The 30th Olympics has opened in London complete with fireworks, a parachuting sovereign, and an aging rock star. We can see some 5,300 plus hours of coverage on our televisions if we aren’t so blessed as to have a ticket to the games across the pond. These athletes from all over the world make perfection seem so easy, so beautiful and attainable, but then we see only the top competitors from each country. Most athletes, like you and me, are casual participators or “weekend warriors.”
Six months ago I decided I needed to step up my training so I’d be in shape for my planned trip in the fall to Greece and Turkey. When I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000, I felt sorry for the old people who were worn out by all the intense activity on their life time journey: they were reduced to seeing the most important holy sites from the bus. I didn’t want to be stuck on the bus this time around while the younger pups took pity on me! I want to be able to hike up the rocky trails and down the twisting, narrow stairways to the basements where the first century excavations reside.
I committed to the trip in January, so I told my personal trainer Ben, we need to get me in shape for walking. “Then you need to walk more and build up your core muscles,” he said. I had trained by myself for the first year of my medical leave by swimming laps in the pool at the YMCA for five days a week. I used the www.sparkspeople.com program (a free application for the smart phone & computer that tracks calories, carbs, fats, and protein of restaurant, purchased, and home prepared foods, as well as tracking fitness training and weight). I lost 50 pounds and three dress sizes this way.
Then I began weight training once a week with Ben. He’s not yet 30 and I’m approaching 65, so his purpose in life is to make me suck wind, literally. I have asthma, and he takes me up to the point of breathlessness to help me increase my lung capacity. My purpose in life has become to make him at least break a sweat when we train. Then I know that I have reached my absolute maximum for that day. He still runs circles around me anyway and just laughs.
Thursday I was dripping sweat like a fountain of youth as I did my sit-ups when one of the fellows came over to give me encouragement. “Whose your trainer?” he says. Ben, I say. “You got it going girl!” Yes, Ben’s motto is “if you still look pretty after I’m finished training you, you have wasted your money today.” He gives me a high five and says, “You got your money’s worth today!”
Ben has taught me that when I come to the gym I need to leave behind my preconceived notions of “femininity” in the locker room along with my purse. If I don’t sweat when I work out by myself, I should have stayed home, or gone to the salon for a mani-pedi for all the good it has done me. This is hard, because I grew up in the era when women were supposed to keep their makeup “fresh at all times.”
Along this journey, Ben and I have become friends. As a coach, he knows how hard to push me. He also knows that I do better with praise than with scolding. He is my accountability partner for my food plan, my exercise, and my health on a weekly basis. I see my doctors once every six months for my health, but having a personal trainer who is monitoring my compliance weekly is invaluable.
When I was young, my orthodontist would ask if I were wearing the rubber bands daily that put tension on my teeth to correct my overbite. Sometimes I didn’t wear them, because when I opened my mouth and laughed really loud, as I usually did, the rubber bands would go flying across the room. Then everyone would laugh some more. So I would lie, and he would look inside my mouth again and say, “I see two little fairies waving red flags and they are telling me you haven’t been wearing your bands this week.” So I would confess, and agree to put up with the pain, the embarrassment, and reap the reward of a beautiful smile.
This is why we train, whether in art, the gym, or in our spiritual life. We want to reap a reward. The ancient athletes of Greece who competed at the Olympics, “the agonizers, the strugglers” fought for a perishable wreath of laurel leaves which was the crown awarded to the victors. They gave over their whole lives to the competition, just as our top athletes do today. They ate specially prepared foods, trained under coaches, and even kept themselves sexually pure before a big match. Their focus was on the contest first and the goal second. Doing anything less than their best wasn’t a part of their mindset.
In an Awesome Art Tuesday class, a kindergarten child worried about not being “perfect.” I told her, no artist is perfect. We always find something we can improve in our work, so we make another one. But we always give this piece our best effort, for we aren’t seeking perfection, we are only seeking “beauty.” This was freeing to her spirit, for at home she isn’t allowed to make a mess at anything.
The works we do in art are all “going onto beautiful” just as our lives in this world are “going onto perfection in the love of God and love of neighbor.” We can’t mess this up if we are acting in love and with the best intentions.
As you work out this week, be aware of your “self-talk” and body image. Are you loving your body or hating your body? The Jefferson Airplane sang, “You’re Only Pretty As You Feel Inside.” The fashion industry makes clothes for the shape they believe we should be, but most Americans are not this shape! 94% of women are either pear or straight shaped and about 40% of men are portly or have “lower front waists” (NY Times). We can’t let their designs dictate how we feel about ourselves! Buddha said “You, yourself as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
“We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Share the love of God with some one else this week by giving away one of your works of art to someone who will not benefit you by this gift. If this is difficult, remember that Christ gave his life for you freely. God sent his Son into the world as a gift of unconditional love (John 3:16). This is part of your training in unconditional love, for a gift that cannot be returned in kind will increase your joy ten fold.