Okay. It’s time for me to write about CrossFit again. I’m really sorry.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Good grief, Christian. We’ve heard it all from you. The Church community could be more like CrossFit. There’s something powerful about shared suffering. Blah blah blah.
While all of that is true, and I remain convinced that those of us in the Church would do well to heed some of the lessons that CrossFit has to teach us, I’m mostly struck by something entirely different today: habit and its power within the spiritual life.
Generally speaking, when it comes to our spiritual lives, we may tend to think that “going through the motions” is somehow an unworthy premise. That we can’t really be Christians (or at least be good Christians) if we aren’t feeling it - if we don’t mean it. We value authenticity, and we aren’t satisfied with ourselves (or anyone else) unless this is what we get.
In this way, our cultural heroes become those who are “true to themselves” - whatever that means. This is also how we justify not saying sorry unless we mean it. There is something nearly sacred about intention and motivation for action today.
And this is all fine and dandy if the ultimate good, if the ultimate call for us is simply self-expression. After all, “we’re just being honest.” We don’t actually seem to believe in the possibility of transformation because there often is no good outside the self toward which we are called to incline ourselves, much less toward which we are called to conform ourselves.
When authenticity is the ultimate good, then conformity (read: phoniness) is, at best, a social faux pax or, at worst, the chief sin. After all: conforming to a good that exists outside yourself, something that would lift up your current way of being comes with an implicit confession: something is wrong with me, and I need to change.
In the Age of Authenticity, however, nothing is wrong with you. You do you, bro. All that is left is self-expression.
As Christians, however, we know that we are made to be in the image and likeness of God, a likeness which we do not possess currently and are ever aiming to grasp. But even we Christians struggle against the notion that we should do something even when we aren’t feeling it.
CrossFit, however, has taught me that there is a great lesson to be learned in simply showing up. 9 times out of 10, I don’t want to go to the gym. I come up with all kinds of reasons: it’s too early; deadlifts hurt my back; I hate doing burpees. If I can just get myself to CrossFit, however, the workout is already written for me, I just have to submit myself to it and allow it to do its work on me.
In order to become the kind of person who exercises, it would be foolish to think that I should just wait around until some desire to workout arises in me, and it is here that we see the problem inherent in valuing authenticity above all else. Just because we don’t feel something, doesn’t mean it’s not benefiting us; it may actually be transforming us below the level of our awareness.
Indeed, this is the power of thinking in terms of character formation as opposed to self-expression. By disciplining my body, by submitting myself willingly to the workouts of CrossFit, in time, I may actually become the kind of person who looks forward to working out!
As working out becomes a regular part of my routine, being oriented toward healthy living takes on a life of its own in me. It becomes a disposition, a natural inclination of my character.
Isn’t this the case with our spiritual lives?
We may not be able to make ourselves feel any particular way about Christ, but we can stand in front of our icons. We may not be able to desire going to Church, but we can still stand there and make the sign of the Cross whenever we hear the Name of the Trinity invoked.
While we cannot force ourselves to feel something, we can discipline our bodies, hoping that these routines and rituals will root a love for God deep in our hearts.
Don’t get me wrong, it won’t be all roses and buttercups as we take on this practice. After all, it’s practice. We will still show up at Church not really wanting to be there. We will still have days where praying seems like a monumental task, but by undertaking a regimen, by disciplining our bodies and forcing ourselves to be present, to “get ourselves to the gym,” even when we don’t want to, we stand a fighting chance at becoming the kind of people whose hearts desire to know and love God.
Gym: Author's photo
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on how the Church can be like CrossFit, check out this episode of The Trench: