It’s your workout

In a moment of madness, I said yes: Yes, I would sign up to ride in a 109km cycling race with my sisters on the other side of the world. Me, who had three children aged 5 and under. Me, who did not have a working bicycle.

But love and sibling-peer-pressure are powerful motivators, and so it was that I found myself pouring my post-baby body into lycra cycling shorts and finding ways to rack up some miles on the tarmac. I shortly came up against two obstacles: 1) it was winter, and 2) the race we were training for was hilly, while our town was F-L-A-T. “You’ll have to do some hill training,” said my Dad. “Try a spin class at your local gym.”

Spinning? Spinning?! As in, an aerobics class on a stationary bicycle? With other people? And loud music? (Did I mention the lycra?)

Aldred spinning bikes

I scoured the class schedule and found exactly one class during the week which would work with our family schedule without my needing to wake up before the sun. It was a Saturday morning 90-minute class, as opposed to the regular 45-60 minute ones. In hindsight, the instructor’s raised eyebrow when I said this was my first time should have been a clue that I was in the wrong class, but there’s nothing like ignorance to fuel one’s bravado.”I’ll be fine,” I said.

I was definitely NOT fine. Shaking and shivering with fatigue and muscle shock, I fell off the bike into the pool of sweat that had been collecting under the saddle after just TWENTY minutes. I limped out, hurting too badly to feel the humiliation acutely.

The next week, I organized child care and joined the beginner’s class. My goals were modest: to stay on the bike for the full 45 minutes, and to make sure I didn’t throw up. I survived that class (barely), and the one after that, and the one after that. By the 6th or 7th class, the danger of emetic eruption had abated, and I was beginning to feel a little stronger.

The next week we had a substitute instructor, and as she explained the basics of beginner spinning to us (how to adjust the tension, what cadence was, how fast we should be aiming to go), she made this comment: “Remember, folks, this is YOUR workout. You’re not doing this for me, it’s for you. You’re the one that gets the benefits of your effort. You can fool me, but you can’t fool your body. It’s your workout – make the most of it.”

Her words installed themselves on a mental billboard in my brain during that session. When I felt tempted to turn down the tension before an exercise was over, so that I could give my legs a break but still seem like I was keeping up – her words flashed in my head: “It’s your workout.” I kept pedaling. When she asked us to sprint for 1 minute, and my heart felt like it might explode out my chest at 26 seconds, I heard them again: “It’s your workout!” I kept pedaling.

Her words stayed with me through every spin class for the rest of the season, and I carried her voice and a backing track from Swedish House Mafia (a Spin class favorite) in my head when the day of the race finally came. “Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child,” sang SHM, and I heard the voice say “This is your workout! This is your race!”

And it was.

****

It’s been a year since that first spin class, but I heard my instructors voice again this week as I faced the bible study homework that I had been neglecting throughout Christmas break. Small groups would be resuming soon, and my pages had great big white spaces between the questions: evidence of my attention being elsewhere over Christmas.

The temptation was this: to set aside half an hour, skim the chapter and fill in a few of the questions – enough to make the page look “full”, enough to have a few answers covered so that if I was called on in group discussion, I would have something to contribute. It wouldn’t take long for me to put in just enough effort so that I appeared to have put in a lot of effort. I could skip the “challenge” and “personal” questions – that would shave off at least half an hour.

An old, dusty mental billboard became visible in the corner of my mind’s eye. “It’s your workout,” it goaded. And I was convicted: yes, I could sit in the class and make the motions of participation, I could make it through the 45 minutes and call it “group exercise”. But it’s my heart that wouldn’t get extra oxygen. It’s my mind that wouldn’t be stretched. It’s my spiritual fitness that would be compromised. Because at the end of the day, I go to bible study for a workout for my soul – and it’s my workout.

It’s always painful to get back into shape. My faith-muscles are out of shape after Christmas, my prayer-joints a little stiff from disuse. But I know how good it feels to feel strong, and I know how a little fitness gives me more energy for everything in my day.

And so I’m going to make the most of it. Because it’s my workout, even when no-one is watching.

The fear of failure

“Please welcome our international conference speaker, Bronwyn!” she said, and held out the microphone.

I sat there bug-eyed, waiting for another Bronwyn to stand up. No one moved. The awkwardness lay thick in the air. I stood up warily, wanting to make a thousand excuses for the introduction. Yes, I was the speaker. Yes, I had spoken at a women’s conference once before. And yes, that conference was in South Africa. But it was just one conference. And it was in my home country!

20130610-132856.jpgTechnically, the introduction was correct, but I wasn’t ready to wear the label. It begs the question though: how many conferences do you have to speak at before you are a ‘conference speaker’? Technically, I am writing a blog, but am I a blogger? I am trying my hand at writing, but does that make me a writer? I recently got a bicycle and trained to join my sisters for a bike race, but does that make me a cyclist? Describing myself as any one of those makes me feel decidedly squirrelly.

Why is it that we are loath to wear the labels? I think the chief reason for shying away from being called a cyclist, speaker or blogger is the fear that wearing the label will require me to be wildly successful.

But I am afraid of failure. Afraid that my writing will be bad, that no one will read my blog, that I am too slow and too irregular to be classified as any kind of athlete. I’m afraid people will judge my skills and find me lacking. Afraid that they (whoever they are) will think I’m bragging.

However, I have children, and that makes me a mother. Not a perfect mama, not an expert, but a mother nonetheless. I clearly remember being discharged from the hospital after our first child was born and thinking “Are they really just going to let us leave with this kid? We know nothing about parenting. Doesn’t the state make you take a test before they entrust an infant into your care?” But they let us leave with our vulnerable little bundle. The quality of my parenting notwithstanding, I am a mom.

I have put my faith in Jesus Christ, and by definition that makes me a Christian. Not a perfect Christian, not an expert, but a Christian nonetheless. Perhaps this is a label that suffers especially from performance anxiety. I mean, just how good to you have to be to call yourself a Christian? Dare I put a fish on my car if I have been known to exceed the speed limit? What about when I am selfish? Or greedy? Or just plain mean? The threat of being called one of those ‘hypocrites’ when my behavior betrays my label looms large. But the quality of my faith-walk notwithstanding, I am a Christian.

We’ve heard it said “if something is worth doing, do it well.” Surely there is truth in that. If it is worth it for me to write, I want to write as best I can. If it is worth it to follow Jesus, then I want to do that as well as I am able.

However, I should not let the fear of not doing well keep me from doing things that are still, fundamentally, worth doing. Surely it is also true to say “if something is worth doing, do it badly… simply because it was worth doing in the first place”.

So this is me. With varying degrees of proficiency and failure, I am a cyclist. A sinner. A pianist. A mother. A goofball. A wife. A blogger. A conference speaker. A servant. A friend. A cook. A traveler. These things are worth doing, even if I do them badly.

The cap fits, so I’m wearing it. Wear yours too.