The Honest Struggle of Discipleship

The gym and I have this agreement: I will visit daily, but it must save a treadmill for me in the very back row.

I don’t like being up front where others can see parts of me moving like they’ve been caught up in a charismatic holy hour. It’s humiliating. When I’m in the back, I can keep my eye on everyone else…and yes, keep their eyes off of me and my independently-minded jiggly things.

Today, my gym failed me. Every single apparatus in the back row was occupied. Like a fool, I noticed this too late and was already committed to the floor of onlookers.  Panic. Should I turn around and walk out? No. They’d all see me do that. Okay, stay calm; just walk over to a treadmill in the middle row and act like this is always your spot. Oh, crap. There’s nobody in front of me. Now all the people who stole my treadmill in the back row have nobody else to watch but{t} me! Block it out. Just do what you came to do.You know the rule: Freaking out is not allowed! 

I tried. I really tried to just get on with my workout as if I were in my normal back row place. Yet every step on that treadmill felt like a slow cutting knife to my exposed pride.

I don’t like people to see me struggle.

There it is, the reality that keeps me in the back row in a lot more places in my life than just at the gym. Oh I don’t mind being in the front when I feel strong and capable. But weak and panting for breath? Never, if it can be helped.

I spent some time on that middle-rowed treadmill thinking about how this fear of others seeing me struggle has hindered my being shaped into a disciple of Jesus.  I instantly knew it must have set me back in some pretty significant ways because frankly, being a disciple—at least the one I see the Bible speaking of, you know the kind who forgives seventy times seven, and offers hospitality to those who can’t or won’t return the favor, and practices only love toward her enemies—is a really big struggle for me.  I’m not good at these things and I don’t want anyone seeing how much I pant and falter as I struggle.

The back row of life feels safer; sheltered places often do. But they’re not the honest places. In the middle row of life there’s no hiding that you’ve grown comfortable with things that have weakened your spiritual muscles. Self-righteousness, impatience with others, and self-protection have made me jiggly around the middle in a way that is most unhealthy for my heart.

What I learned today is sometimes, almost always, it’s best to struggle in the open. Why? What I usually see when I’m in the back row are figures that don’t give the appearance that they struggle much with their shape; they’re firm, fit and strong. {Sometimes I think the gym pays these models to work out in the front rows just to keep the rest of us paying our dues.} We do the same thing in our churches—put the fit people up front and leave the strugglers to worry that someone will see them sweating in the back row.

Tonight a struggling friend wrote an email to me and in it said, “What is normal?” Normal, my friend, is the struggle. I’m sorry we’ve all done our hard work in the back row where you couldn’t see the sweat running down our backs. I’m sorry that we’ve led you to believe that you were alone in your panting and aching for more of Jesus. I am panting and aching too. It’s part of the disciple’s journey. Not because Jesus makes it hard to follow Him, but because our hearts are prone to doubt his goodness and marginalize his love when he’s using the struggle to shape us into his image. I’m sorry that my pride and my fear has kept me from letting you see me struggle. I’m sorry that we, the church culture, has “photo shopped” the sweat and tears out of our examples of what it means to be a disciple. I will try to do more of that working out of my salvation with fear and trembling in the middle row so you and others can see. I apologize in advance if the view gets ugly.

4 thoughts on “The Honest Struggle of Discipleship

  1. I’m just now catching up on my blog reading and you’ve taken me from laughing out loud to crying…and I thought I was done with that, darn it! Thank you for this.

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