The first thing my Westie does every morning is stretch. Like a runner gearing up for a triathlon, Archie stretches to get ready for his busy day of bird patrol, dog fight refereeing, cat guarding, professional napping, and begging for snacks. In fact, all animals seem to spend a considerable amount of time stretching. Much more than most people.
We tend to ignore flexibility both in physical fitness and in daily life. Face it, unless you can stick your foot behind your head, flexibility doesn’t garner the attention big biceps or six-pack abs do. Its not obvious in your day-to-day activities the way a show of strength is. But without it, we will suffer injury.
Life (unless you’re in a vegetative state) places demands on us that require stretching. If we don’t stretch, we snap. Or at least cause scarring. I’ve got stretch marks that made my midwife say “ew.” My skin just wasn’t willing to stretch enough to accommodate pregnancy. While you may be one of the fortunate ones whose postpartum stomach doesn’t look like a melted nylon tent, you’ve probably got some invisible stretch marks. I know I do.
I’ve got places in my emotions that have been broken by disappointment and heartbreak. Painful scars from the loss of friends and loved ones, from watching my children untie the apron strings right before my eyes. I have mental injuries (yeah, like brain damage!) where I’ve stopped stretching my mind to learn new information. (I now understand why my parents looked at me helplessly when the clock on the VCR blinked instead of displaying the time. I do not want to program my cell phone. I just want to be able to use it.) I’ve got a few spiritual scars, too, where God has rearranged some things in my life without consulting me first, like where I live, and the size of our church.
Our natural response to unpleasant or unfamiliar situations is to tighten up, which invariably causes pain and injury. We hold our breath, tense our muscles. Jesus, however, was flexible without being flaky or flippant. He flexed with every situation he encountered, without “cracking up.” The religious Pharisees, in contrast, were shaken by every tiny thing that didn’t correspond to their rigid formula for living. They couldn’t stretch to fit God into their framework. That’s sad. And familiar. The winds of change begin to blow in our homes, or our churches, or our nation, and we purse our lips and scrunch up our shoulders and dig in our heels, making ourselves and everyone around us miserable.
I can hear the voices now… “So, we should just throw aside everything we know and accept whatever is going on?” No. You should have a firm foundation, solid ground on which your life is based. But everything above that foundation – everything you can see – is subject to change, and needs to be flexible.
Earthquake-proof buildings are designed to flex with the tremors of the earth. Palm trees withstand hurricanes because their trunks bend while their roots remain stable and fixed. It’s such a time of discomfort in our nation. Economic earthquakes and political hurricanes are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. And everywhere you go, you run into people who are tensed up for a fight, ready to do battle with enemies seen and unseen, some polarized in their positions to the point of blindness.
For myself, I’m working on flexibility. I’m stretching my understanding of God and who He is both to me and to the world. I’m stretching my faith to accept the depths of His love and mercy and His judgment. I’m yielding those non-essential aspects (and really, most things are non-essential) toward God’s truth. I’m extending myself to people I disagree with when my natural inclination is to withdraw from them. If there is indeed a battle ahead, and there will be, then I want to be loose, relaxed and flexible. I can only do that if I’m willing to stretch every day, in the little things, even when it hurts.