I climb onto the elliptical as a new day dawns, and today there is no motivation to follow through with my usual routine. I normally watch a sermon online while I exercise and divide my time between the sermon, intermittent prayer, and getting off the machine to help Caleb in the bathroom at least a dozen times.
But some days . . . Some days I just don’t feel like doing it all again. I don’t feel like burning 600 grueling calories or sweating or paying attention to someone as they talk about God and all of his goodness.
Maybe it’s the lack of energy lately. Maybe it’s the early morning cries from the little boy’s room that drew me from sleep three hours earlier than usual. Or maybe it’s the disappointment.
Most of us are disappointed that the hand of God didn’t move differently at some point in our lives. I’ve been disappointed over the bad breakups that came with the latter years of adolescence, hard friendship struggles, failed diets, rejected article ideas, career mishaps, and so much more. Life’s just disappointing sometimes.
I’m not really thinking about these things as I climb onto the elliptical. I’m thinking about whether or not Caleb has cereal in his bowl upstairs and what’s coming next in our lives.
That’s when I tune into a message by Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and he says these words: “Following Jesus can be a very disappointing experience sometimes.”
Yes, I think. Yes, it can.
Some of us dive into a life of following Jesus with a hope that he will make everything better. We hope that following him means our dreams will come to fruition, our hearts will never again be broken, and we’ll never find ourselves huddled in the corner, just praying for daylight. But Jesus doesn’t promise freedom from pain, suffering, or disappointments. He promises just the opposite: He promises that in this life we will have trouble (John 16:33).
Pastor Steven’s illustrations send my mind to a different season of my life. I was somewhere in my early twenties and had joined a few friends at a Bruce Springsteen concert. We ended up sitting right under the air conditioner at the very top of a huge arena, and we shivered through “Dancing in the Dark” and “Born in the USA” and all the other classics. Finally, nearing the end of the concert, my friends convinced me that we should leave early and beat the rush of the emptying stadium.
I resisted, still waiting for The Boss to play my favorite song, “Thunder Road.” When my friends insisted that staying wasn’t an option, I finally agreed to leave. As we walked from the arena and hustled toward the car, I heard the familiar words from somewhere distant: “The screen door slams. Mary’s dress waves. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays . . .” He was playing my song, and I had left the arena prematurely.
I’m much the same as my eager-to-bolt friends when life gets hard. I want nothing more than to rush out of the arena of my pain and get on with the next thing – beat the traffic and be on my way.
What if this isn’t what God is calling us to do at all? What if he’s asking us to sit in the middle of our disappointments and shattered dreams and grief and sorrow and not leave the stadium?
We have a wide array of choices when God lets us down. We can grow bitter, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do it our own way, turn a cold shoulder, or quit trying. We can rush through the pain and get on with the next thing. We can sell out, head for the hills, and try our hand at something new.
Or we can allow the trial to be an opportunity to come to know God more deeply. We can dig deeply into his Word and read truth that will slowly heal us in a way nothing else can. We can sit with him in the middle of the mess without trying to hurry to the other side. We can look for reasons to give thanks in the midst of the disappointment instead of seeing only the disappointment.
I manage to finish an entire workout, and when I’m finished, I’m glad I did it, glad I pushed through the weary morning and the pain and the apathy. I turn on that old song about Mary and her dress waving, cling to the faith that there is goodness, even in this season, and something that sounds like thunder trembles outside as Bruce sings softly through the speakers.
Reference: “Even Now, Somehow” by Pastor Steven Furtick