I rank it as probably the funniest little off-the-cuff comment I’ve made while public speaking. During a Q&A at a conference the moderator mentioned that I had blogged every day for a decade and then asked, “Is there anything else you’ve done so consistently?” I fired back, “The only other thing I’ve done every day for ten years is not exercise.” It was funny at the time, but a couple of days later I began to feel that the punchline revealed something that wasn’t too flattering.
In the weeks that followed I thought about my little comment and realized it revealed a problem—I had drawn too bold a line between mind and matter or soul and matter. I was all about caring for my soul and tending my mind, but all the while was rashly neglecting the body that is inextricably connected to mind and soul. In this way I was living as a pagan, not a Christian. This is gnosticism which says that the immaterial is intrinsically good while the material is instrinsically evil. Or perhaps it is dualism which inserts a chasm between body and soul. But it isn’t Christian.
As Christians we know that body and soul are both good and are both meant to be cared for. We know that God created humanity body, mind and soul and declared it all good and very good. We know that who we are is not so easily divided into neat little parts; it is easier to develop Christian character and easier to have a well-trained mind in a fit body than in a neglected body. We are a cohesive whole.
I knew I needed to do something, but what? I thought of the health club just up the road from us. I had seen their banners outside and mocked the red-faced, sweat-stained people walking out of it. “You know, if they could even just look a little bit like they had fun I might be tempted to try it.”
I recruited Aileen to the cause and said, “We need to get fit.” She loves me enough to play along. Neither of us had ever been to a gym or health club before. We did not know what to expect when we walked through those doors, but we steeled our nerve, took courage from one another, walked in, and asked to speak to someone. Our conversation went something like this:
“What are your fitness goals?”
“I want to not die for now.”
“Hmm. Could I say, ‘general health?’”
“I guess that sounds about right.”
“What do you want your body to look like?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, do you want lines? Do you want definition? Do you want a six-pack?”
“I don’t even know what you mean by all that. You’re the expert—You tell me what I ought to want and what’s realistic for thirty-eight.”
“Alright, we’ll just stick with general health then.”
He took us for a tour of the facility, showing us the studios where they do Zumba (Confession: I still have no idea what that is), the room where they do cycling classes, and the rooms stuffed full of strange-looking machines that look like they are straight out of the middle ages. I told him not to even bother showing us the hot yoga room.
“Have you ever been a member at a health club before?”
[Laughter]. “Let me explain. I am a pastor and I think, for the first time, I understand what an atheist feels like when he walks into church. I know that everyone is looking at me now and thinking, ‘That guy doesn’t belong!’ I don’t know what the expectations are here, I don’t know how anything works, and I feel like a total outsider.”
Despite the ignorance and the awkwardness, he convinced us to give the club a try. Aileen and I stipulated that whatever we were going to do, we intended to do together. He recommended we hire a personal trainer to help us, at least in the early days as we learned how to use the equipment and to build a program that could get us from inactive to some degree of fitness. And then we got to work.
It has been several months now, and both Aileen and I agree it is one of the best decisions we have made. We aren’t exactly ready to set out on a triathlon, but we’re actually fit and growing in fitness. Fat is melting away and stamina is growing. Perhaps best of all, we feel better. We feel better mentally knowing that we are doing the right thing; we feel better spiritually knowing that we are faithfully caring for the bodies God has given us; we feel better physically as our bodies adjust to being used and stretched and strengthened. Perhaps best of all, we know that we addressed a problem far more spiritual than physical.
I can’t say that we love exercise now, or that we look forward to holding two-minute planks and doing an endless success of squats while clutching twenty-pound weights. We don’t love lifting heavy objects, and lunging all over the club, and working tiny little muscles we didn’t know we had. I can’t say that we’ve discovered the runner’s high as we jog our way toward a twenty-five-minute 5K. But I can say we’ve built the habit, love the results, and are even beginning to enjoy the process.
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