In a meeting at my previous work place, my boss talked about how we were going through a hectic season, with various events and a few things to juggle. He emphasized the importance of us all keeping it together, working hard through the chaos, and most importantly, “never let them see you sweat.”
It sounds like a motivational quote and all, but as I sat there digesting that quote, I wrestled with it. I thought about the aggressiveness of it, and of our culture, that tells us to step up and do, do, do, or we’ll be stepped on. Stop for a second, and we’ll lose momentum. Sweat, and you’ll get chewed up and spit out.
We carry the mentality home with us, weaving it into how we act apart from work–in our other responsibilities and roles, in our relationships and communities. We don’t just believe we shouldn’t let other people see us sweat–we start believing we just shouldn’t.
We feel ashamed that sometimes things are hard, that we can’t stop the sweat. We feel that it confirms what we had known all along—that we are weak, undeserving, unworthy. It secures our place there, and locks us there…leaves us feeling alone and frail, as we watch the world around us keep going, never seeming to lose momentum.
And yet we will inevitably sweat. We will, sometimes just tiny drops, and sometimes, profusely, like we’re stuck on some broken treadmill.
But when we do, we feel that there is something wrong with us. That me feeling overwhelmed, a little scared, overly anxious…makes me not cut out for this task, for this role, for this profession, for any profession. That maybe we’re lousy at simply being a human being, taking up too much space and too much oxygen here on earth.
Yet sweating happens. The feelings associated with sweating, the nervousness, the anxiety, the fear…happens. The helpless moments when we cannot conceive how we’re going to get through this particular road bump, mountain….it all happens.
And I think we sweat, not because we are weak, but because we are human. We sweat, maybe as a reaction to an exertion, as a sign are bodies are working, that we are still alive.
We spend too much effort hiding it, “never letting them see you sweat.” So busy keeping it all in, letting all the toxins build up and manifest itself into feelings of shame, and self-defeat, and helplessness. It’s easy to hide, but it takes courage to be vulnerable. It takes courage to wrestle along with others, and allow people to wrestle with you. We’ve come to believe the lies that we can lose everything when we lose momentum, that no one will accept us when we come face-to-face with the things we need to fight.
We focus on the people who will not accept us for it, forgive us for it, and will judge it for it, and forget those who long to accept us, who want to understand us, who wants to show us grace because they’ve needed it too.
There’s a certain amount of our humanity that our culture labels as weakness, when in reality it may be a vulnerability that will free us. When no one else seems to be stopping, seems to be sweating…Sweat. Do it not only for yourself, but maybe for the people around who need to see that sometimes. Maybe there are people who know just how to embrace and struggle with us, and maybe there are people who may find freedom by seeing our vulnerable, human selves today too.
Grace abounds around us, but it takes courage to accept it and allow it to renew us and strengthen us. And there is always a place, always enough grace, and always One who calls us to come fully as our messy, unkempt, sweaty, selves.