Church in a Gym

Last night concluded a month long BURN class at our local gym. This is the same gym I’ve driven past almost every day for two and a half years and silently judged for its footprint, its Land Rovers and Lexuses (Lexi? Lexums?) in the parking lot, its fine, fruity, and fast food cafe, its families all dressed in lycra and swishy shorts filing in and out of at all times of the day and night. So posh, I thought. Turns out I’m okay with posh.

Our last exercise last night was to roll on our bellies the length of four yoga mats, one after another, without using our hands or feet. It was an exercise in strengthening our core, but mostly it was an exercise in laughing at ourselves and one another. I stood there with my laughing BURN comrades as our heads spun and stomachs lurched and looked up around me, where those not taking the class were spinning or running or climbing or grunting and all sweating profusely. What kind of strange magic is this, I thought, where we gather and look like complete fools in front of strangers? I’ve been to gyms before, sweat myself silly, felt self-conscious and weak and had to force myself to just show up. But here, for all the lycra and swishy shorts, perky behinds and sweaty middle aged men and women (with whom I am dangerously close to joining ranks), it’s like a church. Or like a church should be.

We all know we’re there because we’re weak and we can’t do it on our own. We need help. Not the help of a trainer who struts their stuff, showing off their muscles, which you too can have for the low price of $999.99, but a trainer who comes near, squats down in your sweaty waft, and says, “You can do this, I know you can.” We need the camaraderie of other sweaty weak bodies doing their best and cheering one another on when we can’t keep going. We need the accountability of buy-in, the kind of financial sacrifice that kinda hurts, but hurts so good. We need to know the same faces will be suffering through the same workouts right across the aisle from us and we know their names.

Church has not been a place where I’ve felt safe for over four years. Something broke in me when we lived in Denver and I was on staff at a hurting church. I didn’t feel safe to bleed. I was told explicitly to “not bleed on the sheep,” even while my body kept ejecting babies, while my husband was unemployed, while I was fearful of loud noises or anything that resembled a gunshot. “Don’t bleed,” I kept telling myself. “Don’t be weak. Be strong. Be a leader. Get through this.” But it turns out I can’t do that. I’ve carried my gaping wounds with me everywhere the past four years and tried to pretend I was stronger, healthier, fit for service, when the truth was I was an anxious, suspect, fearful slave.

Each time I leave the gym, heaving, sweaty, and in need of a shower or three, I think to myself, “This is why gyms become like the church to some people. Because we all mostly just want a place where we can be weak and look like fools together.” We’re not all gym rats, skipping leg day and doing bicep curls in front of four way mirrors. Most of us are gym worms, crawling on our bellies each day, unsure if we can make it, carrying with us our fears, doubts, and worries, and leaving an hour later just a little bit stronger. And some of us can’t even make it that far, so wounded by life that leaving our couch is hard and judging the gym as we drive by is easier, and I think, somewhere in there, there’s grace for those seasons too. I think God understands and created humans to want to cover our wounds, care for them until they’re healed enough to go again.

Anyway. Church can be like the gym. Most churches aren’t. If yours isn’t, maybe try the gym, and when your physical body gets stronger, maybe your spiritual body will too. I don’t know. Above all, have grace for yourself and get around people who don’t just laugh at you rolling across four yoga mats, but get down there with you and do it too.

This is an allegory. Take what you can from it, spit out the rest.

Also, here is a picture of Harper because I’m too busy sweating to take a selfie at the gym. Enjoy.

Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 10.13.42 AM.png