Okay, listen: whatever you feel like doing, do the opposite.
It’s a war strategy, really. It’s your secret weapon when the taunts come sharp and deadly, when your enemy thunders toward you, when the ground trembles with the assault. It’s what I’m learning to do when I face defeat, weariness, complaint, anger, bitterness, pride, fear; all those pounding iron spikes the scarred One already stood in front to receive.
Just after school drop offs and me calling out blessings on their days, me praying protection over them as gloved hands grip book bags, I drive to the track. I do forward lunges and high knees in the parking lot, the brisk Winter wind bringing tears to my eyes. I jog a lap to warm up, then launch into the cold, gulping searing breaths, telling myself to pick up those legs. Speed work. I am doing 400 meter sprints, jogging a lap in between to catch my breath. ”Go, go, go,” I think, feeling my muscles begin to fatigue. The last turn always feels the hardest, and in the next-to-the-last lap, I want to stop and walk my way around. It’s not this way in the final lap, not when I know the effort nearly over, not when I make the final turn thinking, “I’m so close to the finish.” But in the middle, that’s when I consider giving up. “I’m so tired,” I think, gasping, “I don’t have to do this.”
It’s so hard to imagine the end from the middle.
I’m a solitary runner, meaning I don’t like a lot of company when I run. I read the suggestions about running groups and cringe. It’s not that I’m antisocial; I’m an introvert. People require energy I know I’ll desperately need to push past challenges when the effort comes hard. But in the middle of my speed work, I sometimes think I’d like someone to appear in the last two turns, someone who will shout, “Push, push, push! You’re almost there! Don’t you even THINK about giving up,” because voices of defeat can be pretty loud and pretty convincing from the middle of a challenge. It’s hard to hear anything else, even my own admonitions, even my teeth-gritted, strong-willed, “NO! I.am.going.to.finish.this.lap.”
This person, my imaginary coach, is someone I know I will briefly despise but ultimately love, like the lady who ran beside me for at least half of mile 23 in the marathon last Fall, who, upon discovering it was my first 26.2, kept yelling “You got this! You got this! Come on!” to me, while telling everyone we passed that it was my first marathon. We ran, and she told me stories of what it felt like to finish six different marathons. Simultaneously, I wanted to knock her over and hug her. I needed her, but I didn’t want to need her.
One of the things training has taught me (and there are many) is that when I hit those crazy-hard, muscle-weary moments, the ones through which I can hardly think, much less think straight, my best strategy is to do the opposite of what I feel inclined to do in the moment.
I can’t live victory thinking defeat.
When I feel like quitting, in the moment that I actually consider it, that’s the time for my hardest sprint. That’s the time to pick up the pace. It’s also the hardest time, and the time that will make the most impact on my overall fitness.
We sit around my kitchen table, steam rising from coffee mugs, three sisters with fingers wrapped tight.
“I am really struggling,” the one says, the truth reflected as a shimmering disturbance, a shallow glimmer against the deep strength of her eyes. ”My heart isn’t right about this, I know it, but I can’t seem to shake these feelings.” She brushes at loose strands of her hair with her fingers, trying for a clearer view.
“I’ve been there,” the other says, shifting, lifting the coffee mug to her lips and then setting it back down. ”I know. I know what it feels like. It’s hard, and it hurts.”
I nod, thanking God for both of them, thinking of how as a girl I prayed for sisters and now have more than I can count.
Our sister has been hurt, and we do not have solutions to offer her. Nothing about her situation is easy, but then, very few of life’s details can ever really be described that way. Together we talk of lasting things, about asking to see through the eyes of Glory, about knowing that only One ever knows the end of the story, about how hard the persisting, the fighting can be from the middle.
“You don’t have all the information,” I say, repeating the mantra God has given me lately. ”The details lie.” And then I feel it, His words replacing my own. It’s a change only I notice, and one well past explanation, when I am no longer thinking of what to say, when I stand aside, convicted. ”You need to read the Sermon on the Mount. Prayerfully. And then the thing for you right now is to figure out how you can be Jesus in this situation. What does it look like to be Him? How does He look waiting in the fire? If you want to rid your heart of these feelings, you have to fight in the opposite direction. You have to do and think the opposite of what you feel inclined to do and think.“
I can see it on her face. She wants to hug me and knock me over, all at the same time.
She nods, sighing. “Yes, I know,” she says.
“No. I mean do the opposite, not manage to do nothing.”
Our sister next to us chuckles, knowing God in me, what He has been teaching me. She crosses her arms, sitting back.
“I can’t even put the joy into words,” I tell my hurting sister, still tasting the bitterness of that pain on my tongue, still remembering the ache to walk away, the heart-weary desire to give up on long-suffering love. ”I have watched God heal wounds I thought were forever, relationships I thought impossible. He’s done it again and again in my life these last years, pressing me to see more than the details, to do the opposite of what I feel like doing when the enemy has me by the throat, when I can’t shrug all that destructive yuck. Times when I’ve wanted to give someone a piece of my mind, and He’s there whispering, do the opposite, and so I do, not knowing the how—Really, He does. The how is that He does it. He shows extreme love when I want to take revenge, mercy when I want to feel justified, grace when I want to accuse and judge. Understand—He does it, not ever me. And then the miracle comes. He restores what I thought was lost and, more than that, He uses it to bless beyond my imagination. That is, when I fight to do what He wants.”
My sister is fiercely independent. Her spirit burns hot. I feel it, see it in her eyes, hear it in the passion with which she speaks. She does not turn away.
Already, she has done the opposite thing by exposing her own heart, by splaying open her vulnerability and her struggle. The last thing she really wants is to need us. But I see her wisdom, her strength, her NO, I.am.going.to.do.this, in resisting the urge to pretend. So many of us hide our challenges, bury our insecurity, ironically withdraw from support when we can’t see the end and need someone to run beside yelling, “Don’t you even THINK about giving up.“
This time, she is flanked by two sisters, and we are running together.
“I know you will come through this with an even stronger relationship with God,” I tell her. ”I know He can do this through you.”
And okay, maybe for a while, she’ll want to hit me. But that’s okay, because love does the opposite.