After having two babies over the course of two years, I decided I needed to get in shape. I joined a gym and was happy to receive two free sessions with a personal trainer. The trainer was lovely — a young mother like me, kind and encouraging. However she was in great shape and I was in horrible shape! I pushed through my ever-present body image issues and kept my eyes on the prize, realizing that if I did nothing then nothing would ever change.
The first session with the trainer included a standard fitness test — sit-ups, push-ups, walking on an inclined treadmill, etc. And I will never forget one thing that happened. When it came time to do the pushups she asked me to give it a try, to see if I could just do one good push-up. Toes on the ground, body stiff, chest lowering to the floor then back up. Well I couldn’t. Not at all. Not if my life depended on it!
So she tried again. She showed me how to do a modified push-up. She had me put my knees down on the mat and asked me to keep my body straight from my knees to the top of my head while I lowered my chest to the ground then back up again. Unfortunately I couldn’t do it. Not at all. Not even one.
So she tried one more time. She asked me to try to do a “modified modified push-up.” Feet on the ground, knees on the ground, butt in the air — bending my arms and lowering my chest to the ground hinging at the hips. In the modified modified I would only need to be able to support the weight of the top third of my body. Well it worked. I did it. The modified modified push-up.
Now I wasn’t proud of myself for being able to do a modified modified push-up. In fact I was mortified. Who needs a double modified push-up? Apparently me. But as horrifying as it was that I had to modify the modified push-up, it actually reminded me of some important life lessons.
1) You’ve gotta start somewhere! It is easier to not start at all, than it is to admit your weakness and start there. We hate to see our weaknesses. We’d rather just ignore them and let them remain, than face them head on and become stronger.
2) It’s better to do something than nothing. And you can always do something. Even if it’s just a fraction of what you were hoping for, it’s better to go ahead and do that than to do nothing at all.
3) You can’t let your failures have the final say. As silly as a modified modified push-up sounds, it’s actually not a bad way to increase your upper body strength. If I had walked away in disappointment because I had failed the push-up test, I would have never done anything to increase my upper body strength and move toward being able to actually do a real (unmodified) push-up one day.
I go back to these principles over and over in my life. You see, I have a long list of things I know I should do. I should make dinner every night. I should exercise everyday. I should pray and read the Bible every morning. I should read to my children every night before they go to bed. I should recycle. I should write thank you notes. I should wear make-up and blow dry my hair. Etc, etc, etc.
But I’m just one person and the list of should far outweighs my actual time and strength. So I remember the modified modified. I also remember one of my seminary professors who said this: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Words to live by. I pray, I cook, I recycle, I exercise, I read to my kids. Every day? No. Every week? Hopefully. I even blow dry my hair — every once in a while.
But there is no salvation in perfectionism. And in many parts of life, the modified modified is an agent of grace.