It’s not normal to want to do hard things. My husband jokes that he doesn’t like going to the gym because he has an allergic reaction every time he works out—his face gets red, he starts sweating excessively, and his heart beats fast. Like my man and exercise, most humans will avoid pain and discomfort at all costs.
I recently heard a friend say that weight training actually creates tiny tears in your muscle. It’s in the process of your body rebuilding those tiny tears that new muscle is actually developed. I guess that means without tearing your muscles, you will never get any stronger.
What hard thing feels like it’s tearing your muscles a bit?
I was in the middle of an exercise class a few weeks ago and trying to devise a way to sneak out early without being perceived as a wimp. I just wasn’t feeling it. Some days my body simply will not listen to my brain, and this was one of them. The instructor was wearing a shirt that said, “Strong is the new pretty.” Suddenly it hit me: if I snuck out of class, I wasn’t going to get any stronger. Or prettier, apparently.
If I listened to my discomfort and chose not to push through a hard hour, I was going to miss the chance to tear my muscles enough to let them rebuild. If I wanted to be strong, I had to do the work it took to get stronger. I decided to stay in class. It may not have been my best workout, but I finished it.
Sometimes it’s more about choosing not to quit than giving a perfect performance.
Real life is the same way—there is no shortcut for building endurance. Strength comes from persevering through hard things. The discomfort associated with pushing through physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual fatigue is usually a sign that you are getting stronger.
That’s not to say we should push ourselves past the point of physical or emotional exhaustion, or that to grow we need to live in a constant state of weariness and overload (I’ve been there—it’s not a healthy). It takes wisdom to know when to push and when to rest and recover—but most of the time when something is hard, I would rather quit it completely than wrestle with the tension between persistence and rest. It’s in the wrestling that new strength emerges.
Right now I’m in the midst of something that feels harder than I anticipated it would. The thing I committed to isn’t going the direction I’d hoped, and the length of my commitment seems to be increasing before my very eyes. My muscles are tearing in ways I didn’t expect.
My natural response is to give up and say, “Well, at least I tried.” But perseverance takes practice. Building endurance requires persevering in little things, one decision at a time.
Some days I’m more inspired than others, but often my choice to keep going just starts with getting out of bed. Then pouring a splash of coffee into my cup of creamer. Then praying. A lot. Then taking a shower. Then getting dressed. Then showing up to do the thing I said I would do, trusting that I’ll have what I need for the next few moments.
Some people call the choice to persevere or to quit “fight or flight.” You can either press into the hard thing, fighting through discomfort, stress, tension, fatigue, or you can run away from the thing that causes those undesirable feelings. Most of the time, I just want to run away.
When I feel overwhelmed by the incessant demands of my precious, inherently narcissistic children, I’d rather put on a show to keep them quiet than deal with my own selfishness, magnified by their constant needs.
When I feel needy and overly sensitive for reasons that seem irrational, I’d rather eat something sweet—anything sweet—than rumble with the deeper cause of my emotions.
When the demands on my time and energy outweigh my capacity to keep up with my commitments, I’d rather drink a latte or a glass of wine than deal with the root of my stress.
When I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, I’d rather shop for something new and pretty to wear than examine the untrue beliefs about myself that drive my pursuit of superficial beauty.
When I get in a fight with my husband, I’d rather give him the silent treatment and go to bed angry than apologize for my part and try to lean into the discomfort of being seen in my ugliness.
Fighting is harder than flighting. Building endurance takes work. Persevering through hard things means tearing our emotional muscles a bit. But there is no shortcut for the strength of character that comes from pressing in when you feel like numbing out.
Sometimes I’m tempted to think that it actually would be better to live a comfortable life than a good one. Why would anyone choose to do hard things like run a marathon or scale a mountain or earn a college degree or have a baby?
For the same reason it’s worth the fight to save a marriage, care for an elderly parent, raise a difficult child, reconcile a broken relationship, deal with emotional baggage, wrestle with questions of faith, battle with cancer, or press into the thing that breaks our heart. Because, in the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, life is equal parts brutal and beautiful—life is brutiful. And because our perseverance through our current struggle prepares us to persevere with hope through the next hard thing that will come.
Our choice to be be brave and persevere today helps us to respond with grace and strength tomorrow. We will not lose hope when life gets hard in the future because we know we’ve endured victoriously in the past. Our hearts will be stronger than they used to be.
So I’m not going to quit just yet. Today I’m on vacation with my family, grateful for the chance to step away and catch my breath and gather my strength to keep pressing in and pushing on when I return.
But I want to gain the full benefit of this current struggle by allowing my spiritual muscles to tear a bit. I am trusting that the strength I am building, slow and imperceptible as it may be, will be worth the fight.
Choosing not to quit could possibly take all your courage and all your strength–but you are brave and getting stronger by the second. May you have the strength to endure today, no matter what form perseverance takes.