Friday, March 20, 2015

Growing Pains

Earlier this week I was invited to go mountain biking with a couple of friends from work. It has been years since I have ridden a bike, besides the occasional coasting on our street with the kids or the gentle trails we often ride when camping. I was slightly leery of the whole situation; mainly because I am still so out of shape, and, more importantly, my friends are avid riders. Skipper is in his fifties and is a long time triathlon competitor. He’s a full-blooded Cajun who is in better shape at his age than I have ever been. My other friend David has been riding for a while too, and was quite familiar with the trail we would be riding. Despite both guys trying to talk down my worries about keeping up (as well as not dying) I still had an underlying fear of failing.

I arrived at Enterprise South Nature Park and was ignorantly starting to get excited about the unknown beating that awaited me. The first few miles of the trail were tough, but manageable. I found out later we had began our ride on the intermediate trail. All I know is that the first mile or so of incline already had winded me. Skipper and David were gracious enough to stop and wait for me at certain points in the trail; probably not so much out of kindness, but the fear I had possibly met my untimely demise. We finished the first section of the TNT trail and I was feeling pretty good.

Next came Log Rhythm... an advanced trail. We started once again on an incline up the side of a ridge. I was trying to stay with the pack, but felt my legs beginning to lose strength. I kept pushing, but the bumpy ride up the never-ending hill just kept coming. I finally gave out. My heart was pounding so fast I was worried it might explode in my chest. I was sucking in air as fast as I could, as I hunkered over the handle bars in defeat. The heavy breathing soon turned to gagging. I began looking around to make sure no one was going to see me so gracefully throw up. Unclipping my helmet, I fought back the feeling, and slowly began to walk my bike up the remainder of the slope in shame.

My friends were only a few hundred feet away, just over the next hill, and were smiling. I was certain they had heard me fighting to keep my lunch down, and was slightly embarrassed. I apologized again for holding them up, but they just shook their heads and told me stories of their first time up that hill. I was encouraged to know I wasn’t the only person to give out, and nearly give up.

The backside of Log Rhythm was incredible. The trail was tight and weaved down the mountain, over roots, rock gardens, and large humps that would send you airborne. The wind whistled through my helmet as rays from the sun poked through the canopy on occasion. As I flew down the path, adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was so glad I hadn’t quit on the big incline. And though I was sore, I was glad to feel the pain, because it was worth it for the experience. Trees zipped by as I snaked my way faster and faster down the crooked path; becoming more confident on the bike. As I breathed in the excitement of the ride, I hit a large mound unexpectedly and nearly came off the ground. It was the second mound where I completely lost control. I flew into the air with my feet off the pedals, and landed with a bang and the pedal digging deeply into my shin. It was a minor injury compared to what it could have been, but I didn’t care. I embraced the pain because I acquired it by doing something.

Embracing Personal Pain

I guess I am starting to realize something about life. We so often think of pain in a negative manner; mainly because pain is… well, painful. But not all pain is bad. In fact, I am beginning to think that pain is not only a necessary thing, but a good thing. It is an indicator that we are moving and growing. Anything that is not moving and growing is usually stagnant and dying.

Our son, Sawyer, is a big kid. He is a head high above all the other kindergarteners in his class. Some days it seems like he gets taller over night. His pants have quickly started to ride higher and higher, and his shirts are getting shorter. There for awhile, Sawyer would wake up many nights crying. His legs would be aching so badly he could not sleep. We would give him some Tylenol and then send him back to bed. We called the doctor about it, and they explained it was just growing pains. Sawyer’s body was growing a lot, and it hurt.

Like I said, I think a lot of pain is a sign of growth. Unfortunately, it’s a bit counterintuitive to embrace it. Naturally we desire comfort and self preservation, so we instinctively avoid pain. But what if the path of pain could lead us to a better understanding of life? What if we allowed the hurt not to destroy us, but make us a better person?

I thought about all of this as I was driving home from Enterprise South. My windows were down, and the setting sun shone brightly on my face. My body felt like I had been strung up like a piƱata and beaten with baseball bats. My leg was torn up from my knee to the bottom of my shin; blood soaked down into my sock. Still, I felt good. I hurt, but it was a good kind of hurt; a beneficial one.

If growing physically can be so painful, I would assume growing in any aspect of life would involve pain as well. So when we purposefully avoid the prospect of pain, we may actually be avoiding a deeper more meaningful life. Think about it from a relational point of view. There are those who avoid relationships because of the risk. They are so scared to put themselves out there because of the possibility of getting hurt, that they forfeit a life of potentially rich and wonderful friendships, and sometimes even more.

About a year ago Patience and I went to dinner with one my best friends and his girlfriend. The conversation started out light. We laughed as we swapped stories from our past. Then there was a turn; as the two of them leaned in a little more towards Patience and I with a confession.

"We know we want to take our relationship to the next level, but there is this fear that if we get too close... if it falls apart... it will hurt even worse," my friend said as looked at his plate.

His girlfriend picked up where he trailed off, "We are both super cautious. We won't even take pictures together yet; that way if things don't work out it won't be as hard to separate our lives back out."

"But you know, that it would be hard either way, right?" my wife responded.

They nodded.

"You can't go into a relationship planning to fail," Patience added.

The table was quiet for a moment.

"Anything worth doing comes with risk," I told them, "That's how you know it's worth doing."

“You obviously love each other, or you wouldn’t be so worried about it,” Patience so wisely advised, “So don’t be afraid to take those steps.”

They looked at each other with smiles

Thankfully my friends didn't cave from the fear of possible failure. They actually will be getting married next month and are very happy together. 

Just like any relationship, it's not always easy, but the hard times, the risks we take, they are signs we are growing together. And I would much rather grow with someone I love, even with great risk involved, than to play it safe alone. Imagine all we would miss if we never took a chance on anything. Embracing personal pain means accepting potential failure.

It may seem unnatural to embrace your own pain, and trust God to redeem it. It may appear too risky to step out on faith without any guarantee that things will work out. It might even feel impossible just to do anything at all besides what you have always done. But you'll never get to feel the breeze blowing through your helmet until you walk your bike up the highest of hills. You'll never get to live a life with those you love, without taking the risk of losing them all. Stop running from the hurt, and start seeing it for what it really is: the growing pains to a better you.

Next week I will be writing about embracing the pain of others. It will be a look at how I believe we are called to go beyond just accepting our own personal pain, and begin to take on the hurts and burdens of those around us; which should coincide nicely with the story of Easter.

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