The Great I Am

When I wrote my first draft of the “I am” post and sent it to Louise for feedback, she commented that her use of this statement varies from person to person. Initially I had interpreted the “I am” statement as a bold declaration of an imagined future self, and I didn’t feel confident enough to make a statement like that. The friend who had originally relayed the story of the “I am” statement tends to be a bit impatient and this may have contributed to how I was hearing it.  Louise, on the other hand, often aims for something more immediate, for something rooted in the present.  Her goal was for individuals to allow themselves permission to perceive themselves as something different or unexpected, whether that be in the past, present or future, but she also is keenly aware of the value of the present, because that is all we really have. In working through the idea the first time, I settled on different wording, “I am training to be …”, which for me shifted my focus from a future goal to something a little more present, the process. Now that I think about it again though, I realize that even still, focusing on the process is not the same as staying in the present.

We live in a culture that values becoming (working towards goals) over being (finding contentedness within the moment). So I think it’s really not surprising that focusing on the present is something I find challenging, and I also think I’m not alone in this. The difference between goal, process, and present, sometimes can be vast, and other times it can be subtle. It’s easy to miss the value of our present self when we focus intently on the goal or even the process; it’s even easier to do when the present self is the one we have come to a trainer to help us change.

As I was thinking this all through again, it occurred to me that in Christian terms God is often referred to as the Great I Am. He reveals himself to Moses as “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:13-14).  I Am – that’s present tense. God is not the Great I Am Working on Being or the Great I Will Become. The power of God is in the present moment, in being able to see ourselves right now in the way that God does, with compassion and love despite our imperfection and brokenness and understanding that this is enough.starfish

Pastor Earl has been working to simplify the message of the Gospel in a recent sermon series. In a world where so many voices have loudly misrepresented the message of Christianity, perhaps from honest confusion, perhaps out of fear, he feels this is necessary. He says that the radical message of the Gospel distilled to its essence is that “I am enough”. He has used a variety of methods to help drive this message home. One Sunday he had us all repeat after him: “I am enough”.  Another Sunday he used question and answer format to help us identify which popular statements were Gospel (“God loves you in spite of who you are and what you do.”) and which were not Gospel (“God loves us most when we do what is right.”).  It was kinda cool listening to him bust Gospel myths like Artemis had busted myths about women and strength training.

We need people like Pastor Earl to remind us of the Gospel, to remind us that, despite our desire to be different or our attempts to change, we are loved and we are enough just as we are. That truth gets muddled when we translate it into the chaos of our daily lives, into the incompleteness of our to do lists, into our attempts to achieve our goals. We forget about the power that is accessible to us when we are willing to see ourselves differently, to love who we are in the present moment, despite the brokenness we might feel. And we need good friends and coaches like Louise to remind us of this too, because any attempt to make a meaningful change to our health and fitness that is rooted in a place of self-acceptance is bound to have more lasting impact than one initiated out of feelings of inadequacy and shame.

A Prayer and An Imperfect Trust

My experience with strength training has been one of empowerment and a desire to connect and encourage like-minded people.  If that’s the part of my story that you relate to and you’ve connected with other people like you, then I’m psyched.  However, there is another layer to this story, and that is a different connection to my faith life.  I know not everyone wants to talk about faith; somehow faith has become divisive in our country and in our time.  That’s why I’ve made this part of the story a separate tab.  If you’re also interested in this aspect of the story you can take it.  If not, you can leave it.  Up to you.  It will be here later if you change your mind.

That initial conversation that I had with myself on the spin bike, the one that got me started in this direction, the one where I walked away possessing a little of my husband’s faith in me, wasn’t a conversation.  It was a prayer.  I was slogged down with all those feelings I described of being “not enough”, but the new questions I asked were based on a lesson I had recently taught my 5th & 6th grade Sunday School class.  The questions were phrased like this: “God, what gifts and talents have you given me?  What have you made special in me that I’m supposed to be using better?”

Initially, the answers I came up with did not seem particularly compelling.  In fact, they seemed somewhat lame: I love to workout and that’s when I’m happiest; I’m am bothered by injustice and poverty and exploitation and war; I’m a decent writer.  Big whoop.  The only one of those items I’d consistently acted on was the exercise piece, and if you’ve read around on this blog, you know it wasn’t always like that was coming from a good place in my mind.  In fact, what I had done in comparison to what I hadn’t done made me feel selfish.  I had exercised because I liked it; I did it for me.  Maybe, I thought, there was a way I could use exercise to help other people.  Maybe I could get my personal trainers certification and run boot camps or classes as fundraisers to support organizations that did a better job of addressing the big issues like injustice.  The idea seemed impractical, illogical, weird.

But then, louder than the self-criticism, uncertainty, and second guessing, I heard a different thought – bold and confident. “Faith is acting even when you can’t see the outcome.”  The voice was so authoritative and commanding, definitely not my usual way of thinking.  It caught my attention.  The result was that I walked out of the spin room that day, fairly confident that my next step was to pursue certification as a personal trainer, a step that seemed relatively manageable and frankly pretty fun, but beyond that … not much.

Some people love uncertainty and adventure.  They dive straight into the deep end in a bikini.  Me?  Maybe not so much.  I like to test the water, and be a little more sure of what to expect.  I like to know where I’m going.  Somehow, that day though, it didn’t matter that the final destination was uncertain.  Somehow that day, my husband’s faith in me allowed me to put a little more trust in God.  A baby step, … but that’s ok.  Pastor Earl tells us that initially God asks us just to take those small, tentative steps: “The way out of the darkness that fills our lives is not to have the perfect love, the absolute confidence, the great and powerful faith. It starts with hesitation but trusting enough to follow the instruction to care for those who are easiest.” Start with what’s easy, what we’re good at, by using the gifts God has given us.  Just a baby step, an “imperfect trust”.  The next steps will follow.