Over the years I have always preceded my morning walk/run with a variety of stretching exercises.  I twist my trunk, spread my legs and touch the floor, rotate my shoulders, etc.  Years ago a doctor friend of mine emphasized how helpful and valuable this in staying limber, especially as we get older.  However sometime in the past year I stopped doing my stretches.  I have no idea why or when!

This week, with the arrival of Spring, I said to myself, “Now is the time to get back into that good habit.”  So Monday I spent some time stretching before I took my morning walk.  But, wow, it was a lot more difficult than it had ever been before.  I was tight and sore … and could barely touch the floor!  I am afraid that it is going to take a long time to become as limber as I used to be – if I ever get there.  Why, oh why, did I ever stop?!

On the positive side, as the week has gone on, those joints I am again stretching have become less sore.  In other words, it’s working.  However, it is still difficult and painful doing those  morning stretches.  I wonder how long it will be until it becomes routine, and enjoyable?

Of course, stretching is good for more than our joints.  I try to stretch my mind on a regular basis.  This generally means reading books that either present new ideas, or old concepts in new ways.  Sometimes, though, the books go in a direction that is very uncomfortable for me.  With these I try to work through my struggles and keep reading, figuring the exposure is good for me (I have been working on a book about the MC5 for almost a year, reading from it for a few weeks, and then setting it aside for a couple months, …  one tough read for me).

I think the concept of “giving something up for Lent” is really meant as a stretching exercise, also.  Except here, the idea is to stretch one’s faith.  I’m not quite sure, though, how giving up chocolate for a season would help in this regard.  I much prefer the idea that others suggest – instead of giving something up for Lent, doing something new and positive (taking something up), with the hope that it will last longer than 40 days.  While I think my morning stretches might fit into this category, I do not think that “stretching the truth” does.

And what do you think of the concept of God at times stretching us, seeking to grow our faith?  The “Wednesday morning FHL guys” are reading through Romans these days.  Yesterday we read, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5.1-2) No real stretching here … just the reminder that, through faith in Jesus, we currently stand in God’s peace-granting grace even as we are secure in the assurance that in the future we will see the fulness of God’s glory.

But then the stretching begins: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5.3-5) I like being filled with hope, and believe having character and endurance is a good thing.  Its just the stretching that is required to get there that isn’t so much fun.

These verses tell me that it does not really matter whether our suffering is caused by God or simply allowed by God to happen, either way he intends to use it to stretch us and our faith.  Our stretched faith – much like my stretched joints – makes the rest of life much more pleasant.  In the one, God gives us endurance and character.  In the other he makes me more limber and productive.  In both cases I love the product, even if I am not so fond of the process.

Oh that God would give us all the attitude of our granddaughter who turns one tomorrow.  For months she was content to simply travel by crawling, or pulling herself up and scooting around furniture.  I don’t think I ever saw her take a single free-standing step, in spite of our urging.  Then, a few weeks ago, she seemed to say, “Enough of that – I’m off!”  And I have not seen her crawl since.

I do not think God expects us to “rejoice in our sufferings” by saying, “Praise God for the pain.”  Rather he seeks to give us the attitude of Jesus “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12.2) We both endure and rejoice in the stretching for the blessings that will follow – and I pray that this is not too much of a stretch for you.