Years ago, a fellow whom I visited in a VA hospital told me this story. He, (we’ll call him “Bruce”), was at the gym observing a power lifter, (we’ll call him “James”), who was bench-pressing more than 350 pounds. For those who are wondering what bench-pressing is, it’s a form of exercise where the lifter lies on a bench, under a rack that holds a bar that has a series of weights added to it and lifts the weight with his arms enough to clear the weight rack that supports the barbell and then after so many repetitions, sets the barbell back down. The story goes on:
“Hey, Bruce, spot me,” James said. “You crazy?’ Bruce protested, “There’s no way I could lift that much weight off you if my life (and yours) depended on it!” “Lemme show you something” James replied. James then got up and loaded a bar with weight for Bruce to bench press. Bruce would be working with the most weight he had ever lifted in his life, but James encouraged him to try.
After a few repetitions of lifting, Bruce was sure that he was entirely out of strength. Between gasps, groans and grunts, Bruce told James, his spotter, that he couldn’t push the weight any longer…not another “rep.” The second Bruce thought his muscles had completely failed, and the weight would come crashing down onto his sternum, his friend laid a finger lightly under the bar. Bruce said he discovered strength he had no idea he possessed. And, with a bit of effort, he pushed the bar upward and nestled it in the weight rack.
Nearly three decades later, as he recounted me this story, Bruce told me the lesson he learned that day his discovery that he wasn’t alone during that struggle with those heavy weights—that help was available—that he could “press” on…whether it was weight of a barbell or whether it was the weight of dealing with his experiences in the war in Afghanistan.
I was thinking about Bruce’s story (not enough to consider getting to the gym for a bench-pressing session.) Sometimes, simply knowing that I was not alone has given me strength to cope with the heavy weights that have come about in life. And I have realized that my wife, children, extended family, and friends are my “spotters” who help me find the strength I need. If my own strength fails, I can rely on others to see me through the darkest times.
As a chaplain in the hospital, I met people daily who came up against life’s most arduous challenges and who bore some of life’s heaviest loads. I often found myself amazed that people found reserves of strength to somehow go on. Maybe the coping wasn’t “textbook” or even pretty, but it was coping all the same. When I asked folks how they managed to plow through difficult times, many said the support of family and friends helped them find the strength to face whatever life had dealt them. Many folks talked about how their faith in God that sustained them. I often heard someone say they knew they are not alone in their struggles as they prayed…that awareness gave them the strength to carry on.
Each of us has been a “spotter” for someone else. We are a reminder to another that they are not alone. A kind word, sitting with someone who is feeling anxious, bringing a casserole to someone recently widowed–are all “incarnations” of how God sustains us in time of struggle and sorrow; times when we believe our strength is completely sapped. Support from others is vital and it also reminds us that God is with us and we are not alone.
Those who study spirituality say that religion entails receptivity to finding strength to deal with “what is.” Strength that renews comes from support of others. I see that support as a Divine gift and remember prophets promise, “They who wait upon the Lord have their strength renewed.” (Isaiah 40:31a)
Spotted anyone lately?