In Rocky V - one of the least known movies in the series of films - Rocky has a flashback where he sees himself inside the ring with his trainer, Mickey. It's a great scene; one of my all-time favorites. In the midst of his work, Rocky lowered his arms signifying he was finished, but Mickey quickly shouts, "Hey, I didn't hear no bell!" and Rocky assumes the battle. I think about that scene a lot. Used to be, I'd whisper "I didn't hear no bell" to myself while we destroyed each other in the gym, loading plate after plate for rep after rep. But over the years the scene has grown to mean much more.
We're stoppable. We have God-given abilities with God-given limits. And that's a God-given compliment. What do we do with a compliment God gives us? We accept it. And our response in the form of our highest effort is one of the ways we simply say thank you for the gift of limitation.
In his book, “The Road to Character,” David Brooks describes our current culture in a way that few dare. “As I look around, the same messages are everywhere. You are special. Trust yourself. Be true to yourself. Commencement speeches are larded with the same clichés: Follow your passion. Don’t accept limits. You are so great. This self-centeredness leads in several unfortunate directions. It leads to selfishness. It leads to pride. It leads to a capacity to ignore your imperfections and inflate your virtues; constantly seeking recognition and painfully sensitive to any snub to the status we feel we have earned for ourselves.”
As I look at the fitness industry and even the “faith & fitness” corner of it, it seems we are hell-bent on assuring one another that it’s all about being abundantly comfortable in our own skin; to the point that we dramatize and sensationalize our unfiltered posts in the anticipation of the applause for our brutal honesty and the risk of being exposed as merely human. From experience, such attempts at recognition rival the desire for the same kind of votes we covet for our most beloved pics, attractive angles and best sides. We’re glory hounds. Praise junkies. Self-trusted wannabes. Oh but we want everyone to accept the mantra that we’re unstoppable because we are “enough” and that we can do anything we set our minds toward.
“I just wish other women knew how amazing they were. Straighten out that crown, girl!” Or “I just wish other men knew how many mountains they could move if they just believed in themselves.”
Hogwash. The is the false gospel of self-trust. Trust me, we are not that awesome and that mountain ain’t gonna budge big boy.
You know, we may not emerge out of times of suffering healthy, strong or healed, but we do come out different. Changed. Some even come out with a vocation. As if the dust that has settled formed a path of purpose, with the first sign of clean air allowing for a deep inhale and a look of resolve. Picture me looking down that road as I type this sentence.
“Suffering drags you deeper into yourself,” says David Brooks. “It smashes you through a floor you thought was the bottom floor of your soul, revealing a cavity below, and then it smashes through that floor, revealing another cavity, and so on and so on. The person in pain descends to unknown ground. Suffering opens up ancient places that have been hidden. When people are thrust down into these deeper zones, thrust into lonely self-scrutiny, they are forced to confront the fact that they can’t determine what goes on there. It shatters the illusion of self-mastery. It teaches gratitude. We realize how undeserving we are.”
If I can ascend up into the the gym or studio - the shallow periphery that I know as well as any and better than most - when was the last time you and I praised and applauded God for His allowance of our limits? Forget our basements, but what about for our ceilings? Limits are both above and below.
Fact is, when we honor Him with our bodies, it is indeed worship. From squat racks to hospital beds, yoga studios to waiting rooms. That worship won't stop until He says the fight is over.
Like Rocky - whose time in the ring ended only by the bell - you and I are still in it. We're mixing it up with the best life can throw at us for our souls using both health (and our illness.) We do our best to put up our dukes to slip its jab, but it’s a fight we will eventually lose. I know it's a blow to the body, but health is a losing battle. Thankfully, gracefully, our spiritual battle was fought and won only when He said, "It Is finished." Hurry Heaven.
And if the world hears that as an admission of weakness, they're right. Only, we know it as applause. An applause that echoes off the bottom floor of our despair to the rooftops of our ability. An applause from us; the stoppable.