January is over, and I cannot believe how quickly the new year has lost its novelty. I am writing this blog post from the gym. Yes, I am the guy who lounges beside the pool– iPad in hand– while my wife and the rest of the gym members faithfully work out. Don’t judge though. If you have or have had young kids you will understand how hard it is to find space in your day to get alone to process your own thoughts or to complete a project. And if you don’t have kids yet but plan to in the future, then someday you will understand as well.
As I survey the gym from my pool side perch, I am struck by how quiet it is. I can see my wife running on a treadmill through the glass partition. Yes, in case you are wondering she is the family athlete. The marathon runner. Today what I notice though are the number of treadmills that are free. We were able to find parking without any difficulty. A rare experience at our gym. The pool area is quiet. An elderly man who is probably in better shape than me is floating alone in the pool. Both hot tubs are empty. It is quiet here.
As I was reflecting on what to write, it occurred to me that this is how my new year began not quite a month ago. Brittany and I went to the gym on a day off. As she finished up her work out, I snuck away to the pool area– as I often do in order to relax before we pick up our two kiddos. On that day however the gym was a mad house. A sea of humanity. We circled back in order to find a parking space. The running track which circles the upper level was full. On numerous occasions I waited for other members to finish using the machines which I typically frequent. And when I went down to the pool area in order to experience some much needed quiet before reengaging life as a parent, I was met by the closest thing to literal sea of humanity. A class was taking place in the pool area. The facilitator was far too loud, far too energetic, and far too happy. And at least thirty “silver sneakers” (elderly men and women in better shape than me– like my floating friend) were splashing around in the pool. Such a disruption to my desire for space and for quiet.
This phenomena is no secret. It is no surprise. Managers of athletic centers often exploit our good intentions this time of year. Regular gym members crack jokes about it in order to deal with the congestion during those first few weeks of the new calendar. But underneath the humorous surface is a painful truth. The need all of us as humans have to change. The longing somewhere inside to find some type of turning point. A day to pivot. To make a drastic and much needed shift in the way we are doing life. Think of the common New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions many of us may have made in the past. Or even this year. To be healthier. To work out regularly. To eat better. Balance our bank accounts. Get out of debt. Stop drinking so much. Get rid of that addiction, compulsion, bad habit. Be a better spouse or parent. Not to lose one’s temper so easily. To communicate better. To fight fair. To be more organized. How much easier would life seem if you could manage to get any one of these resolutions to stick?
The problem is it feels like a setup for failure. To hope to wake up one day and to have changed life in a way you have such a long history of struggling to maintain. To expect that the new year will bring a newer, better version of yourself. To believe that you can maintain and manage over the long haul when life really gets tough. Please hear me. It is not that change isn’t available. It is. And it should be sought after. Longed for. Worked on. It’s just that it often looks different than we would desire as we attempt to pivot at the turn of the calendar.
If there is one thing I have learned working as an individual and marriage counselor it is that real change is hard. It is often painful. And it takes time. So often we beat ourselves up for this. We manage to keep the ball rolling for a few weeks on whatever area in our life that we are currently working on, and then something happens. A set back. We lose our temper. Yell at the kids. Pick a fight with our spouse. Eat the entire pizza. Forget our planner at home. Avoid the gym for a few days or even weeks. And the painful messages come in: “Something is wrong with us.” “A better version of ourselves wouldn’t have let this happen.” “We will never get it right.” “Other people don’t struggle like this.”
This is the trap. If we allow ourselves to believe there is something within us– something unique to us– that is the problem, it keeps us stuck. The truth is that change is hard. Really hard. It takes time. It must be worked at. Set backs happen. And they continue to happen. If you are one month into the year and already struggling to see lasting change that it is okay. You are okay. You are good. And you are in good company. Join the other seven billion of us. The difference between those of us who see lasting change and those of us who continue to struggle is most often the grace with which we treat our own hearts. The ability to live in the tension of growth. The ability to admit our shortcomings, but to not allow them to define us or defeat us.
Proverbs– arguably the most practical of all the books of the Bible– puts it this way: “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.” The struggle you face is not unique to you. It is personal to be sure. And it likely feels isolating. But you are not alone in the struggle to grow. Remember this as you get back up and get back to work. Change is possible. It is available to you. It will take time though. And it will take kindness to your own heart.