“Um, Zach. Why do you have an ugly red mark on your elbow?”
“First of all, honey, you’re my daughter. Call me Daddy. And I got this ugly red mark on my elbow because I fell while running on the treadmill at the gym.”
“How does someone fall on the treadmill, Daddy?”
It was going to be an embarrassing admission. Self-inflicted failure continues to be difficult to admit.
At the gym, I only utilize the treadmill. I don’t lift weights because I’m a 36 year old man inside the body of Dobby from Harry Potter. I don’t do the elliptical because Jillian Michaels says it’s a waste of time and I unquestionably do what she says out of fear.
So I run. I run a lot. Running helps me think. Sometimes I pray while running. Mostly, running allows me to listen to old school hip-hop music that I can’t play around my kids. Out of all the roads, trails, sidewalks and treadmills I’ve pounded my feet on, I have never fallen on my face until the day the ugly red mark on my elbow appeared.
A little context before I disclose what happened: For a season in my life I lived in Brooklyn, New York. One of the many things I miss about about the best borough in the Big Apple are all of the storefront windows. Heading outside to exercise some stress off, I would put my music on a volume level detrimental to my elf ears and while running by all of the storefront windows I’d glance at myself (self-acknowledging that I had the gracious form of a gazelle). I’d look at myself, while running, while singing, while making hand motions like I was in a music video, assuming I looked smooth and worthy of attention. I had Gaston’s arrogance with Lefou’s looks.
When I’m running, if there’s a mirror, I’m looking at it. I don’t just mean storefront windows. I mean the windows on your home (hide your kids, hide your wife). I mean your car windows. I mean reflections in puddles. I like looking at myself running and this time, at the gym, emulating Narcissus caught up to me. And two people exercising witnessed it.
Place yourself in the back of a workout facility. You see me running on the treadmill in the front center of the gym. To both of our left is an entire wall made of mirrors. Mirrors are in gyms to make the room look bigger and to inflate the egos of heavy lifters and yoga stretchers, both groups who intimidate me.
As I’m running on the treadmill, I’m instinctively, addictively glancing at my form in the full-length mirror wall and admittedly I’m also singing and dancing, checking to see how I look during my imaginary music video. I’m going at a good pace. As I look at myself in the mirror, to the left, I mistakenly take a step off the moving conveyor belt and onto the immovable part of the treadmill. I’m going down and not even Captain Sully can save me.
In a split second I go from vertical to horizontal, with my right elbow breaking my fall, leaving a mark and the collapse itself breaking my pride, leaving me vulnerable.
Let me assist with the analogy:
In my life, for far too long, instead of focusing on where I should be looking, I have been looking at myself. And it has led to brokenness.
Let’s take the treadmill incident a step further: You’re in the back of the gym, watching me run on the treadmill – now – place my wife on my shoulders. Then place my daughters on top. Then place on me my close friendships. Then place on top those I influence as a leader. Then place co-workers on top. As I run and turn to the mirror on my left to fascinate myself with myself, when I fall – I don’t just injure my elbow or my pride, I injure all of those in my sphere who have come into contact with me.
All because I enjoy the transgression of focusing on myself above all things.
My youngest daughter is learning how to ride a bicycle. Her legs are strong enough to push the pedals on her Doc McStuffins bike. She has a good grip on the handle bars. She has the desire to ride. Right now the training wheels are still on.
There’s one issue when it comes to her bicycle skills: she doesn’t look at where she’s going. Instead, she’s looking down or to the side or at her friends or at a bird, not focusing on where her bike is headed and that’s why she crashes into the grass. That’s why her front tire smashes into a tree. That’s when pain and tears and scars-to-be happen.
As she’s on the ground after a fall, I sit down with her and explain that wherever her focus is while she’s on the bike pedaling, that’s where she will end up. If she’s looking at the fire hydrant, she’ll hit it. If she’s looking at the stroller in front her, I’ll end up apologizing to the speed-walking mom pushing her baby around the neighborhood. But, if she’s looking at the path ahead of her, she’ll be able to ride with joy, freedom and safety.
I am fatigued by the separation and ruin which come from the figurative mirrors and fire hydrants I continue to head toward instead of what I should be investing in.
And while an open-ended, mass-blogging apology may not land well with some, the pain I have caused to those around me in my existence needs healing. Even if the salve I am offering is well past the expiration date.
I have loved Jesus for most of my life. I have called myself a Christian for over 25 years. I have been a leader in the church for 15 years. I have put the word “godly” in front of “husband” and “father” and “leader.” Yet I am such a continual sinner.
There’s a television show that makes the viewers of it cry so much that Kleenux’s stock has erupted. In Season 2, episode 1 of the show a son asks his mom why something happened in their family and his mom answers, “It’s complicated.” Her son says back, “When people say, ‘It’s complicated,’ that means they don’t want to tell the truth.”
Sin has certainly complicated things in my life but the truth of it is not too complicating to confess. Sin is easy to do, tough to admit and burdensome to witness the consequences it unleashes. Allow me to toss some overdue veracity your way:
I have deceived others greatly. I have stolen much secretly. I have perfected the lie of making myself look better than I really am. I have put my identity in my appearance and my accomplishments. I have loved money too passionately. I have loved critics too minimally. I have gossiped about others to ignore the serious red flags in my own decision-making. I have been a disloyal friend and a lazy member of my family. I have been short-tempered. I have been judgmental. I have held onto grudges like a winning lotto ticket. I have made decisions based on how it would just affect me. I have wanted others to fail. I have forced my wants and desires to happen. I have ironically worshipped at the altars of conceit and insecurity. And while these confessions are true, I am worse of a person beyond them.
There’s no valid reason for it. There’s nothing circumstantial I can blame. There’s no other person I can point to and accuse. I simply, foolishly along the way became too infatuated with myself instead of focusing on where true life and purpose are found: in the sweetest Name there is.
“We’d better get on with it. Start running—and never quit! No parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed.” – Hebrews 12:1-2
I have experienced taking my eyes off Jesus. I stopped studying how He lived life. I lost sight of where I was headed. It is clear that legacy and contentment are not found in a hypocritical, lukewarm, fraud of a lifestyle. Whenever I have gone in life I should’ve brought bread and unity to those near me and instead I brought fire and separation. Please forgive me.
To the people I have hurt in my life: my family members, friends, previous co-workers, leaders I’ve been under, Christians and non-Christians, please forgive me.
I don’t want to be selfish with your forgiveness capability. Choose to forgive those in your life who have been obsessed with themselves or enthralled with things that are secondary and they have fallen down also and have caused you injury. Please don’t focus on our sin. Choose to allow grace and fresh starts and excitable hopes to reign free.
Thank you to the two people at the gym who couldn’t ignore the awkward loudness of my fall on the treadmill and chose to help me up, checking to see if I was going to be alright. We now have an inside joke each time you see me getting on the treadmill. And thank you to the truest of friends in my life who have shown me what mercy and unconditional love looks like when I have let them down. We all are a work in progress. We are all under a patient, loving God.
Oh, and the television show I referenced above in paragraph #22: This Is Us.
Oh, and you and I, the grievous way we have fallen: This Is Us.
Oh, and our heavenly Father, who lifts us up and places us back on our bike in loving instruction: This Is Life.
Oh, and I diligently want to work toward authenticity in all things with all people: This is My Blog.
Thanks for reading. You are loved.