Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A "Parable" Of Two Gyms

Graduate school is hard. It's not meant to be hard for the sake of being hard, but it is meant to be a challenge. I've sometimes compared it to two gyms. One gym has lots of members. They wear the latest and coolest workout gear. People look cool there. There are magazines everywhere. You can read all about getting fit, different diets, and the heroes of working out. This gym's got all the best equipment too. Everything looks brand new. All the weights are polished. Seriously, everything just looks perfect. When you go to the gym, though, you don't see anyone working out. Yeah, there are people there. Lots in fact. Most of them are hanging out, usually by the smoothie counter, because that's what "working out" has become over time. Others are stretching out with some friends, talking about all the types of exercises they are going to do later. But they are just stuck in some sort of perpetual, Groundhog Day-kind-of-let's-never-stop-stretching exercise. Stretching has become the work out. They're over there doing reps and sets of nothing more than a stretch. Some people show up and actually get under some weights. Some. They usually do a couple of sets here and there, but their workout is more about talking about what's going on with their work out buddies. In fact, you'd be better off calling their equipment furniture, because people just sit on it more than they actually use it. And there are a lot, and I mean a lot of people, who are members of this gym but never even step foot through its doors.

Then there's the other gym. If you walked into this gym, you would see some serious exercise. There's people warming up and stretching, sure. You got to. But the rattle and clanking of the weights as metal hits metal–bars dropping to the floor, dumbbells getting dropped back on the rack–all of it just sort of turns into a melodious backdrop fit for an awesome rock-n-roll song, something like AC/DC might have put out. There is a seriousness at this gym. They are not going to just talk about getting in shape and getting ripped. They are doing what it takes to get in shape and get ripped. People are there spotting one another. This gym's got trainers too. Not the fluff kind of trainers who just want to tell you "you're doing a good job," "you're doing amazing," "that's the best lunge I've ever seen." Here at this gym the trainers are intent on seeing you become the best "you" possible, and they are pushing you–hard!–to be that person, every rep and every set. You hear grunts. People are sweating. When people finish their workouts, they are tired, but tired in a good way. Everyone talks about how good it felt. But seriously, they are worn out. When they work their upper body, they can barely lift a pencil off a desk after they're finished, at least for a few hours. I mean, they really worked out. And it takes a toll on them, not negatively, but positively. They look worn out, but only briefly. That weakness is not weakness at all. They're stronger. Their muscles are rebuilding. People are getting stronger, fitter, better. This gym's doing more than mixing banana fruit smoothies. They're chiseling flesh and making people healthier.

Seminary is hard work too. And it's not meant to be hard for the sake of being hard. But it is a challenge. Who wants to go to a gym that just talks about getting fit? Who wants to go to a seminary where getting fit and getting strong are just things you say? Your seminary experience is one gym or the other. And, honestly, I think the student plays a huge role in making their experience like one gym or the other. Almost anyone can get a membership, but ultimately the member has to make a decision on whether or not he or she is going to show up, get the job done, and become the best possible person he or she can be.

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