Returning to the gym

There is something about walking into a room like this that has struck fear into my heart since those horrible mandatory middle school physical education classes:

You will, of course, find it quite ironic that I married a personal trainer who practically lived in the gym during high school. Now he’s a pastor, and no longer wakes at dawn’s first light (or before) to train personal clients in their homes. He actually helped convince me to join a gym for the first time in my life (not counting the step aerobics classes I did in high school at my parents’ gym). But I’ll have to admit that the gym is never I place I relish or look forward to in the same way he does. 

When I went on bed rest while pregnant with twins, my gym attendance ended. And to be honest, I then let my membership expire with hardly a second thought. Until last week when I found out about a brand-new gym in our neighborhood with excellent childcare included (AND a monthly “parents’ night out” service on a Friday evening). And so I joined today. Do the math – yes, since I have almost-THREE-year-old twins, that means that I haven’t been to a gym in three years. There are many reasons besides my aversion to gyms. Like not getting sleep for the first 6 months of the girls’ lives; having to go to physical therapy to recover from the toll pregnancy took on my body; preferring outdoor exercise to indoor stale-gym-air any day; and of course that classic excuse, “not enough time.”

Today felt different. Better. It’s a less corporate feel and a more community feel kind of gym. I ran into a friend in passing. My girls LOVE the kids’ play area. And I loved dropping them off and getting 30 minutes to myself. I was even willing to use that time to exercise. (One of my favorite mom posts of all time is Glennon Melton’s on Momastery about how she’d use the two hours of free childcare at her gym.)

It did remind me of an older post from 2007, about my corporate gym experience and comparing it to church – “Gym and the Church.” And I’m including that below. All for free to my readers. Enjoy.

I have a gym membership that I had not used for at least 4.5 months until last Wednesday. I intended to. I really did. But I also go to one of those corporate “image-oriented” type gyms. Great for its breadth of equipment and quality of fitness classes offered, but amazingly intimidating for someone who hated the mandatory phys. ed. classes in middle and high school. I just have never really enjoyed physical fitness. It’s not been an area I ever excelled at, and so at some point I decided to stop trying. I’d rather read a book, write a poem, drink coffee, even go to the dentist. Really. And every time I enter my high-tech super-glossy gym, I feel like I’m in middle school P.E. again. Where everyone is staring at me, picking my physique apart (do any of us have a body we 100% accept?), or at least looking down at me because I haven’t invested a small life fortune in getting “cool” athletic gear.

I overcame my fear and walked in, silencing the imaginary voices sneering at me or the voice in my head condemning me for not being there for so long. And it felt good, once I bee-lined it to my Elliptical machine, sweated for the 25’ish minutes, and arrived safely back in my car. One of the reasons I had not been to the gym in so long is that I felt like I was out of shape. (how ironic, I know) So after walking for a few weeks, I felt more up to facing THE GYM.

It made me wonder if that’s what church is like for some people. Especially corporate, well-organized, high-image-conscious churches where everyone seems to have it together. People feel as if they must first “get it together” spiritually before coming to church. How ironic, isn’t it?

But is it? Do we who represent the Church universal help portray this image? Especially people like me who have been attending church since I was born. And so I know all the right answers, the right lingo, the right uniform. But I don’t naturally think about the person contemplating church who might have been abused by a church leader as a child and now hates anything God-related. Or the person whose “Christian” parents gave rules and law without grace. I think they would be even more reluctant to enter a church than I was to enter the gym.

What are we doing to welcome in strangers? To help present to them the Christ who says “Come, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” [not “Come and I will give you more things to do and rules to follow”]. To alleviate well-placed fears and insecurities about what to say, what to wear, and whether they want to have anything to do with Christians after a bad experience.

I don’t know, but I’m wrestling with it as part of a new church plant seeking to welcome in the stranger, the neighbor, the unbeliever, the nominal Christian. Grace must permeate everything we do. The way we greet them at the door, have a genuine conversation with them afterwards, and seek to follow up through building a relationship. They need to see it in the way WE interact with one another. No back-biting, gossip, chronic complaining, fake pleasantries. You can tell if love is genuine and real.

And isn’t that what Jesus said? “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)