I’m a bit ambivalent about being in that time of life that people call “middle age.” I’m not having a midlife crisis, and am not planning one any time soon. I am grateful for the life I have.
At the same time, there are things about getting older that I don’t particularly enjoy. I was washing my hair this morning, rinsing out the shampoo. I turned my head to one side, and–zing!–a muscle in my neck cramped up like nobody’s business. Guess I should know better than to try to turn my head at my age.
But I have a fair idea of why it happened. I had only minutes earlier finished part of my exercise routine. Working with weights makes me tense my neck and shoulders. I know I’m supposed to warm up and stretch before doing this kind of thing. And I know I’m supposed to cool down and stretch after.
Do I do it? Nope. Go figure. It seems the only time I stretch is after I hurt myself, when my muscles ball up into rebellious little fists of protest.
I have a nagging pain in my right piriformis muscle (I used to think it was “pitiformis,” which sounded like Latin for “Man, you’re in pitiful shape“). I asked our chiropractor about it. His response: “You should be doing stretching exercises at least twice a day.” I tried it, and it helped–a lot. Still, do I do it as regularly as I should? Nope.
I just know there’s a lesson in there somewhere. Something about knowing our weaknesses, and being faithful in the little things.
We love biblical stories about heroes of the faith, about how they obeyed God in the most dire of circumstances. When the obstacles seemed overwhelming, they often came through. Not always–but we certainly remember the times that they did. Trouble is, more often than not, it was the little things that tripped them up.
Here’s one decidedly unheroic example. This morning, I was online, trying to register a warranty policy for an office chair I purchased last week. I tried doing it the same day I purchased it, but the relevant information hadn’t worked its way through the system yet (isn’t it in their computer?).
So today, nearly a week later, I tried again. This time, the system recognized that the purchase had been made. At one point, it asked for the manufacturer and serial number of the chair. But the manufacturer’s name wasn’t in the drop-down menu, I couldn’t find a serial number, and it wouldn’t let me proceed with them.
So I called their 800 number. The person at the other end told me that it was too early to register–they wouldn’t have the information yet. I told her that, no, in fact the system recognized that the purchase had been made, but I couldn’t proceed because the manufacturer wasn’t listed and there was no serial number. She offered that there must be a glitch–and would I like to pre-register the chair?
All right, I thought–maybe that’s better than nothing. So she started asking for all kinds of information, including long numbers off the purchase receipt that I had to repeat slowly several times. After 15 minutes of this, the connection got cut off. “Hello? Hello?” Silence.
So I tried the live chat. “What can I help you with today?” “I want to register the warranty policy for an office chair.” “When did you buy it?” I gave him the date from last week. The predictable response: “It’s too early for them to have the information yet. You can preregister, or try again in a few days.”
“OK, but that’s not the problem,” I insisted. “The system recognizes the purchase, but won’t let me register because the manufacturer’s name isn’t listed, and I don’t have a serial number. Is that something that would be fixed by waiting a few days?”
“Sorry,” came the reply. “The chair won’t have a serial number. And just choose ‘unknown’ for the manufacturer.” It’s not unknown, I thought to myself. Wouldn’t “other” make more sense?
“What about the serial number?” I asked. “Do I just make one up?”
“No, just put ‘none.’ “
It would be nice to know these things, I thought. But I tried what he said–and lo and behold, it worked. Two screens later, I clicked the button to “submit” the registration.
“We apologize,” the screen flashed, “but an error has occurred. Please close your browser and try again.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!” I shouted, to nobody in particular. With no one else around to rant to, I wrote a long email to my wife. Gripe, gripe, gripe. She actually thought it was all pretty funny.
Her attitude, I think, was better than mine (so next time, maybe I’ll just have her do the registration). All through this frustrating but minor inconvenience, I was growing increasingly irritated, disciplining myself to be polite, but rolling my eyes all the same. My wife’s reaction made me step back from the situation a bit, telling myself, “Dude, maybe you just need to get a life.”
I wonder if I should just count these experiences as stretching exercises. The opportunities are there every day, several times a day. And I wonder what injury might occur when trying to exercise faith in the big things, when I haven’t warmed up on the little things first.
That may well be the harder part of spiritual discipline: faithfulness in the little things, the unheroic things. It really is a stretch.