I knew it was coming when I turned 30. I miraculously avoided it for a couple of years. But some time around when I turned 32 my metabolism made a hard stop.
A little over a month before my son was born, I stepped on the scale and had a small panic attack. I wasn’t obese by any stretch of the imagination, but that number was a about 10% higher than it had ever been. It was time to do something.
I joined a gym and got back into it. In my pre-ministry life, I studied Exercise Science and had worked as a personal trainer for a couple of years. Theoretically, I retained a lot of that knowledge. But it had been at least 5 years since I had exercised regularly. I had a lot of re-education to do on form, mindset, and determination.
I’ve loved being back in the gym. Outside of our church, my friends at the gym are some of the best relationships I have. I’ve made progress towards getting back to where I want to be physically and I feel worlds better than I did two years ago.
Getting back into exercise also reminded me of some lessons on spiritual growth that have been helpful as I’ve navigated through some new experiences in the last two years.
- Progress doesn’t just happen. You have to plan for it. Every week I’ve got to look at my schedule and figure out the 3-4 times I’m going to make it to the gym. My schedule changes week-to-week, so sometimes the time I go has to change. What I’ve had to learn in the last few months is that prioritizing eating well is just as important as making time to go to the gym. I’ve got to find some time every week to make several meals ahead for that inevitable period of the week when I either don’t have enough time or I’m just too tired to cook.
What does that have to do with your spiritual life? We often treat spiritual growth like we’re completely passive in the process. We do whatever it is we do and wait for God to rend the heavens and move us on to the next step in our pursuit of Christ. News flash: that’s a really ineffective way to grow in Christ. You’ve got to make a plan. Set a time to do your quiet time. Research a strategy to grow in your prayer life. Learn a method of sharing your faith. Break out those note cards to memorize Scripture. Then, stick to it. You’ll be surprised at how the Lord honors your pursuit of Him.
- We improve in what we work on. Until a few months ago I had done a lot of muscle building, but I decided I wanted to burn some fat to lean up. Making the decision to pursue that goal didn’t change everything about what I was doing, but it changed enough to be significant. I knew from about 2 years of effort that I wasn’t going to accomplish both goals simultaneously to my satisfaction, so a change was in order.
What does that have to do with your spiritual life? If you’re like me, there’s a lot you can improve on in your walk with Christ. However, we simply don’t have the capacity to change everything all at once. Pick somewhere to start. Develop a new habit or strategy. Then, when you’ve got that down, move on to another area. For instance, I’ve struggled with prayer for a long time. I’m now prioritizing periods of prayer in my devotional time in the morning and trying to build in prayer breaks during the day. I’m praying the Psalms and reading prayers from influential figures of the past.
- Rest is sometimes the best way to break through a barrier. This is completely counter-intuitive, but it’s true. We think that our effort is what gets us to a goal and that when we hit a wall the best thing we can do is to try to immediately tackle it again until we’re successful. While there is something to say about being tenacious, sometimes we’ve got to stop and rest. Sometimes I travel for work and I’m out of the gym for a week or two. Inevitably, when I come back I perform better. My body just needed time to process all of the change that had been happening through my workouts.
What does that have to do with your spiritual life? While it is good to have a plan and to pursue improvement, remember that your pursuit of Christ won’t always be linear. We’re human. We’re inconsistent. Jesus knows this and loves us anyway. Sometimes we just need to cease, be still, and know. In this case, stopping doesn’t mean ceasing any spiritual discipline. But it might mean taking a day or two to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. It might mean taking a week off from whatever responsibility you’ve taken up to rest and re-evaluate. It might mean that you actually start practicing a Sabbath to weave rest into the fabric of every week. While we do need to work towards Christ-likeness, our greatest improvements will most likely come when we cease.
- Growth is easier when you’re in it with others. One of the reasons I had been out of the gym for so long was that it got monotonous and lonely to workout by myself. There were no moments of levity in-between sets. There was no accountability to actually show up. There was no one to correct me if my form got a little off or to give me a helpful pointer as I struggled through something. Those are some of the many reasons I chose a Crossfit gym. I make an effort to show up to a class at the same time where I now know many of the people well. We have trained coaches who encourage, challenge and correct me. If I don’t show up for a while, I get an email or a Facebook message from at least 3-4 people just making sure everything is ok. I hurt my back in December and missed several months. I regularly received messages from gym friends and coaches checking in on me to see how my recovery was going and when they could expect me back. None of it was done out of pressure. They were genuinely concerned for my well-being and missed having me around.
What does that have to do with my spiritual life? We need a community of people who share our commitments and beliefs who will help us move forward in our pursuit of Christ. Ideally, this should be your church. But you may find yourself in need of encouragement from a smaller group for a specific purpose. In either case, we’ve got to be known by others, share our struggles, and allow them to speak into our lives. Lone Ranger Christianity is a great way to make a frustrated, apathetic Christian.