Several years ago I had to give up tennis because of shoulder injury so I took up spinning. Spinning sounds like an exercise where you extend your arms and turn around and around like a top until you fall down, but it is really just another name for indoor cycling. I have learned some amazing lessons from indoor cycling, or “spinning.”
Each morning as I climb on a bike my body creaks like an old pioneer house. I am convinced I will not be able to move my legs even one full rotation around the sprocket. Every muscle screams at me; muscles I’m certain I do not even need proclaim their protest. However, within a few minutes (9 to be exact) I have ceased to hear noise from my body and my instructor barks, “increase your resistance.” Obediently, I crank up the resistance so it feels like I am now climbing a hill, and since there are no hills in Florida, I bring to memory biking in Moab or Zion’s.
This new challenge hurts my body as much as when I first climbed on the bike. The instructor has us turn up our resistance again. And again. The the terrain just keeps getting steeper. I want to slow down. In reality, I want to quit.
Suddenly the instructor yells: “Sprint for 30 seconds.” She’s kidding, I think. My resistance is cranked up already, I am already putting forth as much effort as I think I can muster, and suddenly, I’m supposed to double my speed and “sprint” up this hill? She’s not kidding. She catches me slacking and yells again, “Whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” I want to punch her in the nose. Why do I want to get stronger? So I can climb even steeper hills? So I can climb those hills even faster?
Whoever invented the phrase, “Whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger,” clearly hasn’t experienced any personal trials. Why would we want to get so adept at mastering trials, that we are able to master even more difficult trials? Is that what life is about: one more difficult trial after another? Because I didn’t entirely lose my mind when my father died, does that mean my next trial will be loosing a child? I don’t want a life full of ever-more-difficult trials. I don’t think that life is about enduring one darn trial after another, and I don’t think this is the lesson I’m supposed to learn from spinning.
Nevertheless, like a horse with spurs digging into my flanks, I sprint, twice the speed, up the hill, my body protesting the entire way. Finally, I am released, “Relax your speed. Resume a normal pace.”
As I return to normal speed, I am amazed to discover that normal speed no longer hurts. I’m still climbing the hill where thirty seconds ago my legs were wobbly and I thought I would have to quit, and now, thirty seconds later, I feel like I’m on a flat road. I check my resistance. Sure enough, it’s as high as it was before the 30-second sprint. I check my legs. They are strong. They aren’t screaming. That 30-second sprint changed everything. This is where I have my “Ah, ah” moment.
Life will hurl major trials our way, but we don’t normally experience one huge trial after another. Usually, our major trials end. And when the trial ends, the hills of life can then seem almost effortless.
A friend of mine provided a perfect example of this principle.* Recently, we rode together to attend a Relief Society mini-class at someone’s home. When we arrived there was no one present. No one answered the door. There were no cars in the driveway. I pulled out my cell phone and called the woman who was hosting the mini-class. “Oh, we postponed the class,” she casually offered. “It’s going to be held next week.”
I was fuming inside. They postponed the class and the only persons they bothered to inform were the women sitting in Relief Society that Sunday. They didn’t bother to inform those of us serving in Primary or Young Women, or anybody who might have been out of town the day they made the announcement. I started to vent my frustrations to my friend, and she patiently listened. She did not fume. She did not rant. In fact, she was completely nonplussed by the situation.
It suddenly occurred to me who I was riding with. This woman had been diagnosed with cancer. She spent several years enduring hospital visits and chemotherapy and vomiting and hair loss before she entered remission. It was a long sprint and there were times she was convinced her legs were going to give out underneath her. And now she was riding gradually up a hill at a leisurely pace. How trivial an hour’s wasted drive would seem to her after what she had been through. We could have driven across the state to find the event cancelled and she wouldn’t be upset. From her perspective it just wasn’t that big of a deal.
That’s when I recognized the value of of a 30-second sprint at the end of a long climb. The trial is not necessarily to make us stronger so we can endure “bigger and badder” trials. It is to give us perspective so we can exercise charity every single day as we experience life’s little trials. Our daily trials, those that would normally cause us to think uncharitable thoughts, no longer irritate us after experiencing a sprint.
I never saw the point of experiencing a trial just so you could be adept at experiencing trials. However, letting a major trial remind us that every little irritation in life doesn’t have be a trial seems like a useful perspective.
*Details changed to protect privacy