Sunday, November 7, 2010

Liar, Liar! Arm's on Fire!

I’ve been working out at the Y several mornings a week. They use a great system called ActivTrax that helps novices like me who want to increase their strength. I suspect other people may have other goals, but I only know about mine.

I discovered during my initial meeting with a physical trainer, I had chosen wisely when I focused on strength. I don’t care to go into details about the pitiful showing my muscles made against the Cybex machines, but needless to say, it confirmed my worst fears about the effects of physical lethargy on my aging body. The trainer programmed the results of my embarrassing performance into the ActivTrax system, and the genius of the machine was set into motion. Each day the computer gives me a print out of what exercises to do, indicating the amount of weight and number of repetitions. After I complete a workout, I record the number of repetitions for each activity. ActivTrax then charts my progress and plans my next training session.

I have come to trust this program. I have learned to love the tingle of muscles being challenged to do more than they cared to do. I have secretly gloated over the rising line on my performance graph.

Last week I picked up a couple of weights and headed confidently to the bench I had already positioned for the prescribed routine. I straddled the bench and planned to swing into action. Yikes! I was shocked by the difficulty. I could barely lift the weight, and that was with my stronger arm. The full maneuver was impossible.

What idiot of a computer would have programmed such an impossible task—one I clearly wasn’t ready for!

Then I remembered… There were times when I had been running short on time and skipped some routines. Or times when the workout area I needed was full of real jocks and I had walked away from the humiliation. I never doubted my ability to do the routine at the time. I assumed I could do it satisfactorily if I had the time or the space.

Of course, I didn’t tell the computer, but I did have to put the number of repetitions for each exercise or it wouldn’t give me the next routine. I simply recorded the number I thought I could do—if I had actually completed the task. So the computer was only responding to the information I had given it, and it clearly was under the mistaken impression I could lift more weight than I actually can.

Is it lying if you don’t give a machine the truth? Is it lying if you honestly over-estimate your own strength? Who are you lying to if you breach a contract with your own intentions?

It has been three painful days since my misguided attempt at that particular routine. Yes, my arm is still a little tender. But so is my conscience. The experience makes me ponder how often in other areas of my life I over-estimate my own ability? How often do I fall short when I volunteer for a task for which I am not prepared? Have I hurt other people because I speak with an authority that is unsupported by knowledge and experience?

I am considering anew the perils of impatience and pride, particularly when they keep me from pursuing excellence. I am praying for a steadfast pursuit of the right and purposeful ‘next steps’ in every area of my life. I am asking for the wisdom and humility to make an honest evaluation of my own abilities.

A burning muscle in my arm is a small price to pay for the lesson I am learning.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And Truth Wins Out

Jury duty! The summons appeared in the mail several weeks ago, this privilege to fulfill my role as a citizen and a member of the community. It was a gross inconvenience, but it was also a testament to my constitutional rights. I was called to serve my fellow man as a member of a jury of peers and charged with the responsibility to help determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, the truth of whatever current situation was being brought before the court.

I am an experienced juror. With every previous summons, I have won the unenviable position of serving as one of the twelve in the box. In retrospect, I think I bring it upon myself. I go into the courtroom hoping I won’t have to decide whether an injured woman deserves a substantial monetary reward or a young many should be punished by years in prison, but then the questioning begins.

I have been coached on how to answer the lawyer’s questions in such a way he will conclude I am an unstable fanatic whose presence will not serve the cause of justice. But these most dishonorable intentions evaporate in the bright light of my opportunity to shine. The first question flips my ‘people pleaser’ switch. Suddenly I want the questioner to like me. I want his opposing lawyer to approve of me as well. I want everyone in the courtroom to see me the way I see myself—a highly intelligent, reasonable person who embodies the wisdom of Solomon and the mercy of Mother Theresa in one incongruous but jury eligible package.

Ah, the perils of pride and pretention. As the victim of my insatiable need for affirmation, I have suffered through countless hours in deliberation rooms eating lukewarm meals in Styrofoam containers transported from the bailiff’s favorite diner. A fitting punishment for my arrogance.

Yesterday was my first exception. I wish I could proclaim I had conquered the old self, maintained a truthful, but humble, posture and been rejected from the jury for being too spiritual and grace oriented to make the decisive vote that would be needed. The opportunity to present myself in this way never presented itself. After a peaceful day of waiting that included hours of work related reading in the library and a pleasant lunch with a friend, I was dismissed for the week because my panel wasn’t needed.

I tried to explain to someone why I was relieved to be released (beyond the inconvenience of having a busy week hijacked by the legal system). I asserted it is difficult to make a decision that will have lasting consequences for the people who are in court. I emphasized the weight of determining a verdict beyond a reasonable doubt and how little I like to judge.

As soon as I said it, I knew it was a lie—this claim that I dislike to judge. An army of critical thoughts marching through my head at regular intervals prove I am more prone to assess than to accept. My attempts to deny them entry are embarrassingly weak. I am partial to my own opinions and as I sometimes say, “If there were a better way to do that, I would already be doing it.” By implication, when I affirm my own ways, I place myself in the role of being the supreme evaluator of others.

With this summons I never entered a courtroom, but the truth won out nevertheless. I was given a reprieve from sitting on a jury of my peers. I didn’t hear the facts of another’s case and have to wrestle with the consequences of my decision.

The case I heard yesterday was tried within my mind. The truth of my own sin nature was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.