It was just after the beginning of 2011 when I began to work out in earnest. It wasn’t because I had made a New Year’s resolution to get in better shape. I started, honestly, because I had time. I was terribly underemployed at the time, after my full-time, grant funded job ran out of money the month before. So, I figured, what the heck? I finally have time, and I have this DVD set of exercises that had been gathering dust for about three years.
I popped the first disk in the player and discovered the wisdom of a whole new kind of theologian. Midway through the first workout, P90X guru Tony Horton imparts some wise advice – not just for workout success – but for success in our spiritual as well as political lives.
“Keep pressing play,” he told me. On those days when you’re tired, on those days when you just don’t want to spend the time necessary to do the work out, on those days when you think you’ve got better things to do, like watch TV and eat potato chips, “Keep pressing play.”
I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but my motto for this new year is Tony’s sage advice: “Keep pressing play.”
When we keep pressing play we approach each new day as a brand new start, a clean slate. We can put yesterday’s failures, yesterday’s disappointments, yesterday’s disasters behind us and look forward. When we keep pressing play we keep giving ourselves permission to hope, permission to look forward to what the new day holds. When we keep pressing play, we open ourselves to the Holy mystery that constantly occurs in, through and around us.
So often, it is despair that keeps us from pressing play each day. We get depressed over our past failures. We keep gnawing on past slights and disappointments, rehearsing them in our heads – which keeps them in our present. Or, as is the case so often in the LGBT community, we stop pressing play because we’ve been told we’re not worthy of a new start. There are some in more fundamentalist circles who believe the LGBT community is so lost to “sin” that the “play” button isn’t even within our reach.
But, it has been our community’s dedication to keep pressing play that has succeeded in making great advanced the cause of LGBT rights within the past few years. Because LGBT Christians in the Lutheran and Presbyterian (USA) churches kept pressing play, LGBT members are now accepted as clergy. Because LGBT Christians keep pressing play, there is a movement within the Methodist Church to make the same changes. Because LGBT people keep pressing play in the wider society, New York approved marriage equality along with civil unions going into effect in Hawaii and Delaware. Because LGBT people kept pressing play, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was finally repealed. As we keep pressing play, we’ll find that eventually the Defense of Marriage Act will fall away as well and full marriage equality will finally be a matter of federal fairness instead of a state patchwork.
The advice of “keep pressing play” is pretty powerful, as you can see. If we can approach each new day on its own terms, without the baggage from yesterday – or even the yesterdays ten or 20 years ago – then we can allow the Spirit to move in fresh and new ways. The gift of pressing play means that we open ourselves to the Holy and allow God to move in powerful ways.
As I learned with my workouts, though, some days were better than others. Some days I would nail it – every exercise, every rep, every challenge met. I was ready for the next on. “Bring it!” is the P90X battle cry and some days I was shouting it out. Other days, however, I was tired. I’d bonk halfway through the workout. I’d have to hit pause and sit down for a few minutes before I could move on. Those days were the hardest. I thought I was making progress and there I was, panting to catch my breath.
That’s when Tony Horton imparted another piece of wisdom that has helped me physically and spiritually: “Do your best, and forget the rest.”
Even if we approach each day with that “keep pressing play” attitude, we’re still going to suffer setbacks. We’re still going to suffer disappointments. We’re still going to suffer the insults and lies from our opponents. We may even question whether or not we have the strength to go on. On those days, when we’ve done everything we can – we’ve pressed play but the day is still kicking our butts – we have to give ourselves some slack. If you’ve done your best – forget the rest. Forget the insults, forget the slights, forget the disappointments, forget the setbacks. You’ve given in your best shot and that’s all you – and God – can expect.
Even Jesus had to take breaks from the crowds. There were times when he would take the boat out to the other shore and give himself a breather. We all need to step back from time to time and take a break. When you work out, it’s not just the weight lifting or the cardio that transforms your body – rest also plays a crucial role. If you worked out your muscles non-stop they’d never grow. While you rest, your muscles repair the damage done during a workout – and that’s how your muscles grow – during that time of rest.
So, in the new year, we’ve got to keep pressing play – but we have to remember that rest is just as important as activity. If you resolve anything this year, then, I invite you to resolve to continue the battle for LGBT rights both in the church and wider society – and to take care of yourself and take breaks from the action when you need it.
Most importantly, don’t give up when the going gets rough – and it will. In the words of Rev. Horton: “Do your best, and forget the rest.”
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.