Twenty months ago I competed in my first (and at this point my only) sprint distance triathlon. I had several reasons for doing it, some of them silly, some of them reasonable and even touching, and maybe someday I’ll share some of that with you. Today I’m more interested in the significance of the other side of the thought process behind choosing to do a triathlon–the reasons that didn’t influence my decision.
I didn’t do it because I’m naturally gifted at sports, or because I’m a fitness enthusiast. I’m not exactly a couch potato by nature. I enjoy being active because I like the way it makes me feel, and the way it makes me feel about how I look, and the way it makes me feel about how I feel (again, a discussion for another time). But, I don’t live and breathe exercise. I regularly fall into the slump of inactivity. I never had “Olympic potential.” I had to work, hard, to be able to swim even one lap when I first started swimming. Biking was unreasonably painful until I built up my quad muscles and figured out proper seat placement. I couldn’t run the full three miles without taking walking breaks until about three weeks before the event.
I didn’t do it because I get a “rush” from swimming, biking, and running. I did love swimming by the time I started training for a triathlon, because I had already been through the hard work it took to learn to love swimming, but, when I started training, I loathed biking and running. There were days when I didn’t want to run, but ran anyway, even if was only one mile instead of three and I walked half the time. There were days when my butt hurt so bad from biking that I literally cried when I got on the seat, but I rode anyway. And I kept on running and biking, even though I didn’t want to and even though it hurt, until I got to the point where I stopped not wanting to and I stopped hurting. I will never love running. I will probably never love biking. I will never choose to run a marathon or ride a century. But through the process of training I learned to enjoy both activities, and, more importantly, I learned that even when I don’t enjoy it, I can do it anyway when getting through it means accomplishing something greater.
I didn’t do it because I wanted to prove how awesome I am, or because I didn’t love myself before I completed a triathlon. I am and always have been comfortable with myself as a non-athlete. I get that I’m “good enough” without competing in endurance sports. Running a triathlon doesn’t make me think that other people are going to think I’m cool. I’m totally comfortable in my nerd skin, and, honestly, I don’t care if people, in general, think I’m cool, or hot, or sweet, or sick, or whatever the popular term for being socially acceptable is.
But for every reason I didn’t compete in a triathlon I gained a dozen reasons why competing in a triathlon was good for me, and none of them had to do with physical fitness or appearance.
The most important thing I learned was that God cares about what I’m doing because He cares about me. He wanted me to finish a triathlon, not because of the triathlon itself, but because I wanted to finish a triathlon, and He knew that I could benefit from it. And because He cared, he helped me reach my goal. He provided me with the blessings I needed to accomplish the goals I set for myself. He was there with me in the calming voice of my teenage lifeguard son the first time I swam in open water. He was there in the quiet voice inside my head that told me I could run for one more minute before I took a walking break. He was there in the leg-shaking transitions between biking and running and in the nearly irrepressible urge to sit down and sob when I crossed the finish line. Finishing a triathlon taught me about God’s love for me.
It also taught me that I can do hard things.
I can do hard things if I tackle them one day, one hour, one minute, one circumstance at a time. I didn’t get up on the morning of the big event and go out and finish the race. I couldn’t have finished it that way, and a little voice inside my head tells me I might have died (If you’ve ever swam more than a few hundred feet in open water water or ridden a road bike in hilly Eastern Utah, you might know what I mean).
I can do hard things if I keep going even when I don’t want to. Like I said, I didn’t love the entire experience. I had a lot of hard days. I had to train through sickness, pain, and apathy, but I kept going even when I didn’t want to.
I can do hard things if I can keep things in perspective. I didn’t win the triathlon. I think I was second-to-last in my age division, and probably in the last twenty of the entire sprint. I didn’t win, but I finished, I accomplished my goals, and I gained and grew, in many ways, from the experience.
So what does all of this have to do with valuing and honoring motherhood???
So many times I look at myself as a mother and think, “I’ll never be a good homemaker,” or “I’ll never be good at doing my daughter’s hair,” or “I’m just not a patient mother,” “I’m not organized,” “I yell too much…” A hundred times a day I tell myself all about all of the things I’m not being, doing, or succeeding at as a mother. And then I stop there and tell myself it’s okay.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for loving ourselves the way we are, but I think that far to often we give ourselves a pass and give up on becoming who we want to be by using the excuses of self-love, self-esteem, and self-acceptance. I never could have finished a triathlon if I told myself, “I’m not a natural athlete and that’s okay. I need to love myself for who I am.” My world wouldn’t have stopped revolving if I hadn’t finished a triathlon, but I would have missed out on a lot of valuable lessons if I hadn’t done it, including the lessons about God’s love for me. And, even though the triathlon in and of itself wasn’t important, I believe I am a better person for having overcome what seemed impossible.
Mothering is important. Being a little better at it each day is vital to our own well-being and the well-being of our children. I won’t get into the dangers of the societal view that we can’t overcome our natures and we don’t need to control our animal urges, that too is a discussion for another time. I will say, without apology, that it’s absolutely not okay to stay indefinitely the way we are and love ourselves that way. It is not okay to stagnate in any aspect of life and tell ourselves, “I am the way I am. That is my nature. I need to love myself the way I am…” That attitude isn’t any more healthy or right than telling ourselves we are nothing and hating ourselves for all that we are not.
Who do you want to be as a parent? As a spouse? Do you want to be more loving, more tolerant, more patient? A better nurturer, a better listener, a better cook? More organized, more efficient, more knowledgeable? Then be that. Don’t expect to be that today, or tomorrow, or next week. Study it. Work at it. Train for it. Expect one more ounce of patience than you had an hour ago. Fix a meal that was a little bit better than yesterday’s. Listen with your whole heart for this one story, even if you don’t want to. Whatever it is that you want to be, train for it and then finish it. Become it. Do it one event, one quality, one character trait, one accomplishment at a time. You don’t have to–you shouldn’t–accept yourself as less than you you can and should be. Becoming better doesn’t mean you don’t love yourself the way you are, it means that you love yourself enough to be better than you are now. Don’t accept less than your best self. Do what is right, not what is easy.
You can, I can, be the person we each want to be. Now, go get your “running shoes” on!!!