We all know that physical fitness is important. Staying in shape (or not) can affect everything from the way we feel when we look in the mirror to how well we sleep at night. But how often do we think about the connection between physical fitness and our faith?
We hear often in Christian circles that our bodies are gifts from God, and therefore worth taking care of. But what about the way we take care of them? Do we glorify God in our manner of working out? Does our attitude at the gym honor the dignity of the people around us?
Divine Mercy Fitness in Denver, CO has taken a completely Christ-centered approach to fitness, and the results have been amazing. Not only have gym members found themselves in the best shape of their lives, but they have also grown in strength of heart and soul. I recently got a chance to talk to gym owner, Steve Smith about physical fitness, it’s connection to the spiritual life, and the beauty of working out in a Christ centered atmosphere.
According to Steve, there are lots of elements to general fitness. Many people focus on strength, or cardio, or stamina, but to really be in shape, your body needs some of each. Each area complements the others and helps prevent injury, not to mention helping to prevent boredom. Steve mentioned that since running became a big thing in the 1970s focusing on strength kind of went by the wayside, but people who don’t contribute to their cardio with strength training are prone to osteoporosis and increased pain, especially as they age. “When you are strong you feel more capable of interacting with the world and more confident. Both (strength and cardio) are important, but they need to be balanced out,” said Steve.
General fitness is taking care of our bodies as the wonderful gifts they are. It is enabling ourselves to be the best we can be, and to have the strength and energy to carry out our vocations well. But according to Steve, the connection between physical and spiritual fitness can run even deeper than that. Working out, especially doing something like Crossfit (Divine Mercy’s main type of workout) is tough. Sticking to a fitness routine is tough. Working on our physical fitness requires hard work, perseverance, and commitment through repetition. All of which are virtues necessary in the spiritual life. Even further, a solid fitness program teaches us to self-examine, create goals, and reflect on our successes and failures. “Physical fitness relates to the spiritual life in that we are constantly growing by doing the same thing, persevering, adjusting, changing, having conversations about how we’re doing. It relates to that continued process to be better, or more of what we are capable of being,” Steve said.
That being said, perseverance can be taken too far, self-examination can become destructive, and growth in physical fitness can be sought for the wrong reasons. Even when we are striving to just take care of our bodies, we can easily get caught up in pushing ourselves too hard, measuring our success on the way we look, or forget that we ought to seek fitness for the sake of loving and glorifying God. What can we do to keep ourselves in check?
The biggest thing, according to Steve is to work out in a community. This is one of the most important aspects of Christ-centered fitness, because when Christ is present, and the group acknowledges that “the community that forms around that is more wholesome and more true.” At Divine Mercy Fitness, the language is clean (or at least expletives are used in appropriate context), the communication and challenging of one another is more loving and authentic, and the vanity is much less. In many gym atmospheres, especially Crossfit gyms, vanity is a huge motivator. Many of these gyms are full of immodest clothing and encouragement through crude language or thinking about that bikini body. But in a Christ-centered community like Divine Mercy Fitness, there is a more respectful atmosphere, both towards the self and the people around you. “It creates a very authentic, human community,” said Steve, “It exposes our prideful selves, but doesn’t allow us to sit in our prideful self. It allows us to look at our vanity and realize it’s ridiculous. We can also keep vanity out of our fitness routines with simple things such as not working out in front of a mirror, wearing respectable clothing, and praying before and during out workouts.”
Christ centered fitness goes deeper than taking care of our bodies, and does more for our bodies than keeping them healthy. It instills a deeper sense of respect for our bodies and those of others. It reminds us that our bodies and the way we treat them are intricately connected to our soul and the way we care for it. It reminds us that we are capable of all things through Christ, and helps us to run the race that is set before us.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” Hebrews 12: 1-2