Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on finding grace at the gym, particularly Abilene’s YMCA in Redbud Park.
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that I have been trying to get to the gym on a more regular basis.
When I first returned to an exercise regimen, I solemnly vowed that I would not use elliptical machines. They seemed simultaneously to require too little effort and too much coordination (more than I possess, anyway). When I grew tired of swimming every day, however, I sheepishly broke my vow and gave the elliptical a try. Astonishingly, I enjoyed the experience far more than I expected I would. Sure, I looked a little like a baby deer the first time I tried to make my arms and legs work together, but I eventually got the hang of it. More importantly, I discovered that when you do it right, the elliptical is a lot more challenging than it looks. By the time I finished my first hour-long session, I was completely worn out and gasping for a drink of water. When I stumbled to the water fountain, I noticed the word etched into the plastic handle: “Oasis.” I can’t think of a better way to describe the experience of drinking water from that fountain after a long workout. Like an oasis in the desert, it was a place of refreshment and sustenance, a verdant patch of green in an otherwise forbidding landscape, a place that signaled it was time to rest.
Where is your oasis? Where is the place that you can stop, rest, and be refreshed? One of the important aspects of life in the Church that I believe we have forgotten is the practice of Sabbath. We have gotten seduced by the notion we always have to be doing something in order to be considered productive. Our ancestors, however, recognized that we are occasionally the most productive when we are doing nothing at all. The Torah lays out a fairly comprehensive approach to the concept of Sabbath. Not only are there rules requiring people to rest every week, there are regulations that specify when to let land lie fallow, when to rest livestock, and when to cancel debts. Sabbath, in other words, not about taking a breather every once in a while, it is about reevaluating our position in the world and reorienting ourselves to the God who created us. It was a way of rejuvenating the land and reinvigorating human relationships, something that we desperately need in this age of overconsumption and mistrust. So, as you consider where you might find your oasis, make sure it is a place where you can really stop. Make sure it is a place where you can go regularly and be productively unproductive, where you can reevaluate where you are and reorient yourself to God.
Over the next few days, I will be reflecting on finding grace at the gym, namely Abilene’s YMCA in Redbud Park.
As I mentioned yesterday, I have been trying to make it to the gym more regularly over the past few months.
The last time I spent any significant time at a gym, I was rowing crew. In that context, all of the people exercising were ostensibly working toward the same goal; we were all trying to make the boat move as fast as possible. In other words, we were pushing each other to be the best that we could be (just a warning: there will probably more clichés than usual in this post). As a result, we tended to compete with one another. Coaches would place people with similar erg scores (an erg is a torture device designed to simulate the movements of rowing) near one another so that we would push each other to the next level (cliché #2). For the most part, I thrived in this environment. I am a naturally competitive person, and I found that competing against my fellow athletes effectively motivated me to improve.
Since I’ve returned to the gym, however, I’ve had to overcome my inherently competitive nature. The main reason for this is that unlike at the gym where I worked out with my teammates, each person who works out at the Abilene YMCA is at a different level and has set different goals. It is unproductive for me to compare myself to the person who is working out on the next elliptical because they have a totally different objective than I do. It is foolish for me to race the person in the next lane of the pool, because more often than not they will beat me and I will be embarrassed. My exercise time is far more productive when I set goals for myself and attempt to meet those, rather than making comparisons to everyone else at the gym.
We live in a culture that is preoccupied with competition. Whether it is the newness of our smartphone or the size of our house or the level of our education or the difficulty of our Lenten discipline, we tend to be obsessed with comparing ourselves to other people. We must recognize, however, that God does not care if we keep up with Joneses. God’s relationship with us is not contingent on any criteria except God’s abundant love. Our objective for our relationship with God should not be to be holier than anyone else; our goal should be to discover ways that we can be deeply aware of how much God loves us and how much God loves our brothers and sisters in Christ.
For the next few days, I will be reflecting on finding grace at the gym, specifically Abilene’s YMCA in Redbud Park.
Over the past several months, I have been trying to make it to the gym more regularly.
Though I have been a member of the Abilene YMCA for several years, I’ve only just recently started exercising there with any regularity. When I first became a member I was surprised (even shocked) by the number of naked people I saw on a daily basis. The locker room was full of men disporting in the altogether, not at all concerned with the fact that they were naked. For all I know, many of them might not have even realized that they were unclothed. The last time I had spent any significant time in a locker room was when I and my teammates were still emerging from the throes of puberty, that time when boys are convinced that no one could possibly be experiencing the same things that they are experiencing. In light of the embarrassment inherent to this condition, all of us had concocted various byzantine methods of changing out of our workout clothes while revealing as little skin as possible. So it was more than a little surprising that in this locker room experience, pretense was abandoned and people paraded around shamelessly (and pantslessly) for everyone to see.
While I was initially shocked by the overabundance of skin in the YMCA locker room, I have gradually gotten to a point where the predominance of nakedness doesn’t bother me a whole lot. I’ve even found myself having long conversations with gentlemen who are wearing nothing but a smile (even though I continue to remain covered up, at least relative to my locker room counterparts). I’ve been wondering about the reason for the shift in my perspective. On one hand, I’ve probably become desensitized; when you walk into a room where more than half the people are in various states of undress, there is a point at which you will no longer be surprised by much of anything. On the other hand, I wonder if I’m somehow getting in closer touch with my status as a creature of God.
Genesis tells us that when Adam and Eve disobey God’s commandment in the Garden of Eden, the first symptom of their disobedience is that they cover themselves. While the text tells us that they hide “because they knew that they were naked,” it’s pretty clear that they cover themselves because they are ashamed. They are afraid that the imperfections that they perceive somehow make them unworthy in the eyes of God. What they forgot was that after God created them, God called them “good.” God called them good in spite of their imperfections, in spite of their nakedness, and in spite of their disobedience. In the same way, we must remember that we have been created by God and that God calls each and every one of us good in spite of our unfaithfulness, in spite of our perceived imperfections, and in spite of our shame. We are called to recognize our identity as creatures of God; we are called to remember that even in our nakedness, God has called us “good.”