By: Sarah Cates
As Americans, most of our life is consciously and unconsciously built around trying to avoid discomfort of any kind. But we cannot forget that wrapped up in the promise of blessing and comfort from Christ, we are also promised that we will share in His suffering while on this earth. Suffering is unavoidable. When we inoculate ourselves to any discomfort, any irritation, any self-sacrifice, then, when we are struck with promised suffering, it bowls us over.
Do you pursue any discomfort in your own life, any sacrifice? Do you wake up earlier than you must to pray? Do you volunteer at your child’s school? Do you give up your time to invest in someone who can give you nothing, but who needs your everything? Do you take care of your health for the sake of those you love, who rely on you? Most of us don’t or, if we do, we go kicking and screaming.
I CrossFit. I lift heavy barbells in a dozen ways, I jump on boxes, I do hundreds of burpees, I do pull-ups, I run with heavy objects on my shoulder. Every workout is designed to hurt, to push you past limits. God has used this intentional, pursued discomfort in my day-to-day life to speak Truth into my heart so that I am better prepared when sacrifice I didn’t choose comes around - which it does almost daily.
1. You learn to take it one step at a time
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34
It is impossible to do many CrossFit workouts while thinking about the entire workout. Once you begin and the burn starts and your heart rate is up, it does you no favors to think about how this is only round one and you’ve got five to do. You learn that you can only focus on performing the movement at hand to the best of your ability, with the best strategy, so that you can actually make it to round five. The same can apply when trying to staff volunteers for an event, when trying to get the baby to go to sleep for the eleventh time, when setting a budget that lets you give to your church. Thinking about the entire problem, trying to solve the entire problem at once will never be effective. Do the next thing, and soon the entire thing will be done.
2. You learn to keep moving no matter what
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13b-14
There comes a time in almost every workout, when you want to either stop and rest, or you want to take some weight off, or you want to just plain quit. But you learn to say no. You learn to push yourself to finish at the weight you started, even though it’s more difficult with every rep. You learn to not take any more rest than you need, because it doesn’t help you accomplish what you set out to accomplish. You learn not to quit, because it is never worth it to quit once you’ve started. The only thing that will help you is WORK. To call the next potential volunteer and ask them to show up. To fill out the next page of the application. To not turn on the TV and spend intentional time with your kids.
3. You learn that you need others
“And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
Most CrossFit workouts are done in a gym with a coach and with a class. You have friends who are suffering literally alongside you as you try to complete whatever task has been put before you. This community becomes one of the greatest sources of encouragement and strength to keep going. This becomes a model and reminder of how Christ comes alongside us and holds us up through trials of every kind. We need Him and His Spirit to accomplish any self-sacrificial task, and He does not disappoint.
4. You learn that suffering produces joy
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us. Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. - Romans 5:3-5 (Phillips)
There is an undeniable, unexplainable joy in completing something that you didn’t think you could complete. Whether its a workout at a heavier weight than you’ve ever used, or boot camp, or passing the last exam to earn your CPA. Those things that appear most daunting when you first look at them, often offer the most joy - even as you are completing them. God is faithful to meet us in the midst, not just the end, of our suffering and to bring us joy that is inexplicable apart from His Spirit at work. We learn that it is not our circumstances that bring us joy, but the presence and knowledge of the person of Christ and we best meet Him when we are not living for our own comfort.
"And when we find ourselves most hopeless, the road most taxing, we may also find that it is then that the Risen Christ catches up to us on the way, better than our dreams, beyond all our hopes. For it is He--not His gifts, nor His power, nor what He can do for us, but He Himself--who comes and makes Himself known to us. And this is one pure joy for those who sorrow." -Elisabeth Elliot
5. You learn more about the heart of your Savior
“Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” - Hebrews 12:2
Christ became man, leaving behind perfect joy, love, comfort, peace, to suffer for our sake. He chose suffering. He pursued it. He suffered mentally, physically and spiritually, just to rescue us out of the suffering of our sin and return us to the grace of communion with Him. When we are in the midst of discomfort and suffering ourselves, it reminds us of what He chose - when He didn’t have to. May this draw us deeper into worship and relationship with our loving Savior.
You don’t have to do CrossFit to pursue discomfort in your life. That is the method that God has used to bring these truths home to me - but He will meet you in any intentional pursuit of self-sacrifice. Maybe you’re being called to downsize your lifestyle so that you can spend more time with your family. There might be a difficult family member you need to pursue renewed relationship with. Maybe you need to volunteer at your child’s school. Perhaps you need to serve more actively in your church. It is not the method of self-sacrifice that is important, it is the intentional hunt for an exit from our comfort zone, trusting that the Lord Himself will meet us on the other side with joy beyond our imagining.