When I entered college as a Freshman, I had never run more than ten consecutive feet.
But I was over 5’9.
So it only followed that I should try out for the University of Washington rowing team, a small, jolly group of folk without any sort of pressure as one of the premiere crew programs in the world.
Needless to say, I learned many things those first few months at the UW. Besides how to navigate the collegiate world of academics, the social dynamics of living one block off Frat Row, and the basics of Italian, I also learned just how far the human body can be pushed past the feeling of certain death. I completed a two-hour row followed by a two-mile run, followed the next day by a 6am weight-lifting session with the Football Team, crowned with the pressing and urgent need to navigate stairs with legs that no longer operated correctly.
The sad ending to this story is, I hated rowing. And I was not a collegiate athlete. And the terrifying soon-to-be-head coach Eleanor knew this instinctively, and cut me after two months of try-outs from the last Novice boat even though they needed me to fill it.
Fast-forward a few years, and we get to the point of the story. My challenge for this summer is mainly to the students, but perhaps it will encourage the parents, as well.
Do something this summer that you don’t want to do.
Don’t necessarily do hard things. Don’t conquer your fear of heights by sky-diving. Don’t move to the Congo. Don’t get on the Youth City Council of your city and change the world.
I mean, sure, if you want to, go right ahead. But it’s easy to go so big you don’t even try. Narrow in on your normal life. Squint. Go after something that you have avoided because it makes you uncomfortable or intimidates you or seems below you.
Having the twins last year, in combination with reading a book called How To Manage Your House Without Losing Your Mind, revealed to me that I allow my desires to control my actions far too often. Because with pregnancy, rarely do your desires dictate what your body does. You want this baby out NOW? Tough. You want to really savor and enjoy a burger? Suddenly, you can’t stomach the thought of fries. Or beef. You want to sleep…?
I am beginning to learn that pretty much all of self-discipline (or to sound fancy, mortification) is doing what I don’t want to do. Or not doing what I want to do. Not just epic level temptation-fleeing, but daily macro work; it’s putting to death my flesh in tiny decisions: No, I will not eat that cookie. Yes, I will get on that erg machine.
Did I mention that twist in the story? I need an efficient exercise that does not require impact on a variety of joints that have begun to fail in the wake of twin-incubating.
So a rowing machine now sits in our basement. And God chuckles at me.
I invite students and parents alike to join me on their own rowing machine, and I have a few suggestions:
- Read your Bible. Every day. If there is a part you haven’t read, start there (even if there are eyeballs and churning wheels of fire). Or start at the beginning. Or I invite you to join myself and a number of others on the Same Page Summer Reading Plan.
- Read a type of book you wouldn’t typically choose. We are creating a Reading Bingo for our children this summer which will require them to read something outside of each’s comfort zone. What about you? Do you love fiction but hate nonfiction? Do your children love epic adventure and dislike fables? I spend time trolling various reading blogs, and the following typically have great suggestions (but I always double-check Amazon reviews): Reshelving Alexandria, Redeemed Reader, and Read-Aloud-Revival. If I get my act together, I may just throw together an ECS Staff Summer Reading Standard.
- Pick a chore. Any chore. The one you don’t like at all. Do it faithfully, every time it needs it, without being asked (student) or without avoiding it (parent). Student, I dare you to pick two or three or four and not tell your parents – just bless their socks off. Unload the dishwasher. Immediately sort the laundry from the dryer. Sweep the kitchen. Even…clean the drain in your shower.
- Get physical. Again, pick something you don’t like. Become frenemies with a kettlebell. Do a Couch-to-5k (the summer is almost the perfect amount of time). Maybe you need to do more movement outside: weed, plant vegetables, tackle that corner of your yard that everyone has just stopped seeing.
- Get creative. Is there something you have really wanted to try but it intimidates you? Feels like too much work? Get after it. Summer is an ideal time. Find tutorials and plop yourself in someone’s house (after kindly asking) who knows how to do this thing. Figure out artisanal sourdough bread: look that little starter square in its squishy face and tell it you aren’t scared. Attempt to crochet a washcloth. Build a trebuchet. Go snipe hunting. Parents, introduce one or two new recipes into your meal rotation.
- Fail. You actually may need to rest joyfully when you don’t want to. You may need to pass-off things you love to others. You may need to do what is the hardest for me: planned failing. Perhaps there are so many spinning plates, you should joyfully, humbly, set some aside and pray that God will provide others to take them up.
I don’t know what it will be for you, but I sense in my bones that as a Christian community we are being called to increasing discomfort. Our actions, words, and affections are going to grow from awkward to anachronistic to abominable to the society around us. May this challenge be part of the warm-up for the stretch of rocky race ahead.