A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking my usual route with my Personal Trainer, he sprang a surprise on me. He said, “You are doing pretty well with this familiar work-out. I have noticed that your face no longer turns six shades of red while you are coming up that incline back there, and it has only been two years since you started! Awesome! I know you are interested in growing even stronger, so I think it’s time to kick it up a notch, don’t you?”
“You’re the boss,” I said with a flippance I regretted as soon as the words left my lips.
“I am happy to hear you acknowledge that!” he replied. I was watching him out of the corner of my eye; I thought I saw a hint of a smile. I guess he had waited a long time for those words.
As we approached the intersection, he instructed me to turn left. Oh no, I thought, the Hill! He was directing me to the Hill of Difficulty. This would be a challenge. My heart would definitely get a work-out today! He said, “Don’t be intimidated by the Hill. It will strengthen your heart and increase your endurance. Remember: ‘No pain, no gain’ and hey, remember that billboard you saw that said, ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body.'” He remembered everything and reminded me of it whenever necessary.
Leaning into the Hill, I trudged along the narrow asphalt strip reserved for just such as I. Huffing and puffing, I could feel the pull in the backs of my thighs. This incline was at least twice as steep as any on the other route. Maybe I wasn’t ready.
Just as I reached the first semi-plateau, I heard this yell from a female voice: “You can do it!” The lady was getting into her van in her driveway and had called out to me. Unable to speak, I simply waved as I forged ahead. “How nice of her, a complete stranger, to give me that verbal vote of confidence,” I thought.
Onward and upward I labored, and as I did, I suddenly remembered Rocky Balboa. Smiling, I thought about seeing Rocky “back in the day” at the Cabana Theater. Movie-goers could sit in regular seats on a lower level or they could rent secluded private cabanas upstairs. When Rocky, after months of rigorous training, finally made it to the top of the museum steps, everyone in the theater cheered together from wherever they were. What a spontaneous roar of approval from those who witnessed his triumph! We had all been pulling for him; we were in his corner. We, along with Adrian, were his cheerleaders. It was heart-warming.
For me, the encouragement that had just erupted from my driveway witness was just as heart-warming. Although unseen by me until she shouted, she had been watching from a distance. I appreciated her willingness to cheer me on. Her support really gave me a boost. I persevered. How could I give up? Now, not only did I have my Personal Trainer, but I also had a cheerleader!
Finally reaching the level cul-de-sac at the top, I did not do a little dance, but I did smile as I heard (above the thunderous pounding of my heart) the familiar Rocky theme, “Gonna Fly Now,” in my head. Not to be outdone, my Personal Trainer (who had already effortlessly reached the top), reminded me of something I had read in one of the books inspired by him — Hebrews. In the first sentence of the twelfth chapter, in reference to many of Heaven’s residents who had exhibited tremendous faith through the ages, the writer (perhaps Barnabas, the great encourager) admonishes Christians with this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The footnote tells me that “witnesses” in this sentence does not mean “spectators” but rather “inspiring examples.” Of these heroes of the faith listed in the eleventh chapter, those “whose weakness was turned to strength,” one of my faves is the Shunammite woman. “Everything is all right,” she said when, clearly, everything was not all right. But she believed it would be. And it was.
Those included in the “cloud of witnesses,” according to scholarly thought, are not watchers of earthly doings. But I am not scholarly, and I like to think that maybe, on a clear day, the Shunammite woman might just happen to be looking out of Heaven’s window and see me trudging along up the Hill of Difficulty and that she might just call out to me, “You go, girl! You can do it!”
It’s good to have cheerleaders.