My Recent Experience Deadlifting in Red Spandex

by Maile on May 22, 2013

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Before reading this post, please join me in observing a moment of silence for the poor woman pictured in the photo above. Heaven help her; I am sure she never imagined this image would be shown to the world at large, but when it appeared while I perused the photos on, I couldn’t resist. Now, in her honor, bow your head…

The nightmare comes in dingy vignettes: my fingers hurriedly turning the padlock of a rusted silver locker, twist clockwise then counter, tagging numbers that I hope will release the lock but never do; an overweight secretary in brown polyester pants and a flowered blouse leaning over the extraordinarily high desk of a school office, handing me a schedule with classes I’ve been “skipping” highlighted in pink, classes I never knew I was taking; or me sitting at the stiff metal desk of a high school classroom, a man with thick-rimmed glasses and a navy cotton weave neck tie standing at the front of the room delivering the details of a math problem I have no hope of solving.

Hellish, I know; simply hellish.

To the normal, well-adjusted human being, these could be snippets from an episode of “The Wonder Years” (I’m showing my age, I know) that ends with Kevin playing basketball in his driveway with a beautiful sunset backdropping his free throw shot while Daniel Stern narrates some thought-provoking one-liners that sum up childhood and pain and disappointment in the span of 15 seconds.

Unfortunately, my dreams don’t end that way. They always end in failure: failure to open my locker, failure to get to my class on time, failure to figure out the problem, failure to get enough credits to graduate. Hand on heart, no lie, these dreams, these nightmares, strike fear in my heart, and I wake up feeling tense and scared and defeated. Honestly, I’m tearing up right now as I type about it. Geez, this is getting embarrassing.


I just so happened to have one of these dreams this week. I used to have them almost every night, right after I graduated from college. Then it lessened, went on more of a weekly rotation, then monthly. I can’t remember the last time I had one until it happened this week. And since I’m getting older (35 this year, folks) and, therefore, more contemplative and all that jazz, I began wondering: what are these dreams really about?

I’m sure someone far more qualified than myself could answer this question with big clinical names, and it would most assuredly have something to do with sexual repression. However, since I’m almost 35 and literally dripping with wisdom and insight, I’m gonna play the armchair psychiatrist here and take a stab at an interpretation (and sorry to disappoint, but it has nothing to do with my sex life.) Here it goes:

I’m so afraid of getting a “F” on this project called “Life”.

Actually, if I’m being honest,  I would probably be pretty pissed off even if I got a “B”. In school, if I didn’t get an “A”, well then, why the hell did I even hand in the assignment; in my mind it wasn’t good enough. Why? Because getting an “A” meant I was good enough; not my paper, ME. And so it goes with life. We think that if we can do “it” perfect, then we’re good enough. Hence, we struggle and strain, manipulate and overwork, and eventually, we get “it” perfect: we finally fit in a size 4, our son gets MVP on his football team, we have 3-months income in our savings, and every afternoon by 4pm our living room carpet has perfectly parallel vacuum lines. And how do we feel? Fantastic…for about 10 seconds until we identify the next “it” that isn’t perfect so we throw ourselves completely into that project. Eventually, we just wake up feeling tense, scared, and defeated. Why?

Because we weren’t meant to “need” a size 4 or a trophy-winning son or a well-stocked savings or carpet lines or a red-inked “A” across the top of our paper. They aren’t bad things; they simply aren’t what we “need”.

We need love.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases 1 Corinthians 14: 1 like this: “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it–because it does.”

Through many counseling sessions and the power of the Spirit, I feel that the weight of perfectionism has been lifted off of my life for the most part. But every once in a while, I try to squat down and heave that heavy bar up on my shoulders like some thick-necked, red spandex-clad bodybuilder, scrambling for somebody to stamp an “A” on my house, on my husband, on my children, or, best of all, right square on my forehead. But as soon as I get under the weight of that bar, red-faced and staggering, I remember this:

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Drop the bar, Maile; just drop the bar.

What reoccurring nightmares do you suffer from (if you have the nerve to share)?

What weight do you keep trying to deadlift in your life? How do you “drop the bar”?

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