On the last weekend of January, I made a quick trip to see family in Minnesota and celebrate a nephew’s wedding.
Though the temperatures were mild for January in Minnesota, it was quite a shock from the desert southwest. Anticipating that we would get out to play in the snow, to keep warm, I packed my long johns and a knit cap. In family fashion, the bride and groom planned their rehearsal and dinner in the warming house of a local ice skating rink. Though we enjoyed dinner and wedding-day-planning indoors, most of our time was out on the ice.
It had been many years since I put on a pair of ice skates. I stood up to find my balance with wobbly knees and shaky legs. It was then another challenge to step onto the ice. Slow and easy. No sudden moves. I watched the others who were familiar and comfortable gliding over the ice on a thin blade of steel. I called upon those long-forgotten muscle memories from childhood to kick-in to remember how not only to stay upright but also to move forward. I thought, shouldn’t it be like riding a bike, once it has been mastered, you never forget and after a few wobbly moments, off you go?
I was able to stay upright and not end up in a humiliating heap on the ice. I was able to slowly move forward and circle the ice rink…once…twice…thrice. But it was on that third time around that I realized the truth and reality. Everyone else, including the children, were skating circles around me, backward and forward, the bunny hop, crossover, butterfly, and on and on. I was simply trying to stay upright and moving forward.
I let go of any thought of looking graceful or elegant or like a power-skater. Humility-on-ice was my motto.
But what took me off the ice, was not a fall, or lack of smart and clever moves, it was my lack of endurance. My legs are strong. My back is strong. Even my core has strength. However, there are certain muscles that ice skating draws on and are essential, and which I have not had cause to challenge and strengthen — those in the ankle. Sure, I can hike, walk, run, and cycle with relative ease, but ice skating challenged an unused muscle. I anticipated feeling my calf muscles, but my shin muscles ached most. Shin muscles? I had no idea there are such until they were called upon!
Then there is the gluteus maximus, which may need the most exercise, but which gets the opposite — sitting in never-ending stretches of church meetings. Of course, church meetings require another form of stretching, which we also need to exercise — the stretching of patience and kindness and gentleness. Don’t let the sparkly costumes and gleaming smiles of the skaters fool you – figure skating is a grueling athletic discipline that takes thousands of hours of practice. It also completely changes the shape of your body. By many, it is considered one of the hardest sports of all. Not only does ice skating draw upon a significant number of muscles and tendons, but it also requires great flexibility. As I age, I am discovering without regular stretching, I can be as inflexible as a board.
In this period of time, being the church is hard and challenging and it requires the use of every muscle we have. It requires incredible endurance, perseverance, and flexibility. Which of your faith muscles wear out first? Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Self-Control?
As servant leaders of Jesus Christ, consider how to stretch in order to increase flexibility and agility in these demanding times. Practice the needed faith muscles and tendons upon which there is increasing demand. Build endurance for the long haul and ability to navigate lumpy and jagged terrain, like ice on a lake. When it is cold, it is hard to maintain muscle flexibility and navigate the bumps, especially when they are unseen.
You have a duffle bag of gear to draw upon, but you need to get it out of the bag and use it because the months ahead for our church will be more demanding than ever. It is not enough to draw upon those childhood muscle memories of being and doing church in order to navigate this ever-changing terrain. You will need every spiritual discipline and practice available.
It is in our tradition of gathering for worship in which these spiritual practices are exercised in our weekly one-hour power workout.
- Meditate on scripture — Jeremiah 15:16.
- Give thanks — to God, others, and yourself — Thessalonians 5:18
- Prayer — 1 Thessalonians 5:17
- Service — John 13:14-15
- Generosity — 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Ice skating is a challenge that takes much effort and strength, but when even a basic level is achieved, it is loads of fun. Get out there and enjoy being the church!
Blessings in Christ,
To read North District Lay Leader Phyllis Murray’s article “Winter Camp at Potosi Pines, click here.