The other week, I finally tackled the job of painting Scott’s office. He works from home now, so we agreed that setting up his office was priority #1 when we moved into this house. I decided on a paint color and blocked off a Sunday afternoon to sequester myself in his office and get it done. I have painted many, many rooms in our homes over the years. I have, what I think, is a pretty good system. Tape on the baseboards and around the windows, but hand cut-in at the ceiling; buy the best paint, the best brushes, the best rollers. Pricey, but I have never regretted the investment…better tools leave a butter smooth finish in half the time. I put a bandana over my head, break out the old t-shirt and ratty old scrub pants that bear the colors of rooms I have painted from Troy to Villa Park to New Albany and now, Zionsville. I turn on the music and get into the zone.
Up and down that little step-ladder hundreds of times as I tediously painted the very fine line between wall and ceiling…by the end of the day, I was tired, my legs a little shaky. But the room looked great and I had only a few splotches of SW Felted Wool on my hands and cheek. A warm shower took care of that and I walked past the office several more times that evening, proud of the hours I had put in. The space is almost done. The haven for my husband.
The real burn, I noticed, was the following day when my thighs hurt so bad I could hardly walk. On call at the largest hospital in the state, and here I am shuffling along the hallways to get from the ER to the ICU to the OR and back to my office. In a rare move, I took the elevator instead of the steps…my thighs just hurt too much. Then…the next day…my legs didn’t hurt so much. In fact, they felt good, strong, even. But to get to enjoy the richly painted office, and to feel the solid strength in my legs, I had to invest. I had to invest to the point of hurt. It had to burn first.
I’ve learned this lesson again and again, but this time in a new way. We hear it all our lives…”No pain, no gain”, “If you don’t invest much, you won’t enjoy the victory”… And while all of these clichés are true, we often think about these phrases in the first person…what I have to gain. I will be stronger; I will get ahead; I will win. But what we don’t often think about is what our own personal burn will mean for someone else.
A few years ago, our marriage was in a pretty bland state. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t bad. It just was. And I will be the first one to admit that too much of my heart was seeking what was in it for me, instead of what he, or we, needed. Selfishness and pity took the lead and we went through a rough time. Frustrated and tired; distracted by jobs and kids and life in general, we just coasted. Until we got tired of coasting. And then we looked at each other and decided, “This is gonna get messy. It’s gonna hurt.” But we promised each other we would dig our heels in; we would work so damn hard; we would not accept quitting as an option. So we talked a lot, and fought a little. And we worked at it until it burned. And part of the burn was having the humility and self-sacrifice to say, “This isn’t just about me, it’s about us. So I will do the things for you that I don’t want to do. I will do and think and speak and fight for you until it burns.”
And now here we are. We just celebrated our 20th Valentine’s Day together. The burn has faded into solid muscle. And now we are stronger. Deeper. Tougher than ever before. I don’t believe that either of us really understood what it would feel like after the burn for each other. We knew in our heads we had to give for each other until it hurt, but somehow I think we each thought that the gain would be personal…that I would feel better. And I do. But I think we were both caught off guard by the profound and intense renewal that we feel together because of the hard work we put in alone.
And so it goes with life. If we want to build friendship muscle, it’s gonna take more than a text here and there. It’s gonna take time and energy until it hurts. If we want to build relationship muscle, we will have to do more than send flowers and leave a card. We will have to set aside our own desires to meet the needs of our mate. If we want to build social justice muscle, we will have to do more than put on pink hats and hold up signs. We will have to open our homes to the refugee and empty our wallets for the cold and hungry. If we want to build spiritual muscle, we have to do more than show up on Sunday. No Olympian won a gold after a 1 hour training session on the weekends. It’s a daily workout. If one hour doesn’t hurt…give ten. If one dollar doesn’t hurt…give a hundred. It has to be personal. It has to hurt. But the muscle that we build will not be ours alone! The friend will be inspired to be a friend to another; the mate will transfer the strength of his marriage to his work; the refugee will become a leader in the community and the hungry will go on to feed another. In time, the burn will heal every wound beyond our greatest expectation.Disclaimer: My viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of my employer, or any local, regional or national organization that I belong to. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just speak for myself. Please keep that in mind.