Earlier this week, I went to the gym after I took my annual ten-month-long break from physical activity. Right now my body is feeling all sorts of muscle soreness it hasn’t felt in awhile. That’s what I get for being so ambitious with these short breaks. I know that if I want to get stronger, I have to keep going. If I want the condition of my body to improve, I need to get used to being uncomfortable. I have to stretch my muscles out in anticipation of the work I’m about to put them through, and then I have to decide to make them do more work than they’re normally accustomed to doing.
And that’s how life works. That’s how relationships work. That’s how faith works. We need to invite discomfort. Some of us believe that walking with Jesus relieves us of certain tensions that He never committed to eliminating on this side of heaven (as far as I can discern). But just because something is uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s broken.
I love Jesus. I love my life. I love how God made me. And he made me a Black man. By merely acknowledging that fact, I’ve given enough reason for some people to level the charge of “sowing division” against me. If me mentioning the fact that I am Black is enough to “sow division,” it’s fair to question whether or not we were ever united in the first place. I think the uncomfortable feeling people are usually trying to convey when they speak of “division” is actually tension. And tension is necessary. Tension is good.
It’s entirely understandable why bringing up my race and other “divisive” issues can be uncomfortable for a lot of people. The same reason bringing up issues of sexuality, gender identity, womb-related legislation, wealth inequality, and a host of other topics makes people uncomfortable. We don’t like wandering into territories that might show us that what we’ve long believed and felt might actually be wrong.
The relationship I have with the gym and exercise in general is a strained one, to say the least. The idea of going somewhere to voluntarily sweat my own sweat, make myself uncomfortable, and potentially embarrass myself when I demonstrate that I’m not as fit as I’d like to be is not attractive at all. This discomfort is exactly why I need to keep going. Keep pushing. Keep inviting the discomfort and soreness that follows a workout sure to test the limits of my current state of fitness. If I do, eventually I’ll become stronger. The workouts will become easier. I won’t feel so far out of my depth.
But if I run from that discomfort, my physical condition only deteriorates more quickly. I have to go further out of my way to avoid physical activities, because by skipping all of those workouts I’ve ensured that any attempt to display physical strength will end in me being exposed. I’ve made myself weaker.
Nowadays when I go to the gym, I know I’m not the strongest person on the floor. If I’m being all the way honest, there are still times when I’m nervous someone will see me and judge me. The only thing that keeps me going is the desire to be a little stronger and healthier than I was when I walked in the gym. The discomfort doesn’t ever go away, but eventually I get used to it. I get comfortable being uncomfortable. That feeling isn’t my body being broken or divided. That feeling is the tension I put my body through paying off by making it stronger. Growth is uncomfortable.
Maybe we shouldn’t avoid the gym of uncomfortable conversations. Is it possible that what we consider “division” is really just tension? That we’re cheating ourselves of opportunities to grow stronger by being scared of “division”? That we lack strong love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control because we haven’t been exercising regularly?
I’m not advocating for a lack of conviction. I believe what God says. I’m suggesting that maybe engaging people who view things differently than we do with charitable ears might strengthen our beliefs. Maybe there are some things we misheard God on. And that’s what frightens us. We’d rather ignore that uncomfortable feeling than invite it.
But maybe it’s time we learned to live with some tension in our lives.