Hi, friends. I usually write a pop-culture rumination at this point in the month, but this is a unique season for Deeper Story—read about it here—so today I’m offering something different: an actual story. The following is an excerpt from my 2010 book O Me of Little Faith (Zondervan):
When I was in 7th grade, there was one room on campus that I approached with dread: the weight room. I played on the basketball team—actually, played might be a bit of a stretch. I was on the basketball team. But as a five-foot, 70-pound stick of a 12-year-old, my primary position was holding down the end of the bench. On the “B” team.
Anyway, during the off-season, our coach decided we needed to start lifting weights. The first part of our weight training would be something he called “maxing out,” which sounded awesome until I found out what it really meant. “Maxing out” means finding the heaviest amount of weight a person can lift in one single, clean, complete movement. It is, to a considerable degree, not that awesome.
I am a skinny, skinny person. Other than a few months of infant obesity—complete with cuddly ankle rolls—I have been skinny all of my life. My mom’s side of the family is populated by healthy—and very thin—people, so I come by my slenderness naturally. I can’t wear a regular men’s wristwatch because the size of most watch faces make me look like I’ve strapped a wall clock to my arm.
I was scrawny in junior high, and I am scrawny now.
Coach’s plan was for us to max out on the bench press, and he let the big guys go first. They were intimidating enough already. Their deep voices and hairy legs indicated they were already members of the Puberty Club. (Alas, I had not yet received my invitation, and was beginning to wonder whether I was even on the mailing list.) One-by-one, while the rest of us watched, the big guys methodically added weight to the bar—clank…clank. Some of them were getting up into the triple digits, pressing 110, 120, even 130 pounds.
I thought about hiding behind a wrestling mat.
I went last. Coach turned to me and asked, “Boyett, what do you weigh?”
“Sev—seventy pounds,” I squeaked. (My voice hadn’t changed yet.)
“We’ll start with forty-five and work up to seventy,” Coach said. “You ought to be able to bench at least seventy.”
Let me pause here to reveal two important facts. The first is that Coach was under the mistaken assumption that a person should be able to bench press at least his body weight, because a bench press is like an inverted, upside-down pushup. I dispute this idea even to this day. It just seems wrong.
The second thing you should know is that Coach didn’t just choose the forty-five-pound beginning weight at random. Forty-f-ve pounds was good place for me to start, he surmised, because that was the weight of the empty bar.
That’s right: I would start the process of maxing out with just the weight bar. Nothing else. No clanking weights. Just the bar. And, yes, it looked as wildly heroic as it sounds.
I lay down on the bench. My shirtsleeves slid back to reveal bony arms and nearly hairless armpits. A couple of spotters effortlessly lifted the bar from the rack. I lowered it down, said a quick prayer—please please please let me push this back up—and contracted every pectoral muscle fiber I could locate. And slowly, steadily, keeping my eyes closed so they didn’t pop out of my head with the strain, I pressed that 45-pound bar until my quivering arms extended fully. I’d made it. Flush with relief, I breathed again.
“Nice job, Boyett,” Coach said. “Add ten.”
The spotters loaded a five-pound weight onto each end of the bar. Total: fifty-five pounds. They hoisted it for me, waited until I steadied my small-boned jelly arms, and let go as I lowered the bar to my chest.
I pushed. I pushed some more. I squeezed my eyes even tighter. Dear God, I may have prayed, please let there be some sort of Spirit-of-the-Lord Samson strength stored in my blonde mullet. I kept pushing. I came dangerously close, I think, to rupturing a disc. My back lifted off the bench, which is not recommended. But the bar wouldn’t move.
“Help him,” Coach finally said, and the spotters—I’m certain of this—rolled their eyes at each other as they used their pinkie fingers to lift the bar from my chest. I couldn’t move.
“Boyett: Forty-five pounds,” Coach called out as he wrote it on his clipboard. His voice echoed against the brick walls and wood floors of the weight room, punctuated by my still-pounding heartbeat.
I don’t blame him for what he said next, because who could resist?
“On the bench press, Boyett maxes out with…” (dramatic pause) “…the bar. Just the bar.”
This is the first part of the first chapter of O Me of Little Faith, a memoir in which I equate my physical weakness as a teenager to a growing spiritual weakness as an adult. Sometimes, when it comes to faith, I don’t measure up to the power-lifters in the weight room. If this resonates with you, you’ll be glad to know the Kindle version of the book is currently less than $6.