This past January, I joined a men's basketball league through my church. Figuring that my window to do something like this shrinks with every passing day, and assuming that since I exercise with regularity I would be okay physically, I played.
Before the first game I missed the chance to warm-up adequately or really even at all. "I'll be okay," I thought.
And, throughout the game, I was. No injuries. No needing a sub out of exhaustion. No needing to sit out because I couldn't contribute. Playing the first game of semi-organized sports in over five years, I ended up playing a good amount of the game.
I went home, stretched out, squeezed in a workout, got ready for bed and went to sleep.
The next morning, however, I could barely walk. My calves burned. My thighs and hamstrings revolted and refused to bend much at all. I had to hold onto the railing of the stairwell at work. Well, actually I had to pull myself up by it to get up the stairs. Each step was a reminder of my age.
It was also a reminder of the need to more adequately prepare.
It also made me realize that while I was in good or at least decent physical shape, I had fallen into the trap of working out to break a sweat. Over the course of time, I had stopped pushing myself. Seldom did I find myself out of breath while working out. Sore the day after a workout? Hardly, if ever.
I had stopped pushing myself.
Throughout the course of the week after that first game, another realization hit me. For however old I was getting, my body started to heal. Even though it hurt, I could walk. By the end of the week, I was able to go for a run.
My body was strong and it was made to get stronger in response to it being pushed to and beyond its limits.
The next week, despite being able to complete an appropriate warm-up, followed a similar progression. I made it through the game, albeit with game-time pain and soreness. Waking up the next morning, my legs once again resisted movement.
I realized, however, that the pain didn't last as long. I was also inspired to work out with more fervor, pushing myself to exhaustion as a way to prep for the explosive nature of competitive basketball.
The rest of the season brought about more typical day-after soreness, a strained groin, and a trip to urgent-care to get a gouge above my right eye repaired.
Otherwise, with each game I could feel myself adapting more and more to the long-forgotten demands of competitive sports. I once again cherished the opportunity to push myself, whether in games or by myself in my basement, in my driveway, or out on a run. Out of breath. Exhausted.
To, and over the edge of, my limits. All in.
Two weeks before the end of the season, COVID-19 caused it to stop early. Despite this abrupt ending, the lessons gleaned from this experience have remained.
So has the scar above my right eye.
First, it is foolish to push beyond your limits if you haven't adequately prepared. Preparation is essential in all things.
Excellence happens on purpose and as the result of intentional preparation.
Second, it is equally foolish to not push to your limits and potentially past them if you have taken the time to get ready. While there might be reason to hold back at times, if you have put in the work, holding back prevents us and others from attaining the greatness for which we have been created and called and what the present moment needs. Ask the question. Make the statement. Stand up for your beliefs or get down on your knees for them. Or both. Offer the proposal. Sing with all that you have within you. Read with expression. Fire that pigskin. Take the risk. Go all in. We get out of something what we put into it. Focus on doing everything, even the small things like warming up, extraordinarily well.
Excellence happens as the result of a whole bunch of hard work.
And third, we are strong. Soreness - within reason - could be viewed as weakness leaving the body. We were made to function well under pressure and, when we prepare and push hard, we are capable of amazing things. Stress is your body's way of preparing you for the task ahead. You have more energy, you have more focus, you have an innate desire to connect with other people. We can see these effects of stress as negatives, or we can accept these responses as God's way of preparing us for the great works He has in store for us to do.
Excellence happens because we were created to be excellent.
2020 has been filled with countless pressure filled, stagnation inducing, painful events. More are most likely on the horizon. Sorry.
Keep preparing as best you can. Push hard. Trust that you were created for greatness, built for holiness, and destined for sainthood. We are capable of so much more than what we think is possible.
We can do hard things. Amazing things. Excellent things.
Believe that perhaps we were put here for a time such as this (Esther 4:14).
And, believe that for as hard as this time is, that we are stronger.