the lesson from exercise class? Find a place that doesn’t care or, better still, make a place that doesn’t care. Go to church and pretend you’re a 70-year-old woman doing yoga.

  • That other mom’s kid can’t seem to stop running through the hallway? High five her and tell her she’s doing great at a tough job. I mean, motherhood is kind of like trying to stretch your foot behind your ear while breathing properly (or breathing at all). Those kids’ souls are what matters—not any mess or noise they make. Old ladies doing yoga just don’t care about what doesn’t matter.

 

  • Go talk to that teenager wearing pajama pants to church. Welcome her. Ask her about her day, year, life. High five her for surviving being sixteen. That’s like me managing an hour of swing dancing when I’ve barely got the endurance level of a three-toed sloth. I bet she’s got a lot to share.

 

  • Find the single guy who only shows up every month or so. Ask him what his dreams are. Find out what he’s good at. High five him for wanting something deeper in his life enough to get there when he does. Kind of like showing up for strength training class when currently you’ve got the muscle mass of a hummingbird.

There are dreams and wishes and hurts and yearnings we know nothing about swirling in the hearts of the people right next to us.

It’s freeing to be among a bunch of people doing aerobic foxtrotting with glee and no shame at all. It makes it OK to make mistakes. It allows for someone to not know what comes next. It forgives. It offers a chance to dance with glee yourself.

It makes me want to come back.

What if we were the people who offered those things to the ones who walk through the doors of our church?

It’s OK to make mistakes.

It’s fine not to know what comes next.

It’s beautiful that you have doubts.

It’s great to see you whatever you look like.

I want you to dance here, with joy.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free. Use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5.1, 13)

Make your space a just don’t care zone. And I guarantee, from my experience, people will want to come back.

Going Backward: Getting Our Identity By Doing Instead of Being

I took up the clarinet in 5th grade. My parents probably wished I hadn’t. I did want to learn—really. But how many times can you play “I Love You Truly” in the expected half hour practice before you start to get a little . . . creative? Or a lot bored.
I don’t remember the teacher at all. I don’t even know if it was a man or a woman. Clearly, I was not inspired. As a result, I was also not very good.
Enter 6th grade and Mr. Leafblad. I don’t remember him ever telling me my playing stunk. (It did.) I don’t recall being bullied, or patronizingly cajoled, or shamed into practicing. I do remember practicing. He had such enthusiasm for leading us. (How anyone manages that in a junior high band I will never, ever comprehend.) He had endless encouragement that I could get better. And I did. In fact, I got to be the best clarinet player in junior high.
I became what I was meant to be, a much better player, because the one in charge accepted me as I was, encouraged me, and saw me as a whole human, not a kid with a clarinet I did, or did not, practice often enough. The desire to do the right thing grew out of love for the person asking it of me.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in trying to figure out our identity in God is to do things that make us acceptable. We hope beyond hope that in doing things we can figure out who we are.


We do too many things that offer us identity.

It worked in school. We figured out early where we fit in. We became the smart one, or the good one. Maybe you were the funny one, the pretty one, the social butterfly, or even the victim. Regardless, we learned that if we kept doing the things that made us whatever we were (getting straight A’s, cracking jokes in class) we had an identity. We were secure.
I spent years proving I deserved my spot in the universe by being the smart one. If I dared let it slip, if (when) I found someone smarter than I was, I would have no idea who I was. It was terrifying.
Don’t we do that in church, too? Don’t we often—usually–approach God that way?
I’ll obey God’s rules. I’ll go do that service project. I’ll come to church, take communion, even go all out and volunteer for children’s church. If I do all these good things for God, I’ll be a good person. That means I’ll know who I am. God will accept me.
You want to know something crazy? Jesus doesn’t call me or you to be a good person. Jesus calls us to be His person.  .To get our identity from belonging to him, not from doing good things. 

Mind. Blown.
We do this thing backward.
Once we know who we are because of who He is and what He already calls us, we will want to do good things out of pure love and gratitude. When we try to reverse that? Try to obey in order to force-feel acceptance? We get so messed up.
People who try to do this identity thing backward are the ones you meet who are always right. They know what is and is not “approved.” No one else can do it right. Everyone else is a little bit wrong. They are Never. Satisfied. Why? Because we only know who we are–we only feel accepted ourselves–if we’re better at doing good, being good, or toeing line of truth closer than the other guy. If we have to admit we don’t know, that the lines may be more fuzzy than we thought, then we are no longer the best at doing, thinking, and being right. We don’t know who we are.
People who try to do this identity thing backward also become addicted to approval, doing more and more and more, until they burn out. How many of those have we seen? How many have we been? I see that hand. I raised that hand.
There is another way.
Go the right direction. Take our identity from God, freely given, first. We are chosen, beloved, accepted, known, adopted, and so much more. Then, move into obedience. Let the love for the Great Encourager be the motivator to be what we were meant to be. Not the fear that we’ll let Him down.
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled everything to himself.

He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth 

by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, 
separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 
Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. 
As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, 
and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. 
But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. 
Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.” (Colossians 1.19-23)
God is not that teacher who won’t ever give the A. He’s not the boot camp sergeant. He’s the one who sees you as what you will be–without fault. Do you really want a label? Try the ones mentioned above: Blameless. Loved. Reconciled. Friend of God. (Because if you’re no longer an enemy, you’re a friend.)
I’ll never get my identity from doing things. Things are things. They can’t offer anything to my soul. Only a person can do that. The Person—the one who asks us to follow, listen, live in the identity we’ve already been given and let good things flow out of that.

What things are you putting before just knowing God? How might you have to look at those things differently?