I came to an uncomfortable realisation yesterday. I guess my body has already been telling me for a while and I have been choosing to ignore it. The tightness in my shoulders and shooting pains up my neck are reminders that beneath the calm and surrendered exterior is a body still in tightly-wound battle mode.
But it all came to the forefront yesterday as I rejoined a gym for the first time in months and was reminded, as I changed afterwards, of all the ways in which infertility can wheedle its negative ways into the everyday pleasures of life. I’m not that upset about giving up caffeine and alcohol, taking daily multi-vitamin tablets and watching what I eat – those things have become second nature to me now and leave me feeling good. I do find it hard, however, that since we started trying to get pregnant I still don’t really know how hard to push my body at the gym to allow it to recover and still function at its best and so at times I find it an easier excuse to give in to fear and not to go at all in case I “over do it”.
And these days when I contemplate how unfit I have become I am reminded not only of the weakness of my muscles but once again of the failure of my reproductive system to bring forth life. Dislike at my lack of motivation to tone up switches up a gear into disgust that my body is useless at fulfilling the function that it was made for. I thought I was past feeling like that about my body, but it turns out that I’m not yet.
For me, high intensity exercise has always been painful but enjoyable. If you can’t feel the burn what on earth is the point of squeezing into your lycra get-up in the first place? If I’m not going to reap the benefits by feeling the transformation taking place then why bother at all? But high intensity training isn’t just about your muscles responding to the task; it requires strength of mind to persist. So, as it happens, does battling one’s way through the day-to-day slog of infertility. And that appears to be where I come unstuck because I don’t appear to have the capacity for both. It is too difficult to be motivated to shout at oneself to “Come on, keep going!” on more than one level. I have to dig deep to work hard at the gym – and I’m already digging deeper to work hard at being fully engaged and at peace with my life as it looks.
Since last summer we have been in a season of being hidden by God and I am immensely, profoundly grateful for that. I am away from prying eyes, away from a church congregation which empties like a seashore with the tide going out when the children’s work begins. I am away from 360 degrees of concrete landscape and I can breathe. I am removed from responsibility and pressure. I am better at ‘going with the flow’ than I ever used to be and the default-mode control freak within me is just a tiny bit proud of that. God has chosen in the past to hide me during certain seasons and last time it felt like I had to become the caterpillar that must crawl into its cocoon in order to emerge a butterfly. I am in the refiner’s fire and do hope to emerge with a new skin, a new self, a new glow.
But there are days when the distance I still have to go to emerge with new wings a-flutter seems a very long way. I know I’m learning, growing and changing and yet I keep re-discovering those old bad habits. “Are you still here? I thought you had long gone”.
And then it hit me as I returned to the gym a second time a few days later – sometimes the only thing we can do is to just get back on the bike. It’s a cliche – we all know that – but that’s the point, isn’t it, because cliche can be embedded in truth?! Just like my exercise regime needs a kick up the bum to get going again and see past the hesitancy, the fear, the immediate pain of inaction for the long-term gains, so my mind requires a focused prodding to keep renewing itself and to see past the failures.
It’s so easy to drop the momentum of our faith – to stop reading our Bibles, to miss a few quiet times here and there, to listen to programmes and songs that speak a different story, to withdraw from God’s presence, to say things we mean but don’t really believe with our hearts. But as I lose that momentum so the half-truths start to seep back into my mind and warp what I see and what I think. Just as our bodies lose their suppleness and strength when the desire to exercise deserts us, so those spiritual muscles start to get a little flabby and flimsy around the edges and stop achieving their full potential.
So I determine to get back on my bike – physically and spiritually. Whatever I can see in front of me is not what defines me now or in the future. I might have to use some effort in putting the discipline back into place to bring my body and my mind back into shape, but the long-term benefits of those decisions far outweigh any short-term discomfort at being roused out of my own laziness. And so that is the challenge that I am choosing to embrace today because I have no desire to be held back by fear or laziness. I am operating from a place of victory. My identity rests in the knowledge that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and we shall go forth and conquer these imperfect places in my life together.