It’s Tuesday. 5:15 a.m. It’s dark outside when I enter my gym, the rug at the door congratulating me for making it there.
I greet the front desk employees with a slight nod. It’s early for me to be too gregarious towards anyone. No offense to them.
A small crowd gathers close to two glass doors, which are the entrance to the room where we will endure our team workout. The giant room is cooled by large ceiling fans, which are constantly whirring overhead. It houses 13 treadmills, 13 rowing machines, and 13 weight stations.
I enter via a ticket that prints at a little kiosk by the doors. The trainer takes it from me and greets me with a cheery, “Good morning!”
She knows what she is about to do to me and the other early risers who crowd around me. It doesn’t bother her.
I jump on a treadmill. The one with the giant white number 9 etched on its back. I start its belt and begin the routine.
I’ve been hopping on #9 for a while now. I love and hate her, actually. The love comes when she is a soft landing for my feet and gentle pace for my aching sciatic. The hate comes when she forces me to run harder, longer, faster, than I ever have. She pushes me. She demands more of me.
She doesn’t yell at me, or call me names, or condemn me for the 3 slices of pizza and the 2 glasses of wine I consumed the evening before. She accepts me being there, is willing for me to use her to test my limits, is encouraging when I lean into her.
This machine asks me, three times a week, “What are you doing here?”
This question repeats in my head as my feet thump in beat to Number 9’s rhythm.
In the book of 1 Kings, chapter 19, the prophet Elijah is running for his life. He has just successfully called down fire from Heaven in an epic display of God’s glory in front of thousands of people. Yet, in this chapter, we find him alone and complaining to God about the death threat on his life.
He finds a cave to hide out, away from the enemies who want him dead. It is in that lonely place that the voice of God comes to him in a still, small voice, and asks….
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
What are you doing, hiding out, away from the world?
What are you doing feeling sorry for yourself because things didn’t go your way?
What are you doing running away from the purpose for your life?
What are you doing here, man of God?
Elijah attempts to give God plenty of reasons for him being in the cave. Ultimately, though, God’s Spirit tells him to get up and go.
Time to move on.
Time to be strong.
Time to live with fierce bravery and undiluted courage.
So, what am I doing here?
At 5:15 a.m. on Treadmill #9?
I’m here because I crave strength. Because I care about my body, a temple of God’s Spirit.
I’m here for my physical health and mental well-being.
I’m here, because, maybe, just maybe, if I conquer Treadmill #9, I can conquer other areas in my life as well.
I’m here because I am training myself to do hard things.
I’m here because sometimes all I can do is show up.
I’m here because I want to be a bad-ass warrior.
I’m here, as my trainer says, “To push through boundaries and break through perceived walls.”
The trainer yells out, “Come on, team! This is your workout!”
I increase the incline and ramp up the speed on Treadmill #9.
When I first began running, I used my outdoor runs to process old hurts and unhealed wounds. Lacing up my Brooks Brothers stability shoes, moving my body, pounding the pavement — all were steps to learning how to let the past be the past and to engage in the future. During those first running years, I was also in therapy. Every time my therapist gave me an assignment, I went on a run. Pushing hard physically gave me the mental focus and emotional stamina to do the work required for progress.
That was 10 years ago.
I still need the physical challenges. I still have “stuff” to work through. I still need to listen to the quiet, gentle voice.
He’s saying truths to my soul…
What if you stopped worrying about what others think and become fully you – who I intended you to be – a daughter full of grace and peace?
What if you stopped craving safety and assurance and moved forward in faith?
What if, instead of stressing out over hard times,
you practice remaining in Me, the Source of true joy?
What if you just show up every day, keep your eyes on Me, and trust Me to guide you?
What if you let Me give you the strength you need to climb the next mountain?
What are you doing here, daughter of the King?
I know the plans I have for you.
Treadmill #9’s belt slows down.
Sweat drips down my forehead.
The class ends.
I take deep breaths in and out. Stretch sore muscles.
I high-five my workout neighbor. Smile as I leave the gym.
The cold air hits my face first, then sweeps through my workout clothes. The sun’s approach is splashing orange and red and pink across the horizon.
I glance back. Through the glass window, lined up in perfect precision, are the machines.
One more step, one more incline, one more push through pain.
You’ve got this, Warrior. I’ll be here.
See you tomorrow, Treadmill #9.