(Spinning: noun, trademark, noun: spinning; 1. an intense form of aerobic exercise performed on stationary exercise bikes and led by an instructor who sets the constantly varying pace.)
If God taught spin class it would be the hardest class you ever took. It would push you to levels of pain and endurance that you didn’t think were possible. God wouldn’t do this by cracking a metaphorical whip, yelling at the top of his lungs or effortlessly running his legs from his bike in the front of the room, laughing at the ease with which he takes every seated climb and and increase in resistance. If God taught spin class he would teach it like Q.
Q starts the class with a warm up. Something simple, something good. Something that makes me feel like I’m working, but not too hard, like I can handle whatever is coming my way. There might be a few changes, a few pushes, an increase in resistance or a challenge to up my RPM, but at the start of the class my path seems easy. I forget why I was hesitant to hop up on the pedals.
It isn’t long before I remember. Less than 20 minutes into the workout Q starts asking for more than I’m ready to give. Not demanding, but firmly asking that I turn that knob to the right yet again, making my legs work harder, pushing me past what’s comfortable for my body.
“In one minute I’m going to ask you to up your speed,” she says, softly smiling, her bright white teeth contrasting smooth cocoa-hued skin. “It doesn’t have to be a lot, but I want you to try, just 3-5 RPMs while you hold your resistance.”
I don’t mind sweating, not in spin class. It’s a sort of achievement, a sign for someone who doesn’t sweat easily that what I’m doing is really work, something that it is making a difference, a change. Breaking a sweat, though, is unpleasant. My heart starts beating faster, my face gets all warm and pink, my body feels thick and uncomfortable. As I move from coasting to working, I know I’ll start stinking. Real work isn’t pretty. It is anything but pleasant.
“You’ve gotta trust me,” Q says, her voice calm and smooth as she asks me to make a full turn to the right with the knob that controls the resistance. The pedals seem to stick under my feet, like I’m spinning through molasses. I start to wonder if I’ll make it up the metaphoric hill, if I’ll finish the seated climb that we’ve only been in for sixty seconds. “I’ve got you,” Q tells me. “You can do this.”
Most of my spin instructors call out their cues from a solitary bike in the front of the classroom. Most of them ride with me, with us, showing the class that we’re all in this together, that what they’re asking of us isn’t crazy. Usually Q is one of those instructors, but today she isn’t. Today she is eight months pregnant and teaching on her feet. A tight mustard shirt fits the contours of her bulging belly. Q is life. Q is alive. She is gentle, and still she pushes me as far as my body can go.
Forty minutes into the workout, my towel is damp and my face is glistening. My quads burn like I’m creating some sort of internal friction. I flash to memories of doing chair squats against the gym wall when I was trying out for junior high volleyball. I want to reach for the knob in front of me. To crank the resistance in the opposite direction.
“Now I need you to give me everything you’ve got,” says Q. “All that resistance we put on earlier, we didn’t just do that to do it. You were building up for this, for now.”
I retract my arm and put my hand back on the handle bars. I trust Q. I believe her when she says that I can do this, that I can do anything. After all, what is 20 seconds, 30 seconds, a single minute in the grand scheme of my life?
As I force my legs into movement, pressing against the resistance and heaving great huffs of air, I think 30 seconds is actually is an awful lot. That it is a terribly long time to be in pain. And yet, when it is over, it is nearly forgotten. Q bathes me in praise and encouragement, telling me how strong I am, how well I’ve done.
I take off the resistance and glide through my cool down, my legs spinning freely on the flywheel. I wonder if life is like this. If the parts that are so immediately painful and difficult while we are in the midst of them seem like the bat of an eye or a flash in the pan in retrospect. I think they must. Otherwise how would we go on? Why would we continue to push through at the points where we want most to give up?
I flip the cap on my bottle. Cool water floods my mouth and drips down my neck. It is a sweet rush of relief, a well-deserved resting. I watch Q as she weaves her way in and out of the rows of bikes, smiling at the class, affirming us all of our work. I know I couldn’t have done this without her. I never would have pushed myself this hard. I could never make myself this strong.
I think spinning has something to teach me about the hard spaces in my life—the losses and rejections; the arguments, conflicts, exclusion, and loneliness. I think these are the things that cause me to work, pushing me past limits I don’t want to reach. And I know I could not breach them without someone coaching me on, someone telling me I can make it, promising there is an end point.
God’s voice, much like Q’s is gentle and controlled. But unlike the yoga instructor who tells me not to push myself too hard, God asks me to push a little harder, to dig a little deeper and press through the struggle. All that resistance he gives me, it isn’t for nothing. It’s for the strengthening of my spirit and the shaping of my heart. It is painful, but it is possible.
“You’ve gotta trust me,” God says, as my life begins to feel sticky, as I start to wonder if I’ll make it up the metaphoric hill. I’ve got you,” God tells me. “We can do this.”